Karl Lagerfeld was one of the fashion industry’s most decorated designers, having helmed Chanel since 1983. He designed Chanel's ready-to-wear and couture lines, his own label, and collaborated with Silvia Fendi to create Fendi’s ready-to-wear collections. Celebrated for his renaissance-like intelligence, Lagerfeld’s aesthetic was imbued with cultural and historical reference points. The designer was also an impressive linguist, versed in German, English, French and Spanish.
The son of a wealthy Hamburg businessman, Lagerfeld was born in Germany. Initially educated at St Anne’s school, following his family’s emigration to France Lagerfeld completed his education at Lycée Montaigne, where he focused on drawing and history.
Lagerfeld was hired as Pierre Balmain's assistant after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in 1955. In 1958, after three years at Balmain, he moved to Jean Patou where was involved in the design of ten haute couture collections. Following a brief stint at Tiziano, a couture house based in Rome, Lagerfeld began to freelance for French fashion house Chloé in 1964. At first Lagerfeld designed a few pieces each season, but soon he was designing the entire collection. In 1965, he began a short design collaboration with Curiel, following which he began his collaboration with Fendi.
In 1982, the chairman of Chanel, Alain Wertheimer, asked Lagerfeld to design for the house. Lagerfeld told The New York Times, “Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge.” The designer would go on to redefine the house’s codes while paying homage to the Chanel herself, subverting her ideals with his own modern take on her most renowned designs.
Lagerfeld has made cult items of the house’s bouclé tweed, pearls, dual-toned footwear and interlocking C’s for new generations around the globe. In recent years, Lagerfeld conceived Chanel’s métiers d’art, runway shows designed to highlight the craftsmanship of houses such as Desrues, Lessage and Barrie Knitwear, now owned under Chanel’s Parraffection umbrella.
The designer founded his own line, Karl Lagerfeld, in 1984, telling Vogue, “I’ve not been dreaming all my life to have my name over a shop. Now, we’ll put it there because it’s the right moment to do it; and I made this name, why not use it?” Lagerfeld sold the brand to the Tommy Hilfiger group in 2005. He remained its chief creative and was directly involved in the design process.
In addition to his design talents, Lagerfeld was also a photographer and filmmaker, and regularly brought Chanel’s heritage to life through film and imagery; he also shot and creatively directed all of Chanel’s advertising. Lagerfeld lived in Paris with his cat Choupette. He died in Paris on the 19th of February 2019.