As a longtime admirer of Karl Lagerfeld‘s groundbreaking designs, I‘m delighted to share this in-depth profile of the legendary fashion innovator who fundamentally shaped the industry over his remarkable six-decade career.
|Full Name||Karl Otto Lagerfeld|
|Birthday||September 10, 1933|
|Death||February 19, 2019|
|Net Worth||$200 million|
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Born in pre-WWII Germany, Karl Lagerfeld‘s design talents emerged at a young age. He moved to Paris as a teenager where he finished secondary school and, at just 14, became an apprentice for the couturier Pierre Balmain in 1947 – an incredible start to his decades-defining career.
In 1954, he gained recognition for winning the International Wool Secretariat fashion design competition, spurring his move to Paris. The next decade included stints as a freelance designer for fashion houses like Chloé and Fendi. But his career truly took off in the 1960s when he became the lead designer for Chloé, thrusting the brand into fame.
Revolutionizing Fashion Houses as Creative Director
Lagerfeld transformed numerous luxury fashion brands after being named their Creative Director. When he took over creative leadership at Fendi in 1965, his innovative, boundary-pushing women‘s ready-to-wear designs brought the Italian label international acclaim and cemented its status as a fashion leader.
But Lagerfeld‘s most renowned role began in 1983 when he became Creative Director of Chanel, a position he held right up until he passed. He completely revitalized the brand, reinterpreting its classic designs in fresh, modern ways while still retaining the essence and elegance of Coco Chanel‘s original silhouettes. Everything from the iconic Chanel suit with its metal-chain straps to the No. 5 perfume was recast by Lagerfeld to redefine the brand and captivate audiences for decades.
“What I do Coco would have hated. The label has an image and it’s up to me to update it. I do what she never did. I had to find my mark. I had to go from what Chanel was to what it should be, could be, what it had been to something else.” – Karl Lagerfeld
Under his bold creative vision, Chanel became the top luxury fashion house in the world – an incredible achievement cementing Lagerfeld‘s status as a fashion legend.
Signature Style That Defined an Era
Almost as famous as Lagerfeld‘s designs was his personal style – the high-collared shirts, dark glasses, leather gloves, and powdered white ponytail became his trademark look. His style reflected his personality – edgy, eccentric, artistic.
Many models and muses over the years became signatures of the Lagerfeld era and his aesthetic – most famously Inès de La Fressange, the face of the Chanel brand in the 1980s-90s who epitomized Lagerfeld‘s chic, Parisian style. His muses wearing his avant-garde designs defined many decades in fashion.
Art Deco Inspiration Evident in Groundbreaking Early Work
Lagerfeld drew heavily on aesthetics from Art Deco in his early collections. For instance, his first runway show for Chloé in 1964 featured short, drop-waisted dresses with geometric silhouettes and Asian-inspired motifs – clear influences from Art Deco style. This inspiration carried through much of his 1960s work including jewelry, furs, and ready-to-wear.
Chloé Summer 1964 Haute Couture by Karl Lagerfeld featuring Art Deco geometric shapes.
Revolutionary Mixing of Materials and Textures
Lagerfeld‘s innovative use of fabrics disrupted the fashion scene. He mixed diamonds, precious metals, and pearls with everyday materials like denim, plastic, and paper. For Chanel‘s Spring 2009 Couture collection, Lagerfeld integrated latex and crystals, high and low, eliciting shock and applause.
Model wearing a latex and crystal gown from Chanel‘s 2009 Haute Couture.
By blending extravagant with ordinary, he created a new design language that carried into the 21st century.
Legendary Collaborations Spanning Art, Music, and Film
Lagerfeld‘s friends and collaborations reads like a who‘s who of contemporary pop culture. Andy Warhol photographed Lagerfeld for a 1983 series. He collaborated with Pharrell Williams and Cara Delevingne, photographing them for a 2014 fashion spread.
In music, he crafted tour costumes for Katy Perry and directed a short film for Coco Chanel starring his muse Keira Knightley. Most famously, he photographed Lady Gaga for V Magazine in 2011, highlighting their kindred avant-garde styles.
These collaborations demonstrated Lagerfeld‘s cultural influence and celebrity beyond just fashion.
Runway Shows as Dramatic Theater Productions
Lagerfeld‘s runway shows became legendary theatrical spectacles. He once shipped a 279-foot iceberg from Scandinavia for a Chanel show, had a princess walk the runway, and built an entire functioning Italian cafe surrounded by paparazzi for Fendi. The dramatic sets paired with his bold new collections challenged traditional runway formats and turned shows into dramatic theater productions.
Chanel Spring 2019 show featuring Egyptian temple backdrop.
Lasting Impact and Inspiration for New Generation
When Lagerfeld passed in 2019 at the age of 85, he had reshaped the fashion landscape irreversibly. His legacy continues through the designers he mentored and inspired. Names like Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria Beckham, and Raf Simmons site Lagerfeld as instrumental to starting their careers.
The Met in New York featured an exhibition of Lagerfeld‘s most seminal designs, cementing his place in fashion‘s pantheon. As long as people wear Chanel and Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld‘s legacy will live on. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed this true icon‘s career and enduring influence.