A Tribute to Karl Lagerfeld
By Laura Sheehan
The 19th of February in 2019 will be a date the fashion world remembers forever as a fond farewell to one of the most memorable designers in history, Karl Lagerfeld. After missing two Chanel fashion shows earlier this year, speculation mounted around the visionary’s health and sadly, French media reports announced his death in February.
Paris Fashion Week came to an end in style with Karl Lagerfeld’s last ever Chanel collection showcased in the Grand Palais-turned-ski resort venue. Just weeks after his death shook the fashion world, supermodels, including Cara Delevinge and Kaia Gerber, took to the catwalk to pay homage to the iconic designer who led the fashion house as Creative Director for over three decades.
Born in 1938 in Hamburg, Germany as Karl Lagerfeldt (he later lost the ’t’ to make himself more commercial). Lagerfeld got his first taste of fashion when he attended a Dior show with his mother, who is said to have been a lingerie saleswoman. With the support of his parents, he moved to Paris at the age of 14 to pursue a career in fashion. When he was just 17-years-old, he won an award in the 1954 International Wool Secretariat competition for his coat design which was then produced by Pierre Balmain. This was the start of what would be a long, successful run in one of the world’s most competitive industries for Karl Lagerfeld.
A mere nine years later he took on the role of Creative Head at Chloé, a title that would place him in high regard in the style stakes. Over his two stints, he spent 25 years creating a signature Bohemian look for the fashion house. In 1997, he left the house when he was replaced by Stella McCartney.
Despite his success at Chloé it was his culminating roles at the head of two of the world’s most iconic brands – Chanel and Italian house, Fendi – that Karl Lagerfeld will be most remembered for. He created his first couture collection for Chanel in 1983 – over 10 years after the death of Coco Chanel.
“What I did 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 something else”, Karl once said of Coco Chanel.
It took him just one collection before he brought his own influence to the Chanel house. And he must have been doing something right because he was only four years short of 40 years of leading Chanel to global success. He later came out with his namesake brand, Karl by Karl Lagerfeld, which made his designs more accessible to buyers as they don’t carry the same price tag as Chanel, Fendi or Chloé.
His time at Fendi saw him design their icon double-F logo that has become accustomed to the brand as it appears across their handbags, shoes and clothing today.
When he wasn’t designing collections, Karl was the one behind the camera. In fact, he photographed many of his own Chanel collections. His creativity didn’t stop there though, he even published a dieting book, explaining to readers, and fans alike, how he managed to lose 92 pounds in just 13 months. He cut out Coca Cola, cheese and chocolate cake so he “wear suits by Hedi Slimane”.
At the time of his death, Karl held the leading influential role of not one but three fashion power names – Chanel, Fendi and Karl by Karl Lagerfeld. Could you imagine anyone else being that successful? He took a failing Chanel and transformed it into one of the world’s greatest luxury brands and became one of the most recognizable faces in the industry along the way, with his all black look, high collar, fingerless gloves, snow-white ponytail and dark sunglasses – no one wouldn’t recognize the sir Karl Lagerfeld.
If there’s one of his pearls of wisdom that we should take with us, let it be this: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Sleep tight, Karl Lagerfeld. Fashion, as we know it, will never be the same.