Karl Lagerfeld’s illustrious career started way back in 1954 when he landed a job with the couturier Pierre Balmain.
Born in Hamburg he was only 21 and it wasn’t long before he was dressing stars like Sophia Loren.
In 1963 he began freelancing at Chloe taking a full time position at the fashion house in 1974. From there he moved to Fendi a position he held until his death, serving as Creative Director for 52 years.
But despite designing his own collection and lifetime at Fendi it’s his tenure at Chanel he’ll undoubtedly be remembered for.
In 1983 the French couture house was floundering. Following Coco Chanel’s death in 1971 the companies fortunes had dwindled and owner Alain Wertheimer was concerned for its future.
Wertheimer approached Karl in the hope he’d breath new life into the couture house.
Not in his wildest dreams could he have hoped Karl would transform Chanel in the world’s most recognisable and successful fashion brand. But that’s exactly what he did.
Lagerfeld was Creative Director of Chanel for a staggering 36 years during which time he revolutionised the brand. He did this by building on Coco’s intrinsic aesthetic.
He took her iconic boucle jacket, the little black dress, quilted handbags, chain handles and faux pearls and kept them relevant by reinterpreting them season after season.
For nearly 4 decades he managed to breath new life into Coco Chanel’s designs whilst never deviating too far from her vision.
He managed to keep the nostalgia of the brand alive whilst constantly reinventing it and making it look new.
A true visionary he had the extraordinary gift of knowing what women wanted before they’d even seen it.
Quilted moon-boots, monogrammed bum bags, clogs, visors we bought them all.
And his ability to design the most sought after must-have accessories season after season was the key to his commercial and financial success.
With one eye constantly on the future he embraced the social media age manipulating it to full advantage.
No one understood the power of image and the smartphone better than Karl and he was always one step ahead of the game. Lagerfeld saw the need to produce shareable iconic images at fashion week long before everyone else.
Lagerfeld also recognised his persona was an important part of his role creating an enigmatic image that was part caricature.
Instantly recognisable with his sunglasses, fingerless gloves and white pompadour he was a charismatic figure that often courted controversy.
His sunglasses actually came about out of necessity as he was short sighted and didn’t want to appear weak or pitiful. But they became an integral part of the Lagerfeld brand.
Images of him travelling by private jet with his beloved pampered pet Choupette adding to his outrageous, often ostentatious image.
There was no limit to his imagination which was evident in his spectacular catwalk shows.
Creating magnificent sensorial experiences at the Grand Palais in Paris his shows were the hottest ticket in town.
Costing upwards of $10m to produce and taking 12 months to plan this is the man that gave us a space station complete with life size rocket ship that literally blasted off.
He famously created a fully stocked supermarket complete with double C emblazoned food items and a hardware section stocked with Chanel brooms and hammers.
Other achievements included a full beach with complete with sand, saves and a lifeguard tower, a catwalk constructed around a cliff edge with a flowing waterfall, a giant recreation of the Eiffel Tower under a majestic glass roof, an airport terminal and a fully operational Brasserie Gabrielle.
Not only did he redefine the fashion industry by broadening our expectations he changing the way we consume fashion.
Fashion is all about reinvention and this was surely Karl’s greatest gift. Every show marked a new chapter for the brand.
What lies in store for Chanel and who will step into his well worn shoes remains to be seen.
RIP Karl Lagerfeld
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