Born: Hamburg, 10 September 1938; immigrated to Paris in 1952. Career: Design assistant at Balmain, 1955-58; art director, Patou, 1958-63; freelance designer for Chloé, Krizia, Ballantyne, Timwear, Charles Jourdan, Valentino, Fendi, Cadette, Max Mara and others, from 1964; launched Parfums Lagerfeld, 1975; director of collections and ready-to-wear, Chanel, from 1983; Karl Lagerfeld and KL ready-to-wear firms established in Paris and Germany, 1984; Karl Lagerfeld, S.A., acquired by Chloé parent company, Dunhill Plc., 1992; broke ties with Chloé and Dunhill (part of the Vendome Group), 1997; bought back Karl Lagerfeld S.A., 1997; created fragrances Lagerfeld, for Elizabeth Arden, 1975, Chloé-Lagerfeld, 1978, KL for women, 1983, KL for men, 1984; Lagerfeld Photo, 1990; Sun Moon Stars, 1994; Jako, 1997; Lagerfeld Femme, 2001. Exhibitions: Karl Lagerfeld: Fotografien, Galerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf, 1989. Awards: Second prize, International Wool Secretariat design contest, 1954; Neiman Marcus award, 1980; Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1981; 20th Dé d'or, 1986; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1991; Fashion Footwear Association of New York award, 1991. Address: 14 Boulevard de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, France.
Karl Lagerfeld: A Fashion Journal—A Visual Record of Anna Piaggi's Creative Dressing and Self-Editing, with Anna Piaggi, New York, London & Stuttgart, 1986.
Gilbert Poillerat, Maître Ferronnier, with François Baudot, Paris,1992.
Karl Lagerfeld: Off the Record, Göttingen, Germany, 1994, 1995. Chanel, Paris, 1995.
Karl Lagerfeld: Grunewald, Göttingen, 1995.
Claudia Schiffer, London, 1995.
Visionen, Göttingen, 1996.
Body Parts, Cologne, 1997.
Karl Lagerfeld: Parti Pris, Bonn, 1998.
The House in the Trees and Casa Malaparte, both with Eric Pfrunder and Gerhard Steidl, both Göttingen, 1998.
Aktstrakt, Göttingen, 2000.
Escape From Circumstances, Göttingen & London, 2000.
editor, Iwao Yamawaki, Göttingen & London, 2001.
Modern Italian Architecture, Göttingen & London, 2001.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Designers, New York, 1985.
Piaggi, Anna, Karl Lagerfeld: A Fashion Journal, London, 1986.
Perschetz, Lois, ed., W, The Designing Life, New York, 1987.
Howell, Georgina, Sultans of Style: Thirty Years of Fashion and Passion 1960-1990, London, 1990.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Buck, J., "How Karl Lagerfeld Changed Some Lives," in Interview (New York), March 1973.
"Great Designers of the World: Karl Lagerfeld," in Vogue (London), 1 March 1975.
Menkes, Suzy, "The Man Who Takes Over at Chanel," in the Times (London), 31 January 1983.
Shapiro, Harriet, "Tout Paris Applauds the Fashionable Vision of Karl Lagerfeld," in People, 11 June 1984.
"Karl Lagerfeld: The Many Faceted Man," in Vogue (Paris), October 1985.
Dryansky, G.Y. "Baroque to His Bones," in Connoisseur, December 1985.
Barron, Pattie, "Playing Court to Kaiser Karl," in Cosmopolitan (London), October 1986.
"A Life in the Day of Karl Lagerfeld," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 8 November 1987.
Barker, Rafaella, "Karlsberg," in House & Garden, December 1987.
Lobrany, Alexander, "Lagerfeld Logs On: At 50, King Karl Makes a Foray into Men's Wear," in DNR, 6 April 1988.
Brook, Danae, "King Karl," in the Sunday Express Magazine (London), 15 May 1988.
Talley, André Leon, "Petit Palais," in Vogue, April 1989.
Ciavarella, Michele, "Karl Lagerfeld: A Burst of Genius," in Maglieria Italiana (Modena), April/June 1989.
Bowles, Hamish, "Reviving the Past," in Harpers & Queen (London), September 1989.
"A Lagerfeld Extravagance," in the Independent (London), 28 September 1989.
Mynott, Lawrence, "Kaiser Karl: The Darling Dictator," in the Independent, 24 May 1990.
Etherington-Smith, Meredith, "He Came, He Drew, He Conquered," in Harpers & Queen, September 1990.
Mower, Sarah, "Karl Lagerfeld," in Vogue (London), April 1991.
Mayer, Margit, "King Karl," in WWD, 20 November 1991.
Orth, Maureen, "Kaiser Karl: Behind the Mask," in Vanity Fair, February 1992.
"The Kaiser's Empire," in WWD, 2 June 1992.
Lane, Anthony, "The Last Emperor," in the New Yorker, 7 November 1994.
Menkes, Suzy, "Chanel: Beauty Without Gimmicks," in the International Herald Tribune, 25 January 1995.
Spindler, Amy M., "Four Who Have No Use for Trends," in the New York Times, 20 March 1995.
White, Constance C.R., "Lagerfeld's Poetic License," in the New York Times, 24 June 1997.
Gabor, Lisa, "No Clothing, No Kidding," in In Style, March 1998.
White, Constance C.R., "Lagerfeld's Lesson for Younger Designers: Stay Relevant," in the New York Times, 16 March 1999.
Menkes, Suzy, "Magnificent Chanel Defines the Season," in the International Herald Tribune, 4 March 2000.
——, "Class and Classics at Chanel," in the International Herald Tribune, 24 January 2001.
Horyn, Cathy, "A Slimmer Karl Lagerfeld Makes his Concession to Fashion," in the New York Times, 19 June 2001.
Menkes, Suzy, "Chanel Goes to the Head of the Class," in the International Herald Tribune, 11 July 2001.***
Universally recognized as one of the most prolific and high-profile designers of the last 20 years, Karl Lagerfeld has maintained his reputation through consistently strong work for the numerous lines he produces every year. Each label has its own distinct look, while clearly bearing the bold, uncompromising Lagerfeld signature that guarantees the success of everything he produces.
Moving between several main collections, Lagerfeld designs with consummate ease, displaying the skills he learned from his couture background in fine tailoring and flashes of surreal detailing. He has functioned best as a catalyst, reinvigorating labels and broadening their customer base. Since 1983 he most spectacularly demonstrated this capability at Chanel, where, despite some criticism, Lagerfeld brought the label back to the pinnacle of high fashion. He produced endless innovative variations on the signature tweed suits that often mix street style references, such as teaming the traditional Chanel jacket with denim miniskirts and the signature gilt buttons and chains.
Lagerfeld also stretched the Chanel look to embrace younger customers, with club-influenced black fishnet bodystockings, the traditional Chanel camellia placed cheekily over the breasts, and hefty lace-up boots set against flowing georgette skirts and leather jackets. This combination of wit with recognizable Chanel symbols rejuvenated the house, making Lagerfeld's fashion word an inspirational message to a new generation. His experiments have been at their most fantastic in the vibrant lines of the couture show, made more accessible in the ready-to-wear range. Only Lagerfeld could put the Chanel label on panties (1993) and camellia-trimmed cotton vests (1992) to make them the most talked-about elements of the Paris collections. Yet this quirkiness was underpinned by the quality of Lagerfeld's designs and the mix of classic separates that have always been an undercurrent in his work.
His own name label, KL, highlights these skills. Bold tailoring, easy-to-wear cardigan jackets in his favorite bright colors, combined with softly shaped knitwear, showed the breadth of his talents and ensured the longevity of his appeal. If his more outrageous combinations at Chanel have enabled him to outlive the excesses of the 1970s that trapped some of his contemporaries, then his clever manipulation of fabric and color has prolonged the life of his clothes still further.
During the 1970s Lagerfeld's work for Chloë was equally influential, his love of eveningwear coming to the fore, albeit in a more restrained form than at Chanel. The main look of this period was flowing pastel chiffon draped onto the body to give a highly feminine feel and trimmed with silk flowers. He recreated this style for his return to the label in spring-summer 1993, complete with models wearing Afro wigs. At first coolly received by the fashion press, it went on to inspire many with its floaty silhouette and flower-child air, reviving ethereal dresses with no linings, unnecessary seams, or extraneous detail.
While he continued to move from label to label, never quite losing the freelance mentality of his early days, it is only the occasional lack of editing in his collections betraying how widely his talents are spread. Idea follows idea, frequently inspired by his current model muse as he reinterprets garments to create very modern styles. At Fendi this desire to continually push forward to greater modernity, absorbing the influences around him and seeking greater perfection in his work, led to his taking the furriers' trade a step further. The lightness of touch that had established his name as early as 1970 led him to strip the Fendi sisters' signature fur coats to the thinnest possible layer. He removed the need for heavy linings by treating the pelts to produce supple lightweight coats shown in 1973 with raglan sleeves and tie belts, which complemented the sporty feel of the knitwear he also produces for the company.
Lagerfeld has proven he is equally adept in his bold strokes at Chanel as in his delicate shaping at Fendi, or in the vibrant classics of his own lines. Though he severed his ties with Chloé and the Vendome Group in 1997 (and regained ownership of the company bearing his name), Lagerfeld had more than enough designing to keep him busy. He also continued to indulge in another passion, photography, producing a pictorial of nude celebrities for Visionaire magazine in 1998. He has published a growing collection of books on art, architecture, and photography, and collaborated with authors the likes of Helmut Lang, Peter Lindbergh, and Madonna.
Lagerfeld's consummate skills as a designer have enabled him to push the fashion beyond its constraints by combining the immediacy of ready-to-wear with the splendor and elegance of couture. Nearly two decades ago, in June 1984, Lagerfeld told People magazine's Harriet Shapiro, "I would like to be a one-man multinational fashion phenomenon." In both the 20th and 21st centuries, Karl Lagerfeld has more than achieved his goal.
updated by Sydonie Bénet
German-French designer of high fashion Karl Lagerfeld (born 1938) won international fame for his work with several Parisian style houses.
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was born on September 10, 1938, in Hamburg, Germany. His father was Swedish, from a merchant banker's family, and made the family fortune by introducing powdered milk to Europe. His elegant and fashionable mother was younger than his father, and she adored fragrances; all qualities that would strongly influence Lagerfeld's life and career.
Lagerfeld led a sheltered childhood, learning early to speak fluent French, English, and Italian as well as his native German. As a child he was always interested in fashion and pored over history books more for the costume etchings and descriptions than for the battlefield tales. Designing and sketching dresses, he reported, was his favorite childhood pastime.
When he was just 14, Lagerfeld was sent to Paris to study, but with the underlying intention of getting involved in the world of French haute couture. This world was then quite sumptuous, as postwar parties were an excuse for women to dress up in the most fanciful finery. Parties, balls, nightclubs, and the like were packed with women wearing the latest fashions. Wealthy women from many countries filled the couture salons, all vying for the reputation of best-dressed.
In 1954 Lagerfeld sent one of his sketches to the International Wool Secretariat Competition, open to any young nonprofessional designer. That year there were thousands of entrants. Designers Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, and Hubert Givenchy were among the judges. Lagerfeld, just 16, received the award for best coat sketch.
Pierre Balmain then offered the young Lagerfeld a job working in his couture house. He took the coveted position, staying there three years, secretly learning all the tricks of the "rag" trade. In 1958, at 20 years old, he became chief designer for the house of Jean Patou, where he worked until 1963, designing two collections each year. But he grew bored and needed more challenges for his frenzied fashion creativity.
The idea of working for several houses appealed to him. So in 1963, as a freelancer, he began working for French and Italian design houses, designing fur collections and ready-to-wear for the Fendi sisters. In 1970 he also began designing for the French House of Chloe and in 1975 created their first fragrance, "Chloe." In this time he also launched his own fragrance, "Lagerfeld for Men," followed by "KL" and "KL Homme."
In 1983 Lagerfeld, his reputation firmly established as a fashion force, became the creative director and head designer for Chanel, where it was hoped he would breathe new life into the once important but now staid and stagnant house. Coco Chanel had died in 1971, and the name had fallen from fashion favor in the following years. Only a year after joining Chanel, Lagerfeld startled the fashion world by again branching out and creating his own ready-to-wear line called "Karl Lagerfeld" and a lower-priced sporty line, "KL." That year he shocked the world with his press release for his spring Fendi collection, self-described as "shaped to be raped." In USA Today he countered the resultant criticism, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood: "Rape is an abstract word to me. In the kind of atmosphere I live in, nobody rapes anybody." Overcoming the criticism, in 1987 he received France's Golden Thimble award for his Chanelhaute couture collection. In 1992 Lagerfeld was drawn back to the House of Chloe, and his first collection was a huge critical success. The self-described "fashion chameleon" said: "When I do Fendi, I am another person from when I do Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, or KL. It's like being four people in one. Perhaps I have no personality at all, or perhaps I have more than one."
However, after the initial spark created in 1992, Chloe struggled to regain its position among fashion houses since Lagerfeld's original reign. In 1997 Lagerfeld stepped down from his position as chief designer at Chloe in order to concentrate more on his own signature line.
Like a style shark, Lagerfeld, it seems, never rests. As well as overseeing all of his houses and creating collections for each several times a year, he found time for creative hobbies. A lover of opera, theater, and films, he created costumes for La Scala in Milan, for the Schnitzler plays, and for many films, including The Sun Also Rises, Babette's Feast, Viva le Vie, and Le General de L'Armee Morte. His other hobbies included decorating and restoring old mansions. He was a bachelor and traversed Europe collecting antique furniture and acquiring paintings from the 18th century as well as many forms of modern art. For 12 years he worked on restoring an historic 18th-century French castle in Brittany, right down to the doorknobs. He owned an 18th-century townhouse in Paris, a 200-year-old workshop in Rome, and a summer villa in Monte Carlo that he redid in Louis XVI style. He was renowned for his vast library of fashion and costume history books. Yet the man was nothing if not keenly attuned to modern times; he decorated another Monte Carlo home with furniture and art by the colorfully avant-garde modernistic Memphis design group.
He is also an accomplished photographer, shooting all the fashion advertisements for both Chanel and for his House of Lagerfeld. He held gallery photo shows in Paris for his hordes of admirers and fans. His personal style statement is a long ponytail. He maintained: "My father died reading the newspaper when he was over 90. His parents lived to be 98. I'm looking forward to growing old. Ponytails look good with white hair."
For additional information on Karl Lagerfeld and the world of fashion see Couture: The Great Designers by Caroline Rennolds Milbank (1985), Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (1988), McDowell's Directory of 20th Century Fashion (1987), and Contemporary Designers, edited by Ann Lee Morgan (2nd ed. 1990). □
Karl Lagerfeld was born on 10 September 1938 to a wealthy family in Hamburg, Germany. He moved to Paris in 1952 and first came to the attention of the fashion world two years later when he won a competition prize for his design of a woolen coat. In 1954 he was hired as a design assistant by Pierre Balmain, one of the premier couture houses of the early postwar period. In 1958 he parted ways with Balmain and became art director at the House of Patou, where he remained until 1962. For most of the next fifteen years he designed for a number of companies and under a variety of contractual and freelance agreements.
He was associated especially with Chloë (1963–1983), where he created styles that simultaneously were elegant and focused on the young. Many of his most striking designs for Chloë had an art deco flavor, being very streamlined and body conscious. He also utilized prints to excellent effect. At the same time, he worked as a freelance designer for Krizia, Valentino, Ballantyne, and other companies. Beginning in 1965 he designed furs for Fendi. His ability to design simultaneously for several different houses has been a defining characteristic of his career; Lagerfeld became known as a man who was never content to do just one thing at a time.
In 1975 Lagerfeld formed his own company and in 1983 became artistic director of the House of Chanel. While continuing his responsibilities at Chanel and at Fendi, he formed Karl Lagerfeld S.A. and KL to market his own ready-to-wear lines. Karl Lagerfeld S.A. was acquired by Dunhill (the parent company of Chloë) in 1992, and Lagerfeld returned to Chloë at that time and held the post of chief designer until 1997, when he was replaced by Stella McCartney. When he left Chloë, he regained control of the company bearing his own name; in the early 2000s Lagerfeld was designing for Karl Lagerfeld/KL, Chanel, and Fendi. He has also designed costumes for many films and theatrical productions.
Lagerfeld probably is most admired for his work at Chanel, where in 1982–1983 he took over responsibility for a company that had become somnolent, if not moribund, and very quickly made it exciting again. Taking the basic vocabulary established by Coco Chanel, he modernized it, introducing new materials, including denim, and exaggerating such details as the "double C" logo. Remarkably, his work for Chanel has remained as vital in the twenty-first century as it was in the mid-1980s.
Karl Lagerfeld has had a wide-ranging career in the arts, achieving considerable success as a writer and photographer. Over the years he has produced many fashion photography spreads for his collections at Chanel and for his own labels and has published several books of his photographs. He also is well known as an aesthete and connoisseur of art and antiques. In 2000 he sold part of his antique furniture and art collection at auction for more than $20 million. With his signature silver-white hair and newly slim figure, he is a familiar and iconic presence on the European fashion scene.
See alsoBalmain, Pierre; Chanel, Gabrielle (Coco); Paris Fashion; Patou, Jean .
Buxbaum, Gerda, ed. Icons of Fashion: The Twentieth Century. New York: Prestel, 1999.
Lagerfeld, Karl. Karl Lagerfeld: Off the Record. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 1994.
——. Dreams. New York: Te Neues, 2002.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Designers. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1985.
John S. Major