In recent years the prolific German had visibly weakened, even if his extraordinary creative stamina showed little sign of flagging on the catwalk for the three brands he led.
Friends had always said that the creator would die with a pencil in his hand, and just last week his own fashion line Karl Lagerfeld was still announcing new design collaborations.
Chanel said the reins of the $20-billion empire had been handed to Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman, his head of studio Virginie Viard.
The designer invited Viard on to the podium with him at the end of two Chanel shows last year to acknowledge how much he relied on a woman he called “my right and left hand” to transform his sketches into glittering reality.
In a statement on Tuesday, Chanel said Lagerfeld was “an extraordinary creative individual… a prolific creative mind with endless imagination”.
His longtime muse, Ines de La Fressange, one of the world’s first supermodels, told AFP that he “never rested on his laurels, never doing the same thing twice.
“I saw him draw surrounded by 15 people. He was the opposite of the great couturier who had to suffer to create. He did nothing but work yet he refused to make it look like work,” she added.
Italian designer Donatella Versace led the tributes among fashion’s leading players as news of Lagerfeld’s death broke.
Lagerfeld had long declared that he didn’t want to be mourned at a grandiose funeral like the one France granted its rock legend, Johnny Hallyday.
“What a horror!” he cried. “There will be no burial. I’d rather die… I’ve asked to be cremated and for my ashes to dispersed with those of my mother and those of Choupette (his cat), if she dies before me,” he said.
“I just want to disappear like the animals in the virgin forest,” Lagerfeld added. NVG