There’s a force in the fashion industry to be reckoned with. Most easily identifiable with his signature white hair, black glasses and highly starched collars, it’s ‘K’ for Karl, Karl Lagerfeld. A master of reinvention in the world of fashion, Karl has never seized to evolve not only himself but several high profile luxury brands such as Chanel and Fendi. The mastermind has worked with Pierre Balmain, Jean Patou, Krizia, Charles Jourdan, and Valentino in the past.

Born on 10 September 1933 in Hamburg, he was raised in an affluent household and was the son of a wealthy businessman. He was safe guarded from the dire conditions of WWII as his father’s business interests lay in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH. Karl had studied in private school and completed his secondary education in Lycée Montaigne in Paris where he specialized in drawing and history.

In 1955, the International Wool Secretariat sponsored a design competition where Lagerfeld bagged an accolade in the ‘coat category’ which landed him to a prestigious opportunity to work with Pierre Balmain as his assistant. This was his first but an important milestone, decades before his international acclaim.

After his three year experience with Balmain in 1958, he shifted to Jean Patou. There he became the haute couture designer for the next five years launching two collections a year. The first collection in July 1958 received negative responses. The press did not appreciate his collection but rather were flabbergasted by it. According to them the black cocktail dresses were cut so wide open that it was a complete disaster, but in Karl’s defense the design silhouette for the season was called by the alphabet “K” for Karl that consisted of a straight line in front which then curved in at the waist in the back by a low fullness to the skirt.

Despair followed him to the 1960 spring season where again his collection was not received as per his expectations. In his late 1960 collection he designed special tiny hats made of satin which rested on the cheek in pancake shaped circles known as “slaps in the face”. The collected received affirmative response but was not critically acclaimed. Karl wanted to refresh his creative juices so he took a break for two years and spent his time mostly on beaches.

In 1963 Karl joined a roman couture house named ‘Tiziani’ by Evan Richards. The label had started off as couture and eventually branched towards Pret-a-porter. Together they sketched the first collection in 1963, ending up with some 90 outfits. Gina Lollobrigida, Doris Duke, and Princess Borghese were some of his clientele while he was the designer for Tiziani. He designed for the label six years before being replaced by Guy Douvier.

Lagerfeld became a freelancer in 1964 for the French fashion house Chloé where initially per season he would design few pieces. The few pieces turned to the entire collection soon after. Karl also did a short design collaboration with Curiel in 1970 after the death of the roman couture house designer, Gigliola Curiel in 1969.

In the 1973 spring collection of Chloe, Karl grabbed headlines for offering high fashion. He had displayed loose Spencer jackets and printed silk jackets. A unique ‘Surprise skirt’ was also designed by him in an ankle length pleated silk that was so loose it would easily be mistaken as a skirt instead of pants.

Being a versatile designer that he is, Karl worked as costume designer for theatrical productions collaborating with stage directors such as Luca Ronconi and designed for theaters such as La Scala in Milan, the Burgtheatre in Vienna and the Salzburg festival.

From 1972 onwards he started his collaboration with Fendi, the Italian fashion house designing accessories, fur & clothing. Karl had also collaborated with Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel for a special denim collection for the Lagerfeld Gallery. Five of its pieces were presented in the Paris Fashion Week which were later sold in highly limited editions in Lagerfeld Galleries in Paris and Monaco & Diesel Denim Galleries in New York & Tokyo. In a statement after the show in Paris, Rosso said: “I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear.

A great designer and entrepreneur, Lagerfeld had designed a teddy bear in 2008 produced by Steiff in an edition of 2500 which was sold for $1500. In 2009 the trend followed when Tra Tutti began selling Karl Lagermouse and Karl Lagerfeld which are forms of mice and finger puppets respectively. In 2010 he designed a crystal art collection in collaboration with Orrefors, a Swedish crystal manufacturer. In spring 2011, Orrefors by Karl Lagerfeld was launched. In 2013 he stepped into the directors shoes for a short film ‘Once Upon a Time’ in the Cité du Cinema featuring Keira Knightley in the role of Coco Chanel and Clotilde Hesme as her aunt Adrienne Chanel.

There is a lot to learn from this multi-platform creative. On 3 June 2011 he was awarded the Gordon Parks Foundation Award in recognition of his work as a designer, photographer and filmmaker. “I’m so proud, and so very thankful, but I’m never done,” said Lagerfeld of the honor.

Not everybody knows but Chanel was on the verge of extinction in the 1960s Chanel’s fortunes was diminishing and was sustaining merely on the scent Number 5 alone. After Chanel’s death in 1971 her business still continued to drop further. House of Chanel came back to life and progressed forwards when Karl Lagerfeld was hired. With Karl’s assistance Chanel has once again restored its former glory.

Karl is a highly accomplished individual. With his creative talent in design, art & photography, he has surely outdone himself. He continues to surprise the world with his brilliant collections. His curiosity to explore unchartered territories in the field of business and creativity is what makes him so admired.


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