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April 11, 2019
Karl Lagerferld was born in 1933 in Hamburg Germany. His father owned a company that produced and imported evaporated milk. As a child, he didn’t have many friends and he spent his time reading and sketching. He showed great interest in visual arts. His dream was to be an illustrator and his greatest inspiration came from French artists, so he moved to Paris at the age of 14 and later majored in drawing and history.
In 1954 he took a chance and submitted the sketch of a coat to a design contest sponsored by the international wood secretariat. Little did he know that it was the start of an amazing legacy that would change the world of fashion forever. Against all odds, Karl won the first place tie with someone else a certain person named Yves Saint Laurent.
His victory earned him a spot working beside Pierre Balmain, one of the worlds premiere fashion designers at the time. Karl needed to prove himself and sewed until his hands bled. In 1967 he was hired by Fendi to modernise their line and remained with the brand until his death.
In 1982 when he joined Chanel he was tasked with an impossible feat: To reinvent a dying brand. When people said it was dead and hopeless, he said it was interesting.
He brought life back into the company. He basically saved the brand as a fashion house, because after Coco Chanel’s death a decade prior, the company had focused on producing fragrances and selling accessories. Its couture line meekly copied the late founder’s designs showing the same famous suits with minor variations year after year, and the ready to wear line was launched only in 1978 when all the couture brands were already making money from it. At this stage the Chanel clientele was mostly some old suburban bourgeoise.
So, what did Karl Lagerfeld do to not only save Chanel from oblivion, but also to turn into one of the fashion biggest megabrand? First, he refused to sacrifice craftmanship and quality. He scrupulously restructured Coco Chanel’s heritage and defined distinct codes for the house, to follow in each of its collections: tweed, gold, beige, pink and black. The key items were reproduced on the regular basis: a little black dress, a tweed jacket, Chanel 2.55 bag, bicolour ballerina shoes, massive gold fashion jewellery and large pearls.
Now it seems obvious how all historical fashion houses speak of their brand’s DNA and keep working with recognisable historical items, but Lagerfeld was one of the first to understand the power of historical heritage and no doubt this is what makes him not only a genius designer but also a brilliant strategist and marketing visionary. This is why Chanel vintage pieces today look so contemporary.
Secondly, he took those codes and drastically rejuvenated them. He introduced miniskirts. He made grunge-styled items from tweed. He integrated the interlocked “CC” monograph of Coco Chanel into a style pattern. He even placed the famous logo on the most unexpected objects that have nothing to do with the world of couture: moonboots, surfboards or alpine skies.
He understood the power of street culture and rebranding and join them together, then Chanel’s boutiques started attracting not only that mature clientele but also their daughters.
Chanel suddenly changed from an expensive historical brand into every girls dream and something super hot. He turned the fashion house into a multibillion dollar business. We will all remember his signature look silver hair in a ponytail, fingerless gloves, high detachable collars and black sunglasses. And also, his outrageous quotes.
At the age of 85 he refused to retire or slowdown, always on the cutting edge of style. His fashion genius inspired generations of designers. I can’t end this presentation without talking about his over-the-top runway themes. Those grand sets that are always a mise en scene. It has ranged from a grocery store to a Paris bistrot, an actual melted glacier all that in the middle of the Grand Palais in Paris. There’s been a rocket that fired up and appeared to lift off and even an indoor beach. It’s a full on 3 dimensional world and all in service to creating this incomparable world, that is Chanel.
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