The longest fashion journey ended today. Karl Lagerfeld has died, taking with him more than half a century of visionary fashion, which was both free and inclusive. A self-taught master, he referred to himself as a “complete improvisation.” He was a liberated and creative spirit who followed only his instincts, which never failed him. He will forever be associated with the French label Chanel, and it was there that he created some of the most iconic silhouettes of our time. His designs were the epitome of French elegance - a vision that he shared with the whole world. He approached each collection as though it were his first, and made all of his talent available to his team. He was liberated from the past but had no aspirations to dictate the future. In his own words, “La mode, c’est éphémère, (Fashion is ephemeral,)”.
Born and raised in Hamburg, Lagerfeld moved to Paris in 1952. It was a Christian Dior show which inspired him to discover his first passion: fashion illustration. Two years later, he caught the attention of Pierre Balmain at the Secrétariat International de la Laine competition, and became his personal assistant. He then went on to be artistic director of Jean Patou in 1959, while simultaneously pursuing a freelance career. Come 1964, he joined the French house, Chloé, where he produced ready-to-wear and accessories lines until 1983. His pieces were all luxurious, comfortable, bohemian and romantic, capturing the freedom movement of the 1970s.
In 1965, he joined Fendi, where he notably took over the fur line. Until his very last year, he created fashion tinged with humor and irony, cutting down on the use of fur, and experimenting with audacious styles. He was provocative and unfazed by controversy. In the summer of 2015, he set up “haute fourrure” shows. We owe him the acronym “FF”, still popular today, short for ”Fun Fur”, or fake fur to have fun in. Karl Lagerfeld will forever remain a pillar of the Italian fashion house.
His most beautiful story, however, was the one he wrote with Chanel, the house he took the reins of in 1983. Until his very last show there, he expressed a vision, tirelessly reimagining the maison’s staples with an irreproachable consistency of style, the richness of which was thanks to his unwavering attention to detail. Blessed with an exceptional talent for setting scenes, he dreamed up breathtaking sets for each of his shows. He also photographed Chanel’s press books and advertising campaigns himself from January 1987. Karl Lagerfeld was not simply a designer, but a visionary with a 360-degree approach to fashion, from his famous sketches in color pencil, to his advertising work, the power of which he understood long before many of his contemporaries. A true forward-thinker, he took on the role of the stylist as it is practiced today, long before his time.
“Fendi is my Italian identity, and Chanel is my French one,” he once said, and it was this cosmopolitan vision of fashion (he was German, lived in France, traveled constantly between Rome and New York and spoke four languages), which gave his French collections for Chanel their tour de force, taking the maison with a truly French DNA all around the world. A pioneer of cruise collections with his Chanel Métiers d’Art line, he delivered his vision of a different country each year. Karl Lagerfeld never ceased to pay homage to the artisans of French couture, the guardians of the savoir-faire he held so close to his heart.
Rare are those who succeed in infusing such imagination and panache into their work. The icon will be remembered for his formidable humor, his talent for mastering languages other than fashion and for being a straight talker (so much so he was nicknamed the “Kaiser de la mode”. He was a master of self-deprecating humor. In 2010, his silhouette was printed on a Coca-Coca Light bottle, which became an emblem of pop culture, and in 2008, he posed in a road safety campaign, popularizing yellow reflective vests long before they hit the news.
“I do not want to be a reality in the lives of others,” he once said, “I want to be like an apparition, that appears and then disappears.”
Original article on Vogue France. Read the full article here.