Dark sunglasses (no consideration if it’s day or night), (very) high collared shirt, signature ponytail, and a pair of gloves that covered up those talented hands—Karl Lagerfeld might have lived his life in monochrome but his work had every colour needed to push fashion forward. An icon whose creative mind led brands such as the House of Chanel and Fendi to greater echelons, his vision changed the fashion industry. His eye for detail captured the very essence of fashion, whether it was a luxury brand or his eponymous brand.
He brought a fresh perspective to what Gabrielle Chanel had left behind. He remixed tweed suits, little black dress, and of course, the classic quilted bag for the younger generation. No points for guessing their fate.
Born in Germany, Karl moved to Paris when he was 14 years of age. He learnt early on that he needed to push hard if he wanted to succeed. In 1954, he won the Woolmark Prize alongside his friend, Yves Saint Laurent (who won the second prize). Soon after, he was hired as a junior assistant to couturier Pierre Balmain, led the House of Jean Patou and later headed Chloé, which is said to be the first brand to introduce Ready-to-Wear.
He often described himself as a ‘computer plugged into Chanel mode’, and had the longest association with Fendi. He started working with Fendi in 1960s and made sure that the brand achieved the global fame it deserved. The double F logo, conceptualised by Karl, will always be etched in our memories.
There is someone else who desribes him as pure genius. Yasmin Le Bon, an English Model who at one point was the highest earning model in the world, and who has worked closely with Karl on numerous projects has very fond memories of the eccentric designer. “People will obviously remember him for his charisma and prowess as a designer,” says Yasmin. However, he was more than that. “What people don’t realise that he was a very compassionate, and a great human being. Working with him never felt like work. We used to enjoy our fittings and trials, and he would experiment a lot,” continues Yasmin. Karl would always encourage the talent he was shooting with to speak up if they had some ideas or if they thought that things would be better if they were done a certain way. “He wanted everyone to envision his projects with him, and ideate together,” she says.
He always looked for a future, a brighter one. For Chanel, he created visual stories that were a treat for eyes. His vision and imagination, when it comes to fashion shows, was unparalleled. Remember how he transformed Grand Palais into an airport terminal or when he recreated an enchanted forest to the T (enraging the environmentalists though) or the spacecraft, and the very recent show where beach was the runway.
He worked for a better future for fashion without pretence. Karl, you will stay in our hearts and minds, forever.