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Culture

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lagerfeld, However Old You Are

Dark glasses, black suits and a white ponytail: Karl Lagerfeld is a fashion icon. But while his style may be timeless, the man himself is not.

Karl Lagerfeld wearing his trademark dark glasses

Karl Lagerfeld is rarely seen without his trademark sunglasses

The German designer has been sly about his true age, claiming that he was born in 1938 and that his birth certificate was destroyed in the bombing of Hamburg in the Second World War. But not everyone buys the story that Lagerfeld is celebrating his 70th birthday this year.

“There are even people who say I will turn 75," Lagerfeld recently said, referring to rumors that he was lying about his age.

The controversy surrounding Lagerfeld’s real age erupted in 2003, when German tabloid newspaper Bild published a copy of the iconic deisgner’s baptism certificate from 1933. It also reported that local records in Lagerfeld’s hometown of Hamburg-Winterhude officially list the designer's date of birth as September 10, 1933.

When a book by British journalist Alicia Drake added evidence to the suggestions in 2006, it was met with fierce criticism by Lagerfeld -- not that he’s likely to be touched by this anniversary.

“I hate birthdays," Lagerfeld told news agency DPA.

Although the same is true for retrospectives -- Lagerfeld likes to quote the Jewish saying "you don't get credit for the past" -- his timeless persona is worth a look.

Couture career

A model wears a creation by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel as part of his Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2008 collection

A Lagerfeld design from Chanel's 2008 collection

Lagerfeld has been chief designer at French fashion label Chanel for 25 years. But his glittering career has its roots in northern Germany’s industrial upper class.

As the son of a millionaire condensed-milk magnate, Lagerfeld grew up in the countryside near Hamburg, shielded from the disasters of World War Two.

In 1953, he moved with his mother to Paris, where he showed an interest in fashion design. In 1955, one of Lagerfeld’s coat designs won a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat; the prize was an apprenticeship at the fashion house Pierre Balmain.

After three years at Balmain, Lagerfeld moved to Jean Patou, where he designed two haute couture collections a year for five years. By 1962, Lagerfeld had grown bored of working for one label and decided to launch his freelance career.

International fame

Lagerfeld poses with German actress Maria Furtwaengler (left) and former German model Claudia Schiffer (right)

Lagerfeld poses with German actress Maria Furtwaengler (left) and former model Claudia Schiffer (right)

He rapidly built up a following, designing collections for labels such as Tiziani, Chloe, Curiel and Fendi. He made news in 1983, when he was the first German to put a haute couture collection on the runway for Chanel. His makeover brought the traditional fashion house into the 21st century.

In 1990, he chose Claudia Schiffer as the new face of Chanel. The model became the fashion guru's muse and one of Germany's most celebrated faces.

Lagerfeld's work ethic is legendary; he spends up to 20 hours a day at his desk. From his villas in Germany, France Italy and Monaco, he not only steers fashions labels through the shallows of the couture market, but has earned kudos as a fashion photographer, publishing 13 books and photo collections.

He has also served as a role model for the 3D Diet, which helped him lose 42 kilograms (92 lbs.) in 2002. His most recent foray saw him join forces with German toy manufacturer Steiff to design a limited edition teddy bear resembling himself -- complete with dark glasses and a black suit.

Back to the birthday

Karl Lagerfeld has long been known to indulge his eccentricities -- whether it be his love for fingerless gloves, his habit of wearing up to 26 rings at a time, or his reluctance to reveal his real date of birth.

But the designer recently announced that he will clear up the question marks surrounding 1933/1938.

“My birthday is somewhere in between. But you will have to wait for my memoirs to be published before you find it out,” Lagerfeld told Bild.

Nothing is known about the release date of the book. Lagerfeld, it seems, will remain a mystery as long as he chooses to.