Remembering An Icon: Karl Lagerfeld
Hearing the news of his death on February 19, it became clear just how much of an impact Karl Lagerfeld made on the fashion world and the people he met. If you’re a fashion-lover like myself, you are sure to know his name. You probably even know what he looks like due to his signature, domineering look - long white hair pulled back in a ponytail, black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and tall, white detachable collars - and maybe you know him as the creative director for the House of Chanel; however, you probably don’t know much else about him or how he became the fashion icon that he is today.
Scrolling through my social media, heartfelt tribute after tribute flooded my feed from his famous friends including Carine Roitfeld, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Donatella Versace, Naomi Campbell, Cara Delevingne, and Kaia Gerber to name a few. This intrigued me, and I became determined to learn more about this giant of a man, Mr. Lagerfeld.
Karl was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1933, to Elisabeth and Otto Lagerfeld, a wealthy businessman. At the young age of 14, he convinced his parents to move to Paris where he attended secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne studying drawing and history. He had been living in the city for two years when he decided to submit a series of his sketches and fabric samples for a design competition. He ended up winning the category for coat design and befriended another winner, none other than Yves Saint Laurent. The competition got Lagerfeld noticed and shortly after, he was hired by the French designer Pierre Balmain. He worked as his junior assistant, and later as an apprentice for three years.
In 1958, he took his first big role as the artistic director for Jean Patou where he worked on the design of ten haute couture collections. After moving to Rome to study art history, he began freelance designing collections for several brands including Chloe, Valentino, and Fendi. Noticing his talent, Fendi hired him to modernize the brand’s fur line. He eventually worked his way up to creative director, a position he held until death.
Perhaps Lagerfeld is most synonymous with Chanel, however. In the 1980s, the “near-dead brand” asked him to revitalize its image. While everyone told him not to take the position, he saw it as a challenge - and thank God he did! His revamping of the brand’s ready-to-wear line through modernizing Coco Chanel’s most renowned designs created the well-known “cult” items of the house’s synonymous tweed, pearls, and dual-toned footwear styles. It was Karl who had the idea to interlock the Cs to create the iconic logo.
While still serving as creative director for both Fendi and Chanel, in 1984, he launched his own brand “Karl Lagerfeld.” The brand was known for quality tailoring, bold designs, patterns, and colors, and “intellectual sexiness.” He sold the brand to Tommy Hilfiger in 2005, but remained chief creative director.
Lagerfeld will be remembered for being one of the most decorated, recognizable designers in the fashion industry who could understood the voice of multiple brands simultaneously, as indicated by his impressive career. While at times controversial, his “renaissance-like” ideas changed the way women dressed and defined modern luxury fashion.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue released a statement following his death saying, “Today the world lost a giant among men. Karl was so much more than our greatest and most prolific designer—his creative genius was breathtaking and to be his friend was an exceptional gift. Karl was brilliant, he was wicked, he was funny, he was generous beyond measure, and he was deeply kind. I will miss him so very much.”
Thank you, Karl! Your legacy will live on and inspire many for decades to come.