Karl Lagerfeld

Born: Hamburg, Germany, 1933
Died: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 2019

Designer Biography Karl Lagerfeld

Copyright © AFP / Jean-Régis Roustan / Roger-Viollet – Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé. Paris, on October 6, 1972

Born in Germany, Lagerfeld emigrated to Paris at the age of 14. Three years later in 1955, Lagerfeld won a competition enabling him to work at Pierre Balmain. After three years at Balmain, Lagerfeld moved onto Jean Patou.

While at Jean Patou, Lagerfeld designed the haute couture collections under the name of Roland Karl. The collections were presented twice yearly with Lagerfeld featuring for five years. His initial collections for Jean Patou were not well received by the press. However, his subsequent collections impressed and his elegant, understated, chic style started to be found in every collection.

Lagerfeld’s last collections for Jean Patou saw the press turn on him again. Designing skirts deemed to be the shortest in Paris; his designs were described as ready-to-wear, not couture.

After five years at Jean Patou, Lagerfeld decided to leave, launching himself as a freelance designer. He worked at KriziaCharles Jourdan and Valentino, honing his skills.

With financial backing from his family, Lagerfeld opened a small boutique in Paris. Alongside this, Lagerfeld carried on freelance designing, this time for Tiziani, a label launched only as couture but branching into ready-to-wear.

In 1965 Lagerfeld was offered a position at Italian luxury house Fendi, where he began to design fur, clothing and accessories. Under Lagerfeld’s direction, Fendi’s fur was changed, moulded and redesigned resulting in fur becoming fashionable.

In 1966 Lagerfeld joined French fashion house Chloé appointed as the house’s head designer. Under Lagerfeld’s influence, Chloé became one of the most influential fashion houses of the 1970s.

In 1983 Lagerfeld left Chloé to take up a position at Chanel. Under Lagerfeld’s direction Chanel became a global phenomenon. Lagerfeld reinvented the classic Chanel suit and added a sporty feel to the brand with puffa jackets and leggings branded with the Chanel signature.

In 1984, after working for a succession of global fashion houses, Lagerfeld launched his eponymous label, which he said would channel “intellectual sexiness”.

An accomplished illustrator, Lagerfeld created the drawings in the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, for the 1992 publication. The following year Lagerfeld returned to Chloé briefly replacing Martine Sitbon.

Lagerfeld collaborated with Swedish High Street retailer H&M in 2004 creating a capsule collection that sold out within hours of its release.

In 2005 Lagerfeld sold his own name brands, Lagerfeld Gallery and Lagerfeld, to Tommy Hilfiger with the agreement he would maintain full design control.

Lagerfeld launched a new collection in 2006 K Karl Lagerfeld for both men and women.

In 2010 Lagerfeld collaborated with Italian label Hogan, designing two footwear lines. The following year it was confirmed that Lagerfeld would create a capsule collection for American department store Macy’s. The same year Lagerfeld was awarded the Gordon Parks Foundation Award in recognition for his work in film, photography and fashion.

In 2012 Lagerfeld collaborated with online retailer Net-A-Porter resulting in a diffusion line, Karl, to be sold on their website.

Known for his iconic style and legendary fan base, Lagerfeld’s been named Darling Dictator and King Karl. His own take on it was describing himself as an ‘intelligent opportunist’. With experience in so many markets, his ability to handle fur and clever fabric experimentalist makes him idolised in the fashion world.

In 2012, Karl Lagerfeld released the photo-book “The Little Black Jacket,” featuring entertainers, models, and his friends. In 2014, many of Lagerfeld’s early sketches for the House of Tiziani in Rome were put up for sale by Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

Lagerfeld’s work in various fashion houses earned him the nickname “Chameleon of fashion.” He was praised by Anna Sui and Clare Waight Keller for his ability to blend the rich history of fashion houses with modern-day aesthetics. In November 2015, he was honoured with the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Fashion Awards, presented by Anna Wintour.

The final collection Lagerfeld completed before his death had an Alpine theme of après-ski clothing. In accordance with his wishes, there was no formal funeral, and a moment of silence was observed during the show in his honour. Lagerfeld requested cremation, and his ashes were to be spread at secret locations alongside his mother and late partner, Jacques de Bascher.

A tribute event called “Karl For Ever” was held on 20 June 2019 at the Grand Palais. It celebrated Lagerfeld’s life and showcased his tenures at Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel. The event featured a career retrospective and included readings and musical performances by notable figures.

The house of Karl Lagerfeld announced “The White Shirt Project” in July 2019 as a tribute to the designer’s legacy. The project reimagined iconic white shirts in collaboration with various designers and artists. Seven of the final designs were replicated 77 times and sold for charity.

In 2023, a biography titled “PARADISE NOW: The Extraordinary Life of Karl Lagerfeld” written by William Middleton was published by HarperCollins.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a posthumous exhibition called “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” from 5 May to 13 July, showcasing Lagerfeld’s work with various fashion houses. Chanel provided support for the exhibition and the accompanying 2023 Met Gala. The exhibit was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando and curated by Andrew Bolton, focusing on Lagerfeld’s design process, particularly his sketches. The retrospective highlighted the artistic lines and silhouettes of his works, inspired by English painter William Hogarth’s concept of the line of beauty.

Karl Lagerfeld Biography

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Written by Saxony Dudbridge

Saxony Dudbridge was one of the first contributors to the Catwalk Yourself project, Saxony studies International Fashion Marketing and she is responsible for our great History and Designers Biographies sections.

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