Designer Profiles: Karl Lagerfeld

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Balmain, Chanel, Fendi...

Karl Lagerfeld the famous fashion designer was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in Hamburg, Germany.  Throughout his life, he was known to insist that no one knows his real birth date. A birth announcement was, however, published by his parents in 1933, and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him as born in that year, showing that he was born on 10 September 1933. Often lauded for his constant reinvention, Karl Lagerfeld also removed the "t" at the end of his last name early in his career to make it sound "more commercial."

Lagerfeld grew up in a wealthy home where intellectual activity was encouraged. When Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, the Lagerfelds moved to a rural area of northern Germany to protect Karl and his sisters from any knowledge about the Nazis. In his early childhood years, Lagerfeld expressed an interest in design and fashion. He often cut out pictures from fashion magazines and he was also known to be critical of what others wore to school. But it wasn't until his teen years after his family had returned to Hamburg, that Lagerfeld immersed himself in the world of high fashion. Former schoolmates recalled that he was always making sketches in class no matter the subject. Lagerfeld told interviewers that he learned much more by constantly visiting the Kunsthalle Hamburg museum than he ever did in school.

Becoming a fashion designer

At the tender age of 14, Karl Lagerfeld sensed that a brighter future was elsewhere and made the bold decision, with the blessing of his parents, to move to Paris. Having only been there for two years he made another bold decision to submit a series of sketches and fabric samples to a design competition. He ended up taking first place in the coat category and meeting another winner, Yves Saint Laurent, from then the two became close friends.

Soon after Lagerfeld landed a full-time position with French designer Pierre Balmain, first as a junior assistant, and later as an apprentice. It was a demanding position, and the young designer remained in it for three years. He took work as a creative director with another fashion house before finally, in 1961, striking out on his own. This is when Lagerfeld truly blossomed with designing collections for Chloe, Fendi, and others.

Karl Lagerfield Young

The defining moment that made him famous

In 1975, Karl Lagerfeld became the first fashion designer to introduce a perfume, “Chloe” without having his own label. Finally, in 1984, Lagerfeld created his own fashion house, but it was his work at Chanel that saw him internationally recognised as the "Kaiser" of fashion. He was praised for his innovative, in-the-moment styles whilst also having an appreciation for the past, as he often shopped in flea markets, finding old wedding dresses to deconstruct and reimagine.

During his time at Chanel, Lagerfeld held the role of artistic director from 1983, where he spearheaded several looks that became synonymous with the brand, from tweed suits to layered pearl necklaces. Many of these were revived creations of founder Coco Chanel’s archived signatures, including the interlocking “C” monogram, the tweed suit, and the famous chain handbag strap.

Karl Lagerfield at Work

Lagerfeld moved behind the lens in 1978 to start shooting and directing his own campaigns to advertise his work. He has since become renowned for his work as a photographer, and many of his images have been transformed into art books, published by Steidl.

Having spent almost 70 years honing his design talents across a spectrum of brands including Balmain, Chloé, and Fendi, where he simultaneously served as creative director. Karl Lagerfeld was laid to rest at the age of 85 on February 19th, 2019 after battling with Pancreatic cancer.

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3 comments

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  • Posted on by Heather

    It is crazy to look back at history and think of all the starting points of a lot of designer labels. Many of them started during or shortly following the end of the war and rose to such great success, it is hard the fathom. I really love items from the 1940s and 1950s for this reason but they are hard to come by!

  • Posted on by Jasmine Hewitt
    I can’t say I’m familiar with Karl Lagerfeld as a designer, so this was helpful!

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