KARL LAGERFELD – a fashion phenomenon is dead

“I would like to be a one-man multinational fashion phenomenon,” he once said.

Karl Lagerfeld, the most prolific designer of the 20th and 21st centuries and a man whose career formed the prototype of the modern luxury fashion industry, died on Tuesday in Paris.

He was extraordinary.  We would expect nothing less from a man who once said: “When I was four I asked my mother for a valet for my birthday.”

Mr. Lagerfeld in New York in 2002, when he received a lifetime achievement award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 40th awards gala.Credit: Bill Cunningham/The New York Times

Vanessa Friedman for The New York Times wrote:

Though his birth year was a matter of some dispute, Mr. Lagerfeld, who lived in Paris, was generally thought to be 85. His death was announced by Chanel, with which he had long been associated.

“More than anyone I know, he represents the soul of fashion: restless, forward-looking and voraciously attentive to our changing culture,” Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, said of Mr. Lagerfeld when presenting him with the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Fashion Awards in 2015.

Creative director of Chanel since 1983 and Fendi since 1965, and founder of his own line, Mr. Lagerfeld was the definition of a fashion polyglot, able to speak the language of many different brands at the same time (not to mention many languages themselves: He read in English, French, German and Italian).

In his 80s, when most of his peers were retiring to their yachts or country estates, he was designing an average of 14 new collections a year, ranging from couture to the high street — and not counting collaborations and special projects. “Ideas come to you when you work,” he said backstage before a Fendi show at age 83.

His signature combinations of “high fashion and high camp” attracted admirers like Rihanna; Princess Caroline of Monaco; Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and Julianne Moore.

Mr. Lagerfeld with the singer Rihanna at a Fendi dinner in New York in 2015.Credit: Danny Kim for The New York Times

Mr. Lagerfeld was also a photographer, whose work was exhibited at the Pinacothèque de Paris; a publisher, having founded his own imprint for Steidl, Edition 7L; and the author of a popular 2002 diet book, “The Karl Lagerfeld Diet,” about how he had lost 92 pounds.

His greatest calling, however, was as the orchestrator of his own myth.

A self-identified “caricature,” with his dark glasses, powdered ponytail, black jeans, fingerless gloves, starched collars, Chrome Hearts jewelry and obsessive Diet Coke consumption, he achieved such a level of global fame — and controversy — that a $200 Karl Barbie doll, created in collaboration with the toymaker Mattel, sold out in less than an hour in 2014.

He was variously referred to as a “genius,” the “kaiser” and “overrated.” His contribution to fashion was not in creating a new silhouette, as designers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel herself did.  Rather, he created a new kind of designer: the shape-shifter.

That is to say, he was the creative force who lands at the top of a heritage brand and reinvents it by identifying its sartorial semiology and then pulls it into the present with a healthy dose of disrespect and a dollop of pop culture.

Not that he put it that way exactly. What he said was: “Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a whore — and then you get something out of her.”

“I don’t want to be real in other people’s lives. I want to be an apparition.”

 

 

 

 

 

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