Karl Lagerfeld, the legendary creative director of Chanel and Fendi, has passed away.
Aside from being one of the most influential figures in fashion, Lagerfeld was also one of the most recognizable. His iconic uniform consisted of high starched collar, impenetrable shades, and fingerless gloves.
This austere image hid a warm and generous nature. Many fondly referred to him as “Kaiser Karl.” Even the slightest changes to his appearance, such as the beard he adopted last year and the non-tinted glasses he wore to Chanel’s Spring 2019 show, were guaranteed to send the rumor mill into overdrive.
Lagerfeld met speculations about his health and retirement with characteristic candor and humor: “my contracts with Fendi and Chanel are lifelong,” he reassured Harper’s Bazaar in a 2016 interview.
Born in Hamburg in either 1933, 1935, or 1938 (the designer himself gave out varying dates) Lagerfeld got his start in fashion around age 21 after winning a coat design competition in 1955. Famously, he crossed paths with a then-seventeen-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, who won in the cocktail dress category of the same contest. It marked the beginning of what would turn out to be a lifelong rivalry. His contest win earned Lagerfeld a spot designing for Balmain, and over the ensuing decades, he would go on to revolutionize label after label.
Among his greatest accomplishments, Lagerfeld revived the house of Chanel and secured it as the untouchable paragon of fashion that it is today. He also oversaw Fendi in addition to an eponymous line, churning out up to six collections annually for each brand even in his final years.
The industry marveled at the “Kaiser of Fashion” and his ability to conjure seemingly infinite outfits, every one of them an instant classic. What did Lagerfeld have to say for himself? “Normal people think I’m insane … I don’t know what ‘normal’ means, anyway,” he told The New Yorker in 2007.
In life, Lagerfeld curated his enigmatic, visionary persona with as much relish as he maintained his many brands, ensuring that they not only survived, but thrived. In the shock of his abrupt departure, it feels as if fashion has lost its gravitational center. Lagerfeld headed an empire and operationally, it remains to be seen how Chanel, Fendi, and the industry as a whole will regain their footing without their most endearing cornerstone. — jas