Karl Lagerfeld has died. The iconoclastic designer passed away on the morning of February 19 in Paris following weeks of ill health. He was 85. The news comes just weeks after Lagerfeld was absent from the Chanel Spring 2019 Couture show. A statement released following the shows revealed that the designer “was feeling tired” and asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house, to represent him and greet the guests alongside the bride”.
Karl Lagerfeld was born Karl Otto Lagerfeld to a wealthy businessman father and Swedish mother in pre-war Germany. The designer was one of fashion’s most recognizable figures, and it’s not just because of the platinum ponytail, the sunglasses, and the black and-white silhouette that he made his signature. Lagerfeld was a legend in the industry, making waves in the world of design for more than half a century.
After moving to Paris at the age of 14 to study drawing and history, he worked with Pierre Balmain as his design assistant after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in 1955.
His résumé included stints at Jean Patou, Krizia, Charles Jourdan, Valentino, and Chloé, where he worked at in 1974 then again in 1992. A master of re-invention — he removed the “t” from his original surname Lagerfeldt, because – as he wrote in his book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet – it sounded “more commercial” — it was under his creative eye that Chloé reached international success (finding fans in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Brigitte Bardot), and cementing Lagerfeld as a serious fashion powerhouse.
In 1965, Lagerfeld began his collaboration with Silvia Fendi to create the Italian label’s ready-to-wear collections. He joined Chanel in 1983, only a decade after Coco Chanel died and five years after the label debuted its first ready-to-wear collection. Speaking to The New York Times, Lagerfeld said “Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge.” The designer would go on to revive what was publicly perceived as a near-dead brand by redefining the maison’s DNA in a contemporary and fresh way.
Between Chanel’s ready-to-wear and couture lines, Fendi’s ready-to-wear collections, and designing for his eponymous brand, he was responsible for creating hundreds of bestselling products each year. He was also the first designer to collaborate with Swedish high-retailer H&M in 2004, setting a precedent as the collection sold out in a matter of minutes.
Aside from those three fashion labels, Lagerfeld has also taken on the role of costume designer for a number of productions, including Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz at Milan’s La Scala theatre, Komödie der Verführung by Arthur Schnitzler at the Burgtheater in Vienna, and Der Schwierige by Hugo von Hofmannsthal at the Salzburg Festival.
In 2018, he joined forces with Lebanese architect Aline Asmar D’Amman, founder of Culture Architecture interior design firm on the renovation of Paris’s Hôtel de Crillon, and to create a timeless collection of solid marble tables, fountains, mirrors, and lamps.
In addition to his design talents, Lagerfeld was also a photographer and filmmaker. Memorably, he photographed Bella Hadid for Vogue Arabia’s first September issue in 2017. He also served as the creative director for all of Chanel’s advertising, and has published books of his art photography.
Lagerfeld is survived by a red point Birman cat named Choupette, which, in 2013, he indicated he would marry, if it were legal.
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