Anna Wintour Gave a Heartfelt Speech in Honor of Karl Lagerfeld

Among the things we learned at the British Fashion Awards Monday night? That Lagerfeld once built a tennis court on his property at Biarritz to make Wintour feel at home.
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Among the things we learned at the British Fashion Awards Monday night? That Lagerfeld once built a tennis court on his property at Biarritz to make Wintour feel at home.
Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld at the British Fashion Awards on Monday. Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld at the British Fashion Awards on Monday. Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

At the 2014 British Fashion Awards, John Galliano presented Anna Wintour with the Outstanding Achievement Award. On Monday night, she returned to the same stage at the London Coliseum to give this year's honor to Karl Lagerfeld.

In a heartfelt, seven-minute speech, Wintour paid tribute to Lagerfeld's visionary eye for fashion, his voracious appetite for information and his generous approach to friendship. Below is the full transcript.

"Karl and I have shared many extraordinary moments over the years, and I'd gladly share a few of them with you, if it weren't for the fact that Karl, of all people, would be horrified. Why look back, when there is so much waiting in the future? More than anyone I know, he represents the soul of fashion: restless, forward-looking and voraciously attentive to our changing culture. It was Karl who realized, earlier than most, that ready-to-wear wasn't just couture-lite, but the vibrant center of the new, accomplished woman's lifestyle. At a time when many of his peers were seeking shelter in fashion houses, he branched out alone, designing multiple labels with enough electric energy to power all the billboards in Piccadilly Circus. I sometimes joke to Karl that he's a one-man superbrand – an image as iconic as the outline of a Chanel suit. But these accomplishments are just signs of his genius. Tonight I'd like to celebrate something more magical, which is its source.

Karl is not only one of our greatest and most prolific designers. He is also a linguist, a photographer, an interior decorator, a collector, a filmmaker, an artist and a philanthropist, and that doesn't even fully cover it. I sometimes wonder if he's also a mad physicist, who's discovered an ingenious means of adding hours to the day. But most of all, Karl is a reader. Anyone who's ever visited his houses will know that they are piled high with obscure books. No wonder one of his overburdened tables, stacked with volumes, once collapsed straight through the floor. He reads the way most of us breathe, inhaling information. Everything from the week's news to the philosophy of David Hume, and turning out a constant flow of sketches, some of which apparently come to him in his sleep. As [Vogue European Editor-at-Large] Hamish Bowles says, he has the most esoteric references of any designer I know. Karl might deploy embellishments inspired by 18th-century decorative arts, or a boxing ring in Memphis. He has the urgency and the daring of a young designer, even though he's created new collections every season for some 60 years. Fashion is the personal expression of a world in transformation. Design is the art of noticing these changes and announcing them in clothes that millions of people can wear. Karl has mastered that process. But it's his noticing, his insatiable appetite for knowledge, that invigorates his work and carries him beyond it.

So what sustains him beyond talent and a great tsunami of Diet Coke? I'd like to think it's those around him, because Karl's extraordinary attention is attuned not only to ideas but to people. People like the amazing, stunning, stylish Amanda Harlech, whose witty and wise presence over the years has, I feel, been a great source of comfort and inspiration to Karl.

For years, the two of us have kept a standing date for dinner on the first Saturday of every fashion week in Paris, and we talk of everything other than fashion. He is witty, he is winsome and occasionally extremely risqué – a dream dinner companion. In a business that can seem transactional, he makes people around him feel valued and known. Karl once built a tennis court on his property at Biarritz as an enticement for me to visit. Needless to say this was the first and surely the last time anyone has constructed sporting turf in my honor, but Karl was trying to give me somewhere I could feel at home, a place where I could be myself. That's what his clothing does for millions of women each day, so I suppose that generosity should not have surprised me.

His bigheartedness extends beyond the human species. I have often thought that in my next life, I would like to come back as Choupette, his extremely beautiful and bourgeois cat, who has two maids, a chef, a personal hairdresser and many diamond necklaces.

Karl loves to be alone. He has called solitude the greatest luxury, and he prefers to be an observer than to be observed. When he does step into the limelight, he is always dazzling. I recall one party many years ago when Karl neatly rolled out the exquisite carpet from the Salon de la Paix, pulled Oscar de la Renta onto the floor and danced a perfectly executed tango through the room. I have never known him do anything but rise to an occasion, on the runway or in life. And this was especially clear to me a few weeks ago, when Karl gave a warm eulogy at a memorial service for Ingrid Sischy, the editor and the journalist who was among his closest friends. Karl as a rule does not give speeches, but he read a very heartfelt letter he had addressed to Ingrid, whose death of cancer this past summer left him bereft. Real friendship and love is something that has nothing to do with daily contact, he told the audience, and I think it's a testament to the strength of Karl's work that those of us who know him never feel he is very far away. Ingrid, who was rarely wrong about people, called Karl 'my angel.' It is his hidden wings of genius and of generosity that we honor here tonight with the award for Outstanding Achievement in Fashion. Karl, congratulations."