Karl Lagerfeld, an icon of the fashion world and all-around creative genius passed away on February 19. He was 85 years old.
It’s a warm summer day. Fresh air comes through the classroom’s wide open windows carrying the delicate smell of flowers in bloom. It’s chemistry class and the teacher is writing intricate formulas on the blackboard; from a distance, it looks like he’s drawing honeycombs. The pupils are quietly taking notes; some of them are looking out the window from time to time.
– Karl, what are you doing? whispers a blonde-haired girl, leaning back over the boy’s desk.
The boy is focused on his drawing and doesn’t seem to have heard the girl’s question.
Unlike other boys of his age, he has long hair which he wears combed back. He doesn’t wear shorts because he finds them degrading. Instead, he wears elegant suits with a matching scarf or tie. Pretty unusual for a German schoolboy.
Even in his early childhood, Karl Lagerfeld stood out from the crowd through his elegant style of clothes and his interest in drawing. No matter what his colleagues did in class, he was always drawing and sketching.
Karl Lagerfeld grew up in the German countryside, 40km outside Hamburg where his parents had bought a house.
His father was a wealthy businessman. His mother was a violin player and a fashionable slim woman who later would prefer Sonia Rykiel to her son’s fashion designs.
Thanks to his wealthy family, Karl had a safe and comfortable childhood. As a boy, Karl took piano lessons for a year before his mother decided he had no talent and directed him towards drawing.
As a teenager, he would skip school to visit the Hamburg Kunsthalle Museum where he spent hours admiring the paintings of Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and others. But he didn’t like his life in Hamburg and couldn’t leave the city soon enough.
He loved everything French and dreamed of going to France. He learned English and French even before he went to school.
At seventeen he decided to become a fashion designer after he had attended a Christian Dior fashion show a year before. He moved to Paris and worked to make his dream come true.
His first breakthrough came in 1954 when he was twenty-one years old. He won the prize for best coat at the fashion competition of the International Woll Secretariat. Yves-Saint Laurent (then aged eighteen) participated in the same competition and won the prize for best dress.
You can’t just lie down and say something will come to me. You have to make an effort. Sometimes that means working for your waste basket. About 90% of my work ends up in the bin. I don’t save it.
Karl Lagerfeld is the embodiment of the Renaissance ideal.
Although he is famously known for his fashion designs created for various brands, he expressed himself through other mediums as well.
He was a caricaturist and political cartoonist. He was a photographer and film director. He often designed the fabrics he would later use in his fashion clothing lines. He designed a hotel in China, a car and a helicopter. He owned a collection of 300.000 books.
I want to know everything, see everything but not necessarily participate in everything.
He didn’t go out to party and never entertained people at home. He was happy spending time by himself and enjoying the company of his Birman cat, Choupette.
French in so many ways, his German heritage came out in his work discipline. He was meticulous and detail focused, quite the perfectionist. He never wasted time, always working on fashion designs or sketching and drawing. He didn’t drink alcohol and he never did drugs. He had a demanding schedule, but he managed to maintain his energy and focus throughout his working day.
When he came at the helm of Coco Chanel fashion house in 1983, the brand was on the brink of financial collapse.
This is what Karl said of the famous fashion brand:
When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty. Not even a beautiful one. She snored.
It was Karl’s creative genius and his unquestionable sense of style and fashion that saved the iconic brand. He updated the iconic and classic Chanel suit and made it attractive to a younger audience.
In thirty years, he transformed Chanel from a French brand to an international fashion powerhouse.
Aside from his legacy within the fashion industry, he leaves behind a nostalgia-free approach to life: never dwell on the past, enjoy the present moment and work for the future.
I only care about what’s next. Whatever I did in the past was fine, but I don’t hang on to it.
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