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Who is Karl Lagerfeld and How He Impacted the Fashion Industry

Who is Karl Lagerfeld and How He Impacted the Fashion Industry

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A revolutionary name in the fashion industry, Karl Lagerfeld is a world-class renowned fashion designer who changed the course of fashion through his cutting-edge and relevant designs. His creations are characterized by a combination of modernity and timeless classics. At times controversial, but Karl Lagerfeld is undeniably one of the brightest and most successful fashion designers to go down in history. In this article, we will get to know more about this extraordinary individual who rose from his ranks and learn more how he has made an impact in the fashion industry.

Early Life and Education

Karl Otto Lagerfeld, or simply Karl Lagerfeld, was born on September 10, 1933 in Hamburg, Germany to a wealthy businessman father, Otto Lagerfeld, and Swedish mother, Elisabeth Bahimann. His father owned a company which produces and imports evaporated milk. Lagerfeld had two sisters, Christel and Thea, the latter born out from his father’s previous marriage. The German fashion designer attended a private school during his elementary years. At the age of 14 he moved to Paris and completed his secondary school at Lycee Montaigne where he studied drawing and history.


Vanessa Paradis and Karl Lagerfeld during the light period of Paris for Christmas.
Vanessa Paradis and Karl Lagerfeld during the light period of Paris for Christmas. Photo: Frederic Legrand – COMEO

In 1955, Lagerfeld won the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. This was his ticket to work with Pierre Balmain when he was hired by the latter as his assistant. Three years later, or in 1958, Lagerfeld moved to work with Jean Patou. During this experience, he would make two collections of haute couture in the next five years. His first collection was launched in July 1958 under his other name, Roland Karl.

But the journey of this famed designer has not always been smooth. In 1960, his collection of short skirts was not well received. In 1962, he started receiving backlash and harsh critics from some people especially fashion journalists.

His early years in the industry likewise involved working as a costume designer to a series of theatrical productions that include Komödie der Verführung by Arthur Schnitzler at the Burgtheater in Vienna, Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz at Milan’s La Scala theatre, and Der Schwierige by Hugo von Hofmannsthal at the Salzburg Festival.

The year after, Lagerfeld began working for a Roman couture house, Tiziani, which launched couture and eventually ready-to-wear. Lagerfeld was designing for Tiziani until 1969 with customers in the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Duke, and Princess Marcella Borghese. After that, he worked as a freelance designer in 1964 for Chloe, followed by haut-couture house Curiel, which featured his collection of elegant pieces created for the “1930s cinema queens.” During his stint at Chloe, his design of what was called as the “surprise skirt” became a hit. The suprise skirt was basically ankle-length with loose and pleated silk so as not to reveal that it was actually a pair of pants. In 1965, Lagerfeld collaborated with Fendi in creating furs, apparel, and accessories.

By 1982, Lagerfeld joined the French fashion house, Chanel, despite the objections of some who considered the brand as “dead”. He then took the challenge and reinvented its codes by introducing his modern take on the legacy and aesthetics of Chanel herself. It was during this time, when he interlocked the Cs as a representation of the new generation. He also introduced remarkable items that include pearl, boucle tweed, dual-toned footwear.

In 1984, Lagerfeld launched his own fashion line in his name. He once told Vogue: “I’ve not been dreaming all my life to have my name over a shop. Now, we’ll put it there because it’s the right moment to do it; and I made this name, why not use it?” His eponymous label was intended to channel “intellectual sexiness.” He, however, sold his brand to Tommy Hilfiger in 2005, but remained fully involved in the design process and in the creative aspect. From then on, he went on to design for companies like Hogan, Orrefors, Macy’s, and H&M.

Karl Lagerfeld, apart from being a fashion designer, was also a photographer and filmmaker as he was directly involved in Chanel’s advertising. He was also the director of a short film starred by Keira Knightley who played the role of Coco Chanel.

This impeccable designer has also been involved in a couple of controversies, particularly because of his straightforward, unpalatable opinions. And his honesty and strong personality readily shows through his collections. What makes him a standout in the industry is his thirst for something fresh and different.


Designer Karl Otto Lagerfeld - Logo - Berlin, Germany.

Karl Lagerfeld was also recognized by various institutions for his craft. In 2010, the Fashion Insititute of Technology in New York awarded him the Couture Council Fashion Visionary Award. In June 2011, Karl Lagerfeld was given the Gordon Parks Foundation Award as a designer as well as a photographer and filmmaker. Just recently, in 2017, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Fashion Awards, as well as, the John B. Fairchild Award by WWD.


Apart from his businesses that earned him millions or even billions, Karl Lagerfeld has also been involved in charities. But unlike some people, he hated hypocrisy. He once told Independent: “I’m all for making out a cheque and shutting up. I am tired of this charity display by rich people who try to get money out of other people’s pockets to make themselves feel good. Look at Lily Safra – she writes the cheque and she shuts up. That is the way.” In 2011, he contributed designs for the Save Japan! t-shirts for the benefit of Japanese Red Cross in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. Meanwhile, in 2013, Karl Lagerfeld auctioned Chanel internship with the proceeds dedicated entirely to a good cause.

Trivia About Karl Lagerfeld

There are still a lot of things we do not know about Karl Lagerfeld, but here are few of the many interesting facts about him.

  • His original surname was Lagerfeldt, but removed the last letter “t” because for him, it sounded “more commercial”.
  • Karl Lagerfeld lost about 42 kg or about 92.6 lbs within the span of 13 months with the help of Dr. Jean-Claud Houdret who created a special diet for him.
  • He lives with his cat named Choupette in Paris.
  • Lagerfeld has published a book about his weight loss and diet entitled, “The Karl Lagerfeld Diet.”
Karl Lagerfeld store in Berlin, Germany.
Karl Lagerfeld store in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Christian Mueller

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