Just days after the news of Karl Lagerfeld’s passing Veronica Webb, model, actress, and the first African-American woman to land a major cosmetics contract, reflects on meeting the legendary designer at the beginning of her career. Here she tells ELLE.com about traveling around the world with Lagerfeld and the generosity and creative brilliance that set him apart in the industry.
When I got to Karl Lagerfeld’s house it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Karl came out and he had his famous white aristocratic hair. He looked like something out of a movie about European nobility in the 1700s. Just seeing him come down the stairs, with these people waiting on him, and a Rolls Royce idling outside the gates of the mansion, I was so intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never seen a real-life person like this. André Leon Talley had brought me to his house for a shoot for Vanity Fair. Andre and him had a wonderful relationship which was so special as Andre was one of the first black editors at American Vogue.
For the shoot I was dressed in Chanel couture, which is something that I had never had my hands on before. Karl immediately made me feel at home. He asked me questions about where I was from and it almost felt like we kind of always had known each other. That’s what I always loved about him.
He had this ability to recognize the creativity in everyone. If you had any kind of creativity Karl would recognize it, tap into it, respect it, and incorporate it into what he was doing.
I never really went on a Chanel casting because I was introduced by André but I met Karl again at a fitting. It was a Saturday morning and Iman was there which was mind-blowing for me. All these people came out in lab coats—all the sewers and tailors working the fittings. Banquet tables were filled with accessories like purses, pearls, earrings, bracelets, buttons, and hats. Karl was making hats and making sketches. I still have those sketches as a tribute to Karl on my wall at home.
That’s what I loved about Karl. He was just incredibly generous. But still, no one could cut you down like Karl could. If you fell out of favor with him, you knew it. To know him and to be in his court was things that fairytales are made of. We would cruise all around Europe and we would do Chanel shows in Monte Carlo and in the South of France or the south of Italy. We’d stay in castles in Paris and then fly to Palm Beach and do these very small, private, exclusive shows. I got to see what it was like to live with someone who lived a creative and rich life that was filled with many beautiful things. At this point he had created at Fendi, Chanel, and Chloé and it was all just pure magic.
His energy was like being around an Olympic athlete of fashion. Being with him was like being part of a fashion decathlon. His energy extended to everyone. He just saw the world. Karl was always inclusive in front of his shows and even behind the scenes. When I got to Paris in ’85 Karl’s right hand was a guy named Eric Wright who was a black American designer. It’s just so rare to see that in design houses. There were also so many black and brown models that Karl fought for before me and many girls that Karl fought for after.
The last time I bumped into Karl was in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel. Karl saw me and was so excited and I was so excited to see him. He immediately asked about my life, my kids, what I was doing now, and even about my diet. He wanted to know everything. When I told him I started a fashion blog he said: “This is wonderful, you should come and sit front row at Chanel because that’s what fashion bloggers do.” He was always just so generous. He was always, always, always there to support the creativity of people he loved.
This has been edited for length and clarity.