KARL LAGERFELD

An Extraordinary Life

Above: Karl Lagerfeld’s signature look included a low ponytail, oversized sunglasses, a crisp white shirt, black suit and a tasteful flash of bling.

Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most prolific designers of our time, passed away in Paris last week at the age of 85. He has had a legendary career spanning seven decades as a fashion designer and creative director. Lagerfeld was a powerhouse, creating legacies simultaneously at the House of Chanel, launching ready-to-wear for celebrated Italian brand Fendi and establishing his own namesake fashion house.

Above: In 1983 Karl Lagerfeld took the helm of the faltering House of Chanel. By  reinventing the brand, the designer was instrumental in making the fashion company a huge success.

TRIBUTES TO A MASTER

“It is with deep sadness that the House of Chanel announces the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, the Creative Director for the Chanel Fashion House since 1983. An extraordinary creative individual, Karl Lagerfeld reinvented the brand’s codes created by Gabrielle Chanel. A prolific creative mind with endless imagination, Karl Lagerfeld explored many artistic horizons, including photography and short films. Finally, one cannot refer to Karl Lagerfeld without mentioning his innate sense of repartee and self-mockery.

Alain Wertheimer, CEO of Chanel, said,  “Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel’s success throughout the world. Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.” 

Above: Lagerfeld takes his final walk on the Chanel runway in 2018.

President of Fashion at Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky, said, “Fashion show after fashion show, collection after collection, Karl Lagerfeld left his mark on the legend of Gabrielle Chanel and the history of the House of Chanel. He steadfastly promoted the talent and expertise of Chanel’s ateliers and Métiers d’Art, allowing his exceptional know-how to shine throughout the world. The greatest tribute we can pay today is to continue to follow the path he traced by – to quote Karl – ‘continuing to embrace the present and invent the future’.” 

“The House of Karl Lagerfeld shares, with deep emotion and sadness, the passing of its creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, on February 19, 2019, in Paris, France. He was one of the most influential and celebrated designers of the 21st century and an iconic, universal symbol of style. Driven by a phenomenal sense of creativity, Karl was passionate, powerful and intensely curious. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the greatest designers of our time, and there are no words to express how much he will be missed.”

Above: In 1958 Lagerfeld assumed the position of artistic director at Jean Patou.

 

A STORIED CAREER

The Hamburg, Germany native began his career in fashion as Pierre Balmain’s assistant in 1955. Three years later he moved to Jean Patou as artistic director, then found success at Chloé in the mid-1960s. Lagerfeld began designing for Fendi in 1965 after which he took the helm at Chanel in 1983, about 12 years after Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel’s death. In 1984, Lagerfeld started his own label. 

When he took the job at Chanel, the brand was reportedly on its way out. “Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge,” he told The New Yorker. Lagerfeld is credited with modernizing the legendary French brand, glamorizing its tweed suits and helping it appeal to a younger audience. During his tenure, faces of Chanel included “it girls” like Cara Delevingne, Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp), and Kaia Gerber (Cindy Crawford’s daughter).

“Yes, the old Coco would have been shocked by a lot of things I did,” Lagerfeld told Harper’s Bazaar in 2013, the year of Chanel’s 100th anniversary. “But I had to do it to keep the label in time with the times. Without it, Chanel would not be modern. My job is not to do what she did,” Lagerfeld explained, “but what she would have done.”

Above: Lagerfeld’s shop, Librarie 7L, features books on photography, architecture, design and fashion.  

NEVER IDLE

Lagerfeld’s keen eye, attention to detail and innate creativity, led the designer to photography and filmmaking. A lover of the written word, he was known to read as many as three books at the same time and 20 newspapers each day. A visit to Galignani, the famous Paris bookstore, was part of his daily routine. In 1999 the designer opened Librairie 7L, a bookshop on the Right Bank. Combining his passion for words and beauty, he chose to specialize in photography, exterior and landscape architecture, interior design and cook books, as well as catalogs and monographs, all dedicated to fashion.

In addition to his exceptional creativity, boundless curiosity and sharp humor, Lagerfeld was known for his iconic look: white hair styled in a low ponytail, oversized black sunglasses, a starched white shirt, black suit, fingerless gloves and a tasteful flash of bling. Oft times he was accompanied by his beloved cat, Choupette. “I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that,” the designer told The New York Times. “It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.”