Arts and Culture

The Death of a Style Icon and Revolutionary

Karl Lagerfeld, veteran and pioneer of the fashion industry, passed away at age 85 on Feb. 19, 2019. Rumors about Lagerfeld’s health had been swirling for weeks after he had missed a series of events, one of them being Chanel’s Spring/Summer show last month. Lagerfeld was the Creative Director for CHANEL since 1983, but he was more than just a designer: he was a visionary. He reinvented the staples created by Gabrielle Chanel: from the jacket and suit; the little black dress; the precious tweeds; the two-stone shoes; the quilted handbag; the pearls and costume jewelry, Karl Lagerfeld extended Gabrielle Chanel’s legacy with an effortlessness and gracefulness that propelled CHANEL to superstardom. “My job is not to do what she did, but what she would have done. The good thing about Chanel is it is an idea you can adapt to many things,” said Lagerfeld.

The German designer’s reign was not only limited to CHANEL, but he was also the Creative Director of Fendi. He branded fashion campaigns since 1987, and his prolific mind was always self-mocking and with an innate sense of repartee. Lagerfeld played with fashion with delicious swagger: he simultaneously did and did not take it seriously. He transcended his status as a “fashion designer” and, with his charisma, iconic white ponytail and dark sunglasses, became instantly recognizable not only within the fashion world but in pop culture as well.  

Lagerfeld worked with everyone: from starring supermodels such as Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista in his runways shows, to actresses such as Kristen Stewart, to photographing his own campaigns starring Cara Delevingne and Kaia Gerber. He molded the past and shaped our future. He was one of the first designers to encourage and promote the talent and expertise of CHANEL’s ateliers and Métiers d’Art, bringing an emphasis on hand-made work and craftsmanship – now the signature of the Haute Couture lines. Karl Lagerfeld did it all and never failed to bring substance and value, a dichotomy that is oftentimes replaced with gaudy and cliché in today’s world.

Virginie Viard, Director of CHANEL’s Fashion Creation Studio and Karl Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, has been entrusted by Alain Wertheimer with the creative work for the collections. And so, with great dismay, this month marks the end of an époque of great couturiers. No, this is not pessimism or nihilism, it is a simple fact. The Greats of the past have now departed, and while a few brands (Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Prada) still possess at the helm their original Creative Directors, Lagerfeld’s death reminds us all that talent is not replaceable. Craftsmanship is not always “simply learned,” and a true genius is hard to find. Provocateur, brilliant, avant-garde, postmodern: Karl Lagerfeld was a precious pearl whose genius was (and still is!) unparalleled. Ad maiora Karl, wherever you are.