Chanel and Fendi designer Karl Lagerfeld passed away on Tuesday – but his mark on the fashion industry will never be forgotten
Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld was announced to have died on Tuesday 19 February, after weeks of ill health.
The ‘Emperor of the fashion world’, who was the creative director of Chanel, passed away in a Paris hospital aged 85, with reports suggesting he was battling pancreatic cancer.
Tributes have already started pouring in for the German fashion mogul, including touching words from Alexa Chung and Diane Kruger, all lamenting on his incredible life.
From the start of his career assisting Pierre Balmain to his most famous work behind fashion houses like Chanel and Fendi, Lagerfeld’s legacy is etched into the fashion world forever.
Lagerfeld was infamously private about his childhood, proudly claiming in 2009 that nobody even knew his real birthday.
While his website claims he was born in 1938, it is widely believed that he was actually born on 10 September 1933, after a birth announcement was discovered written by his parents at the time.
It will be no surprise to those familiar with his work that Lagerfeld grew up in luxurious surroundings.
In his earlier years, he lived in the Blankenese district of Hamburg, which commonly frequented by aristocrats, before moving to the more rural Schleswig-Holstein after Hamburg was bombed in 1944.
Lagerfeld’s eye for fashion was evident from a very young age.
As a child he was recognised for his “unusual clothing”. He idolised his stylish mother Elisabeth Lagerfeldt and her impressive collection of perfume and clothes, and would spend hours sketching outfits before he even started school.
After attending private school, Lagerfeld moved to Paris to study drawing and history, and it wasn’t long before he was putting his name on the map.
Lagerfeld’s career begun after he entered his first fashion competition in his twenties with a coat design, and won alongside his friend Yves-Saint Laurent.
This helped him win an assistant position with Pierre Balmain, who he praised for his “technical detail”. He worked with Balmain for three years before moving to work with couturier Jean Patou.
While his first collection was not well received, and was even reportedly booed by the press, the legendary fashion designer was not deterred, and went on to work as a freelancer for several huge brands including Mario Valentino, Repetto and Tiziani.
Karl started working with Fendi in 1965, collaborating with the brand to design furs and accessories, as well as clothing lines.
He also worked with French fashion house Chloe, where he originally started off making a few signature pieces per season. Regularly hitting the headlines with his looks, it wasn’t long before he created his own collection for the brand in 1973, which was triumphantly hailed both “high fashion and high camp”.
By the 1980s, Lagerfeld had become synonymous with his ponytail, tinted sunglasses, and 18th century clothing, and was well known for his work at Chloe, as well as the freelancing he’d done throughout the fashion industry.
In 1983, he was offered the opportunity to help struggling French fashion house Chanel – a move which changed his life forever.
Working as creative director for the designer label, Lagerfeld gave the brand a much needed revamp, and was highly commended for his first spring/summer Haute Couture collection. Inspired by silhouettes from the 1920s and 30s, it featured jackets with wide lapels and ruffled gowns, as well as striking woolen suits.
During his lengthy career at the label, Lagerfeld often drew attention with his eclectic and creative fashion shows, transforming the runway into a supermarket for Chanel’s AW14 show, and staging a star-studded runway in Havana, Cuba for the first time since the communist revolution.
Plus, he simultaneously worked on his own name label, launched in 1984, which he wanted to channel “intellectual sexiness”.
Lagerfeld’s personal life
Alongside his career, Lagerfeld had a long-term relationship with socialite Jacques de Bascher in the 70s, until his tragic death from AIDS in 1989.
He didn’t speak much about his romantic relationships following his passing, although he was infamously besotted with his Birman cat named Choupette – claiming he would even marry the feline if he could.
“She hates other animals and she hates children,” Karl once said of his high-maintenance pet.
“She stays always with me and she has two personal maids. They play with her, they have to take care of her beautiful white hair, the beauty treatments for her eyes, and they entertain her. She is the centre of the world. If you saw her, you would understand.”