Haute cature: How Choupette Lagerfeld became the world’s most famous feline
Everybody wants to know what will happen to Karl Lagerfeld's pampered, Instagram-friendly cat - and whether she will inherit his fortune
They both had soft, immaculate hair the colour of fresh snow. They both possessed an icy gaze that, even with the best will in the world, couldn’t help but look judgemental. They would both quite happily spend days playing with balls of thread. And they could both be adorable when stroked correctly, but vicious if rubbed up the wrong way.
For the past seven or so years, Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette, his world-famous Birman cat, were nigh-on inseparable. They lived in luxury together, travelled the world, and the elder of the two frequently spoke about his mammalian muse with a love and devotion that rarely attended his human relationships.
So, when Lagerfeld’s death, at the age of 85, was announced this week, it was understandable that thousands of well-wishers asked: just what will become of Choupette?
Although unusual in her physical characteristics (a weight of about 4kg, a measurement of 25cm to the shoulder, anywhere between four and 10 nipples) the story of Choupette and Karl Lagerfeld fits neatly into the grand tradition of fashion designers and their ingénues.
It is Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn; it is Yves Saint Laurent and Betty Catroux; it is Jean Paul Gaultier and Madonna. Only, Choupette was arguably more popular than any of those women.
They met in 2011, shortly after Choupette was born (like many legendary It-girls, the details are sketchy, with the place unknown and the date thought to be the second week of August) and bought by Lagerfeld’s friend Baptiste Giabiconi, the model and male face of Chanel. Lagerfeld’s maid cat-sat for Giabiconi for a fortnight, and the German creative soon fell in love with the kitten, permanently adopting her that Christmas. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but also the start of Choupette’s unstoppable clawing to the position of the most famous cat in fashion.
“[Giabiconi] got another cat who became fat, and Choupette became the most famous cat in the world, and the richest,” Lagerfeld said in 2015. “She had something unique. She is like a human being, but the good thing is that she’s silent. You don’t have to discuss it. She hates other animals and she hates children.”
Soon after he adopted her, an Instagram account, @choupettesdiary, was set up (by Ashley Tschudin, an American marketing consultant). It now has more than 186,000 devoted acolytes, which, for context, is more than the number of followers awaiting updates from UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
Choupette was put to work: Lagerfeld included her in Vogue shoots, dedicated an entire fashion collection, called Choupette in Love, to her and used her eyes as the inspiration for a Chanel haute couture collection. In 2014, she “did two jobs and made €3m”, Lagerfeld said. “One was for cars in Germany and the other was for a Japanese beauty product. I don’t allow her to do foodstuffs and things like this. She’s too sophisticated for that.”
A book was published, called Choupette: The Private Life of a High-flying Fashion Cat, written by Patrick Mauriès and Jean-Christophe Napias, and with photographs taken by Lagerfeld. Today, you can still find Choupette-inspired merchandise all over the internet. A miniature handbag in the shape of a cat wearing Lagerfeld’s trademark sunglasses is on sale for £155 on Asos. T-shirts, sweatshirts, jewellery and desktop toys are all readily available.
Incidentally, Lagerfeld had started yet another trend. Four-legged friends began to appear across the fashion world. Marc Jacobs’s bull terrier, Neville Jacobs, published a book in 2016 entitled Neville Jacobs: I’m Marc’s Dog. Stefano Gabbana introduced six Africa-themed cats – Zambia, Congo and their kittens, Mali, Chad, Kenya and Togo. And Valentino made sure the world saw his collection of six pugs, which together showed a Kardashian-level commitment to continuity in initials: Milton, Molly, Margot, Monty, Moon and Maude.
“There is no marriage, yet, for human beings and animals,” Lagerfeld lamented to the The Independent in 2013. “I never thought I would fall in love with this cat.”
You and us both, Karl. And yet Lagerfeld had evidently fallen head over exquisite, buffered heels.
Choupette’s much-publicised lifestyle made it clear that the childless, single fashion icon enjoyed giving his Birman (a long-haired breed also known as the Sacred Cat of Burma) a life of eye-watering luxury. According to various profiles and Lagerfeld’s own lovestruck interviews, she is looked after by two maids, Françoise and Marjorie, but prefers Françoise. They style her hair twice a day, look after her prized sapphire eyes with a “beauty treatment”, and would write everything down in a diary for Lagerfeld to inspect. Choupette eats from dishes made by Maison Goyard. One is for water, another for pâté, and a third for “her little croquette” – a recipe made by a chef, involving sardines in spring water, green olives, thyme, carrot, wheatgerm, cornmeal and flour.
To ensure Choupette remains healthy, Dr Yola Horn, a high-end Parisian vet, is permanently on call. Horn gives her manicures and allowed Lagerfeld to give her small amounts of caviar as a treat. A bodyguard is part of Team Choupette and travels with her to her favourite destinations: “Paris, New York, Rome, Dallas, Monte Carlo in winter, Provence in summer,” according to her book. She travelled everywhere in Lagerfeld’s private jet, snug within custom Louis Vuitton luggage, but enjoyed “going to visit the pilot in the cockpit”.
“She is the centre of the world. If you saw her, you would understand. She is kind of Greta Garbo. There is something unforgettable about her, the way she moves, the way she plays,” Lagerfeld said. “She’s an inspiration for elegance. For attitude.”
It leads us back to that burning question, then: just what will become of Choupette now her owner has died? She may well become even wealthier. There are reports that Lagerfeld may have left his £150m fortune to the cat. He was once asked if this was the intention and replied: “Among others, yes. Don’t worry, there is enough for everyone.”
Whether he also decreed she become his successor at Chanel is less clear. Perhaps Choupette will retire in mourning and live out her days in the care of Françoise, like another Instagram-famous pet, Carrie Fisher’s French bulldog Gary, who was adopted by the late actress’ former assistant and “retired” to a beach in Florida.
We know how Lagerfeld changed Choupette’s time on this Earth and, if she really does have nine lives, none will be better. But Lagerfeld was once asked how Choupette had changed him. He paused for a moment. “Maybe I became a better person perhaps, I don’t know. Less selfish, I guess? I think it’s grotesque, but what can you do? I believe in the unique. This is not just something to keep me company.”
Cat or otherwise, Choupette’s life is surely as unique as they come.
– © The Daily Telegraph