Karl Lagerfeld is one of the best-known fashion designers in the world. Highly regarded for his bold designs and constant reinvention, Lagerfeld was the main creative force behind his label and other renowned brands such as Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, and Fendi.
Lagerfeld was born on September 10, 1933, in Hamburg, Germany. At a young age, he showed interest in fashion, but would not pursue it until his teenage years. Initially wanting to be an illustrator or portrait artist, he moved to Paris and began studying drawing and history. He would eventually pursue fashion as a living.
In 1954, a seventeen-year-old Lagerfeld entered a contest organized by the International Wool Association and submitted a series of sketches and fabric samples. He won first place with a sketch for a coat. Pierre Balmain, the designer who produced the coat, offered Lagerfeld a job as his junior assistant. By 1957, Lagerfeld was the art director for Jean Patou. After his time with Patou, he became one of the first freelance fashion designers. As a freelancer, he worked with various haute couture collections between France, Italy, England, and Germany. Most notably working with Chloé in 1964 and Fendi in 1965.
By the 1980s, Lagerfeld was already a major star in the fashion industry, going from one label to another, followed by success. Such as reviving the then declining Chanel brand with his ready-to-wear line when he became the art director in 1983. In 1984, Lagerfeld launched his line inspired by his idea of intellectual sexiness, which he sold to Tommy Hilfiger in 2005 while remaining involved in the design. Throughout his career, Lagerfeld followed his modemethode, fashion method, of devising every detail of a project himself. Involved from the initial sketch to the finished garment, Lagerfeld oversaw all aspects of the final look such as accessories, shoes, and make-up. Furthermore, his involvement extended to include photography, press, and display of his designs.
Though mainly known as a fashion designer, Lagerfeld was also a skilled draftsman and illustrator. He never went anywhere without a pencil and paper, constantly drawing fashion designs, caricatures, and technical drawings. Sketches were his main medium of communication, an action almost done compulsively. His fashion drawings usually included handwritten notes along the margins, often attaching swatches of fabric designs. However, Lagerfeld usually tore up his completed sketches and threw them away. In 2007, the designer famously declared to The New Yorker that he threw away everything and kept no archives of his designs. A self-proclaimed “big fan of trash cans,” Lagerfeld routinely discarded anything superfluous.
Today, Lagerfeld’s visionary talent in fashion, illustration, photography, styling, and publishing is regarded worldwide. In 2010, Lagerfeld received the Couture Council Fashion Visionary Award from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Furthermore, in 2011 the Gordon Parks Foundation recognized his work as a fashion designer, photographer, and filmmaker. Karl Lagerfeld died February 19, 2019, in Paris, France.
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