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A tribute to Karl Lagerfeld

Tue 2nd Mar 2021

Signature black sunglasses, tight black jeans, ponytails, black leather gloves and rings with chrome hearts. Karl Lagerfeld was an immortal of the fashion world. Since he was young, his fate was intertwined with fashion. Lagerfeld grew up believing he was destined to live this way, that he was born to be a legend.

Early life and inspirations

On 10th of September, 1933, in Hamburg, Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born to mother Elisabeth (née Bahlmann) and father Otto Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld had an older half-sister named Christel (Martha Christane), who was born in 1931 from her father's first marriage. His father managed an evaporated milk company and had extensive business interests in Germany through Glucksklee-Milch GmbH. Lagerfeld grew up in a wealthy family that was not affected by World War II's economic hardships. Since he was a little boy, he immersed himself in visual arts, always making sketches during class time. Young Karl was inspired by French art artists and he graduated from secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, majoring in drawing and history. He would spend most of his time visiting the Kunsthalle Hamburg museum rather than studying at school, as he believed that he could learn more this way than he did at school. 

Karl Lagerfeld in Germany, 1973. Photo: AP
Karl Lagerfeld in Germany, 1973. Photo: AP

Legendary career in fashion

Two years after moving to Paris, Lagerfeld participated in the French International Wool Secretariat (now the International Woolmark Prize). During the competition, he made friends with Yves Saint Laurent, who won the first prize in the dress category. Meanwhile, his coat design won the first prize in the coat category, and one year later, he was hired by Pierre Balmain, who put his invention into production. Lagerfeld's erudite talent allowed him to switch seamlessly between different design styles. He worked as Balmain's assistant and apprentice for three years, after which he became the artistic director for Jean Patou. He collaborated with a string of other couture houses in 1964, including Charles Jourdan, Chloé, Krizia, and Valentino. Lagerfeld helped them to create unique designs as he established the concept of high fashion, ready-to-wear clothes in the late Sixties and early Seventies. 

Karl Lagerfeld fits one of his designs on model Ines de la Fressange at Chloe's Paris studio. Picture: Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Karl Lagerfeld fits one of his designs on model Ines de la Fressange at Chloe's Paris studio. Picture: Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

In 1967, he became the creative director of womenswear for Fendi, to modernize their fur production. Lagerfeld brought moleskin, rabbit and squirrel skins into high fashion design, reversing fur's symbolic status and made it wearable for everyday people. Lagerfeld's innovative designs for Fendi proved to pioneer the fashion industry, with whom he worked until the last moments of his life. Despite his personal fame, Lagerfeld was best known as the artistic director of the fashion house of Chanel since 1982, a position he also held until his death.

 

Cindy Crawford, Karl Lagerfeld and Claudia Schiffer, during the Chanel fashion show in Paris, 1993. Picture: Rindoff Petroff/Castel/Getty Images
Cindy Crawford, Karl Lagerfeld and Claudia Schiffer, during the Chanel fashion show in Paris, 1993. Picture: Rindoff Petroff/Castel/Getty Images

He was hired by Chanel after their namesake, designer Coco Chanel, passed away. At the time, Chanel was considered as a "near-dead brand". However, Lagerfeld applied his talents and creativity to breathe life back into the company. His collection reimagined the aesthetics of one of the most enduring fashion icons of the 20th century and created a blueprint for the fashion world's revival of traditional brands. From the tweed suit to two-tone shoes and quilted bags, his designs allowed people to dream and live in the fantasy world of traditional fashion.

After one year working at Chanel, he launched his eponymous label, "KARL LAGERFELD". "I design like I breathe," he said of his artistic process, "you don't ask to breathe - it just happens." During his design process, he combined effortlessness with the rock-chic style to create a Parisian-inspired masterpiece. He proved to people that "fashion is an attitude more than a clothing detail."

Kendall Jenner and Lagerfield walk the runway during the Chanel show as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2015/2016. Picture: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Kendall Jenner and Lagerfield walk the runway during the Chanel show as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2015/2016. Picture: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

He also had a myriad of other professional interests, including as an avid photographer. Lagerfeld photographed and published many of Chanel's advertisements in fashion magazines like British Vogue and Interview. He not only collaborated with other high fashion brands; he also worked with the fast-fashion brand H&M on a venture to produce limited-edition clothing lines by designers from the high-fashion world.

The loss of a legend

On the 18th of February, 2019, Lagerfeld was admitted to the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine due to health complications. He passed away the next morning from complications from pancreatic cancer. Instead of requesting a formal funeral, Lagerfeld had previously requested that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered beside his mother and late partner, Jacques de Bascher, at a secret location. Chanel, Fendi and the Karl Lagerfeld fashion label held a tribute at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2019.

Karl Lagerfeld and his beloved cat, Choupette.
Karl Lagerfeld and his beloved cat, Choupette.

People will always remember him for his designs and impact on the fashion industry. He was a fashion designer who reinvented the fashion world, wearing his signature black sunglasses, tight black jeans, ponytails and rings with chrome hearts. Four times a year, Lagerfeld transformed the doors of the Grand Palais into portals to the world of Karl Lagerfeld, showcasing his masterpieces. Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85, but the spirit of the icon remains.

"If you ask me what I'd most like to have invented in fashion, I'd say the white shirt. Everything else comes after." - Karl Lagerfeld

Rest in Peace, Karl Lagerfeld

By Caitlin Duan

Sources:

  • Britannica. (2020). Karl Lagerfeld. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Karl-Lagerfeld
  • Fury, A. A Tribute to Karl Lagerfeld: The Great Fashion Designer-Definer. Retrieved from: https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/11508/a-tribute-to-karl-lagerfeld-the-great-fashion-designer-definer
  • Wigham, H. (2011). Karl Lagerfeld. Retrieved from: https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/karl-lagerfeld
  • Trebay, G. Remembering Karl Laferfeld. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/fashion/karl-lagerfeld-memorial-paris.html