Updated: Mar 11, 2019
An updated version of an old commentary I wrote on my favourite fashion designer below:
He wears high white collars and still prefers to correspond with paper and pen. Recognised around the world for his trademark white hair and black glasses Karl Lagerfeld was a Paris-based German fashion designer, artist and photographer.
Although he was born into money, Karl’s success did not come out of nothing. From his beginnings in the 50’s as a designer apprentice for French fashion houses Balmain and Jean Patou, Karl's primary collections were well received, but not groundbreaking. "I became bored there, too, and I quit and tried to go back to school, but that didn't work, so I spent two years mostly on beaches – I guess I studied life."
He then went on to launch himself as a freelance designer, working with brands such as Mario Valentino, Repetto, and the supermarket chain Monoprix and with financial backing from his family, he set up a small shop in Paris. During this time, he would often consult Madame Zereakian, Christian Dior's Armenian fortuneteller. He later admitted, "She told me I'd succeed in fashion and perfume."
In the 80's he began his journey into the house of Chanel, when his mission was to “revive a dead woman". Revive her he did, turning Coco Chanel into one of the most powerful fashion icons of the century. The crux of Karl's artistic talent? Taking the stuffing out of ‘couture’ while rendering its special effects in line with modern dressing code: a looseness and the sense of things casually coming apart and seeming not to matter.
Nonetheless the biggest driver of Karl's Karlism rests in his effortless yet highly defined attitude. Defining fashion as “ephemeral, dangerous and unfair”, he invites those who would rather have it easier to join public service. Karl is also known to have taken strong stances on the use of fur. In a BBC interview in 2009 he claimed that hunters "make a living having learnt nothing else than hunting, killing those beasts who would kill us if they could", and maintained that "in a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish."
While most people age and try to make sense of their former years, Karl consistently kept bold stances on life. “I do not wish to be a part of reality, just an apparition”. Choosing not to gloss over the past, he would never write a memoir because there are people who may have played an unpleasant role in his life, and he would rather not “give them the pleasure of ever mentioning their name.” Seemingly intense, he did not forget to amuse himself. In 2008, Karl created a limited edition teddy bear in his likeness that sold for $1,500 each. Often flying out to Monte Carlo in his private jet, he would hang on to a childhood pillow as to help calm his motion sickness. Love life? If he could, would would have legally married his cat Choupette.
Although Karl’s persona comes off far from down-to-earth, his just-above-the ground attitude mirrors that of great artists, who remain true to themselves capturing their audiences time and time again. One thing is for sure; we’ll always have Karl.