Today marks the loss of one of the fashion industry’s most iconic figures of all time, Mr Karl Otto Lagerfeld. Born in Hamburg, Germany in September 1933, Karl had always been a creative individual even before his career at Chanel. Working for brands such as Chloe and Fendi, whilst also exploring his artistic capabilities within photography. Despite his controversial opinions and famous feuds, it’s without a doubt that Karl has had a very influential role in the development of the fashion industry over the past 5 decades.
Chanel is where Karl really made an a-list name for himself. As a brand that had lost it’s founding creator and visionary, Chanel had faced a tough few years after the death of Gabrielle Chanel back in 1971. With a lack of direction and purpose, the brands owner at the time Alain Wertheimer had chosen to focus on the production of perfumes and lousy copies of old designs within their clothing collections, just in order to keep the name alive.
More than ten years after Gabrielle’s death and at a time of fatal decline for Chanel, Alain Wertheimer had chosen Karl to become the brands new creative director in order to save the company. Karl said back in October 2017 “when I took over at Chanel, everyone said to me ‘don’t touch it, it’s dead…’ and I said to myself, ‘I love that people think that, now let’s see.'”
How he saved Chanel
Karl has always declared that his designs are not like Gabrielle’s and he believes she would hate his direction for the brand if she could see it. Although he understood the importance of heritage at Chanel, he was also very business driven and he believed that in order for Chanel to survive, the brand needed to redirect their classic styles to be appealing towards a younger audience. He wanted loyal, mature clients who have followed the brand for many years to be able to bring their daughters into stores to also appreciate their designs.
In order to do this, Karl rejuvenated their classic pieces to become more flattering and sexy for a younger audience, whilst still keeping the history and aesthetic of Chanel within the garments. By the late 90’s, Chanel was once again one of the most appealing and ‘in’ labels for any 20 year old woman to be wearing.
Where it went wrong, and then right again
As for his recent designs, there is a clear deterioration in Karl’s sources of inspiration for his collections at Chanel. The ‘same sh*t, different season’ mentality has been quite prominent and had forced Chanel to become a lesser anticipated brand for each season, until Karl’s last show.
The Spring 2019 couture show was very heavily inspired by 18th century, his favourite century to be exact. Despite how much this period had styles that Gabrielle would detest to use within her brand if she were alive today, Karl has always emphasised on balancing the differences between him and Chanel. In particular, he had managed to surprise everyone with beautiful pennier dresses that completely defied Chanel’s original loose fitting, comfortable and movable designs, yet he delivered them in the brands traditional muted colour scheme which just seemed right.
With the show being such a success, it made it even more confusing as to why Karl didn’t attend. At age 85 with over thirty years at the brand, his presence is often what people would consider to be the final touch to the show. He is an iconic figure with an iconic look and an iconic identity. His lack of attendance to the show seemed completely out of character and had left a lot of people confused, and so the questions started to rise ‘is he giving up? Does he not care for the brand anymore?’
To now know that Karl has been facing some ill health which has thus led to his recent death is heartbreaking, especially as a director that people has began to get excited for his visions again. Despite the drama and few questionable collections Karl has produced, he has been the driving force behind resurrecting Chanel and reimbursing it’s history into the 21st century. Along with that he has brought humour and drama to the fashion industry that it simply can’t live without. Overall, he’s an unforgettable character.
Rest in peace Karl.