Saying Goodbye to an Icon

March 3rd, 2019  |  Published in Winter 2019

While fashion is an ever-evolving industry spurred by constant winds of change, some things are just predictable. We know that four cities will present runway shows all unique and interesting in their own ways. We know new designers will emerge from the pack seemingly out of nowhere. We know that we what we see on the runway one day will soon find its way on a red carpet in a matter of days.

And, we know, that the incomparable Karl Lagerfeld will take our breath away with collections for French fashion house Chanel and Italian fashion house Fendi.

So, on February 19, when the death of Mr. Lagerfeld was announced, many were shocked. Karl had not publicly announced that he was ill and, looking back on it, the only indication that all was not well was that he did not attend his final Chanel Haute Couture fashion show due to “tiredness” according to the brand. An out-of-character move for the designer to be sure.

Before we look at what were his final collections, Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2019 and Fendi Ready-To-Wear Fall 2019 (as of February 25, the Chanel Ready-to -Wear Fall 2019 has not yet been presented on the runway), let us look back at the illustrious career of Karl Lagerfeld.

Given his most famous work on the runways of Paris, most assume that Karl was French. In fact, he was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1938 – according to his official website, other publications mark his birth year as 1933. His first foray into fashion was in 1954 when he won first prize in the coats category in a competition held by International Wool Secretariat. His winning design was produced by legendary French designer Pierre Balmain which led to a job offer by Balmain and marked the first step in his one-of-a-kind career:

  • 1955: Lagerfeld becomes Pierre Balmain’s assistant.
  • 1957: He is named as Art Director for fashion designer Jean Patou. He went on to produce 10 couture collections for the brand.
  • 1960s: Lagerfeld is the original freelance designer as he established his freelance work during this decade throughout Europe. Brands he worked with include Valentino, Curiel, Krizia, Charles Jourdan and Tiziani.
  • 1964: His most important freelance work was with the French fashion house Chloé beginning in 1964. WWD notes he took “sole creative control” of the brand by 1966 and would lead the house until 1983 (before returning to design for the brand from 19921997). Highlights of his tenure? An art deco-inspired collection in 1969, a massive collection of innovative separates in 1974 and many elaborate fashion show sets throughout his tenure. In a landmark showcase of his work, Karl Lagerfeld was the first designer to create a perfume for a fashion brand without having his own label. Chloé Original was launched in 1975.
  • 1965: Lagerfeld began designing for Fendi. He worked as head of its ready-to-wear and fur collections until his death. According to the Guardian, in 54 years at the brand, he produced more 100 collections. In 2015, Lagerfeld unveiled his Haute Fourrure show at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week.
  • 1983: In what would his most famous design position, Lagerfeld was named as Creative Director for Chanel. Known as a “dead” brand at the time, Karl revitalized Chanel to become the greatest fashion brands of all time. His runway shows were legendary for the grandeur and taking the viewer to a whole new world. In 1987, Lagerfeld began photographing his own campaigns (and editorials for Harper’s Bazaar, etc), leading him to become one of the greatest fashion photographers of his time.
  • 1984: While continuing his leadership within Chanel and Fendi, he created his eponymous fashion house: KARL LAGERFELD. After selling and re-buying the brand, Lagerfeld sold his innovative label in 2005 to the Tommy Hilfiger group while he retained his position as the company’s chief creative. He launched his first kid’s collection in 2015. He had several makeup collaborations on his resume as well, and in 2018, launched the brand’s first flagship store in SoHo.
  • 1988: He founded a less-expensive label, KL by Karl Lagerfeld.
  • 2004: Lagerfeld collaborated with fast fashion icon H&M on a collection, the first designer to do so.
  • 2006: He unveiled his first denim line, K Karl Lagerfeld.
  • 2007: Lagerfeld worked with Coty Inc. to create Kapsule, a line of three signature scents. He created several more fragrances with Interparfums starting in 2014.
  • 2012: Along with Net-a-Porter, he launched a new line, KARL, focusing on affordable rock’n’roll style.
  • 2018: In his final walk on the runway, Lagerfeld appeared with godson Hudson and Virginie Viard at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art 2018 / 2019 show. Viard took over for Lagerfeld at Chanel after his death was announced.

The extensive list doesn’t even include the various non-brand creative projects that Lagerfeld participated in over the years, and the many well-deserved honors he received for his work. That list is too long to note here.

Back on the runway, let’s look at his final collections to be shown (as of publishing): Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2019 and Fendi Ready-To-Wear Fall 2019.

Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2019

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The Grand Palais was transformed into a Mediterranean villa for what would be, unbeknownst to all, Lagerfeld’s final couture runway show. Inspired by an exhibit currently on display in Marais, “La Fabrique du luxe: Les marchands merciers parisiens au XVIIIe siècle”, Lagerfeld brought to life the exhibition’s focus on how merchants in Paris would supply the most luxurious of goods to that time’s wealthiest patrons. Thus a theme of 18th century decadence ran through the collection in minor to major details.

While Lagerfeld was not there (as said above), his presence was certainly felt. Key elements include:

  • classic Chanel tweed with couture ostrich feathers
  • signature tailoring with mid-calf, a-line tailoring
  • embroidery
  • exaggerated shapes, especially 18th century pannier skirts
  • hand painted lace with chinoiserie inspiration
  • bandeau collars

The show was topped with the standard Chanel bride ensemble, this time come to life as a sequined, cut-out swimsuit with swim cap and cascading veil. The show may have been rooted in the 18th century, but this swimsuit was straight out of the 1930s.

See the full collection here.

Fendi Ready-To-Wear Fall 2019

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When speaking of this collection, Ventura Fendi said, “This collection made him live longer. Because we had been working a lot.” And you can see that Lagerfeld poured his soul into this collection highlighting his design aesthetic that has become Fendi’s signature. Set to a soundtrack by Karl’s musical collaborator, Michel Gaubert, models walk in the designer’s final looks, culminating in a video of Karl describing what we work on his first day at Fendi. A beautiful tribute for a great man.

Signatures shown on the runway:

  • sharp tailoring with geometric seams
  • collared shirts
  • Edwardian collars
  • the famous FF motif made famous by Lagerfeld himself

With Lagerfeld’s words, “I want the bow”, bold bows completed several key looks in the collection as well.

See the full collection here.

With the announcement of Lagerfeld’s passing, the worlds of fashion and art not only mourn a great innovator. We mourn the coming changes we will experience as we lose this generation of great designers, those who took the reins from the likes of Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior to lead the industry in the latter half of the 20th century to today. We will soon see the next generation rise to take us to heights not yet experienced and, assuredly all will be well. But we can still mourn the loss of these great men and women as the present soon fades into the past.

–Jenny Perusek

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