Au Revoir, Karl Lagerfeld

The world lost a fashion icon when Karl Lagerfeld, Creative Director of Chanel and Fendi, passed away on February 19. Here we look back on the life of the visionary designer.

Au Revoir, Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born in 1933 to manufacturer Otto Lagerfeld and his wife Elisabeth in the port city of Hamburg, Germany. His childhood, spent together with an older sister, was sheltered at their estate, far away from the massive bombardments that hit Hamburg during World War II.

Karl Lagerfeld as a child. Image: Blackaphillyated
Karl Lagerfeld as a child. Image: Blackaphillyated

At the age of 19, Karl Lagerfeld, who from early childhood was convinced that he would be famous all over the world, moved to Paris, where he studied at a private school and the Lycée Montaigne, before embarking on a career as an illustrator in the fashion world.

Karl Lagerfeld när han vann Woolmarkpriset 1954. Bild: Buro247
Karl Lagerfeld när han vann Woolmarkpriset 1954. Bild: Buro247

Lagerfeld won the prestigious International Woolmark Prize in the Coat category in 1954 and was then hired by Pierre Balmain where he completed a tailor's apprenticeship. Yves Saint Laurent also took part in the competition, but in the category "evening dress". The two young talents of the fashion industry initially maintained a friendship, but developed a rivalry over the years.

Karl Lagerfeld hos Balmain.
Karl Lagerfeld hos Balmain.

From 1958 to 1963, Karl Lagerfeld worked as Artistic Director for the fashion designer Jean Patou, and from 1963 to 1978 in the same position at Chloé. Incidentally, he also worked freelance for various companies and began to create under his own name. In 1965, he entered into contract with the Italian fashion brand Fendi, for which he designed two collections every year.

Finally, 1983 was the decisive year - for Karl Lagerfeld as well as for the fashion house Chanel, who hired the 50-year-old as Creative Director. First in haute couture, and a year later for their prêt-à-porter collections.

A 1984 ad for Chanel designed by Lagerfeld
A 1984 ad for Chanel designed by Lagerfeld

The fashion house, founded in 1913 by Coco Chanel, was the epitome of modern and revolutionary women's fashion in its early years, but after the death of Coco Chanel in 1971, it had somewhat gone out of style. Karl Lagerfeld immediately gave new life to the brand, attracting women of all ages, and launching what is today a billion-dollar enterprise.

Lagerfeld prepping a model for the Chanel runway
Lagerfeld prepping a model for the Chanel runway

He infused new life into the brand, restoring the chic glamour that Coco Chanel had inspired and ushered in the brand's contemporary edge with both haute couture and ready-to-wear. In 1984, he also founded his eponymous brand Karl Lagerfeld, whose contemporary clothes and accessories were meant to channel "intellectual sexiness."

Karl Lagerfeld behind the camera. Image: Fashion & Power
Karl Lagerfeld behind the camera. Image: Fashion & Power

In 1987 Karl Lagerfeld discovered photography as a new field of activity. His oeuvre spanned from fashion and nude photography to advertising campaigns. In 2013, he published a book titled Modern Mythology in which his photographs are inspired by Greek antiquity. The photographs of the illustrated book were taken in the South of France and told the Greek myth of the tragically in love couple Daphnis and Chloe. The male "lead role" was given to model Baptiste Giabiconi, whom Lagerfeld called his muse.

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer and Karl Lagerfeld in the 1990s
Supermodel Claudia Schiffer and Karl Lagerfeld in the 1990s

His most important muse, however, was Claudia Schiffer. After she was discovered at the age of 17 in a disco in Düsseldorf, she went to Paris and walked on the runway in 1988 for Chanel. The rest is fashion history. Until Lagerfeld's death, he and Claudia Schiffer had a close professional and personal friendship.

Karl Lagerfeld at his apartment in Paris. Image: Architectural Digest
Karl Lagerfeld at his apartment in Paris. Image: Architectural Digest

Undoubtedly, Karl Lagerfeld was a workaholic, but he enjoyed his work and did not allow himself to be worn down by it. But where did all this creativity come from? On the one hand, it must have been intrinsic; on the other, he certainly owed it to his love of learning More than 300,000 books line the shelves and pile up on the tables of his homes in Paris, Monaco, Rome, Biarritz, New York and Vermont.

Karl Lagerfeld with Choupette
Karl Lagerfeld with Choupette

By 2011, a Burmese cat named Choupette captured the heart of the fashion designer, who from then on lived a luxurious life at his side. In addition, the kitten "worked" as a model and became Lagerfeld's muse for his own collections, as well as generating a 120,000-follower strong social media base.

Karl Lagerfeld at his 1991 Chanel Show. Image: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Karl Lagerfeld at his 1991 Chanel Show. Image: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Undoubtedly, Karl Lagerfeld was an icon who cultivated his image with an excellent sense of humor. His most recognizable identifying features were his white braided ponytail and black sunglasses. In the 1980s, but especially in the 1990s, when he was struggling with weight problems, a fan was his constant companion.

Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Haute Couture Show Spring - Summer 2017 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Image: The 6 Million Dollar Story
Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Haute Couture Show Spring - Summer 2017 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Image: The 6 Million Dollar Story

The turnaround came in 2000, when Lagerfeld was unable to wear the slim-fitting Dior Homme suits. He immediately went on a diet, that he later publicized, and lost more than 90 lbs in just 13 months. In addition to his previous trademarks, a slimming black and white tailored outfit, a high collar and driver gloves became his uniform.

Karl Lagerfeld died on February 19, 2019 at a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris due to pancreatic cancer at the age of 85. Already in January, his absence at the Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week had led to speculation about his potentially worrying state of health.

The Chanel 2018/2019 runway show at The Met
The Chanel 2018/2019 runway show at The Met

However, Lagerfeld's legacy will live on with his iconic designs, dedicated eye to detail and style, and the international prowess of Chanel. The iconic figure revolutionized the world of fashion, bringing it into the 21st century while maintaining its timeless elegance and glamour.

See all Karl Lagerfeld on Barnebys

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