Lagerfeld's Legacy at Chanel
Updated: May 6
The fashion world mourns upon learning about the passing of Karl Lagerfeld on the 19th of February 2019. Died at the age of 85, he is remembered as one of the most influential creative forces in the 20th and 21st century. Not only his own distinctive personal style, his remarkable wit and his personality (and yes, he has offended A LOT of people along the way), has made him one of the most powerful figures and nicknames such as “Kaiser Karl” and the word “Genius” that are often being used to describe this German-born man.
One of his most recognizable works is being the Creative Director of Chanel. Since 1983, about more than a decade since the death of the house’s iconic founder, Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld took the position that changed the course of Chanel’s history forever.
King of Reinvention
Before Karl’s arrival, the house of Chanel was pretty much in the brink of dying, and has turned into pretty much your grandmother’s brand, especially without a visionary to navigate the brand into the modern era. This is why Karl Lagerfeld was hired by the Wertheimers (Chanel’s business partner) to modernize the brand. Under Karl, Chanel has reached a success from a couture house to legitimate fashion brand, selling fragrances and accessories that have made significant profits to the house.
Modernizing the French house, Karl Lagerfeld also incorporates the house’s interlocking C’s monogram into the collection, such as on the reinvention of the 2.55 bag that was turned into the classic Chanel bag, creating a recognizable code that we all know and loved today!
Under Karl, we must also admit that Chanel has definitely changed the face of luxury fashion. With him, luxury and couture don’t have to be boring! His playful side is very much apparent even since the 90s, and up to this day, the tongue in cheek elements tend to appear in the collections that he sent out on the runway. (Remember that Hula hoop bag? Or spaceship minaudiere!)
The Designer and His Muses
There was no doubt that Karl has made Chanel great again. Turning the old couture house into a hot brand, and making it desirable. However, it was Karl Lagerfeld’s way of associating himself with celebrities and muses that made Chanel to be somewhat relevant. I don’t always applaud his choices (don’t get me wrong, i mean, Kristen Stewart?) but hey Karl can befriend who the fuck ever he wants, and what Kaiser Karl wants, Kaiser gets it.
At the beginning, Karl took French model Ines de la Fressange as his muse. She would regularly closed the Haute Couture shows and walk hand in hand with Karl. Reportedly, Karl think Ines as the embodiment of a true French beauty. Later on, Karl took fellow German and supermodel Claudia Schiffer to be his new muse, saying he loved Claudia’s Brigitte-Bardot-but-model feature.
After the 90s, celebrities have replaced supermodels and so did Karl. He featured some celebrities ranging from Lily Allen (random but okay), actress Diane Kruger, Nicole Kidman, Lily Rose Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Cara Delevigne, and even Pharrell Williams. This shows Karl’s savviness in the celebrity culture and the star power that they bring.
Perhaps one of Karl’s biggest influence in the fashion industry was how he, with Chanel, has completely changed the role of a fashion show. Long gone are the long, straight, boring runways! Ever since the 2000s, Chanel have come up with elaborated set and high level of production for its fashion shows during Paris Fashion Week. The glass dome of the Grand Palais in Paris has become a witness where outrageous objects such as a spaceship, a giant ship, a lion, a giant Chanel jacket, a cliff complete with its cascade, a beach complete with its sand and waves, and so on, have been set up as the decor of the fashion show. Ever since, fashion show has truly become a show, where the message of collection is being delivered as lively as a theater show.
During his career with Chanel, he hypnotizes the fashion world with a set of collection every year that made Chanel to stand out from the rest of the industry; and that is the Métiers d’Art collection.
In the early 2000s, Chanel has acquired various studios in France who specialize in exceptional craftsmanship. These are Lemarié for their feather works, Lesage for their embroidery, as well as Massaro for their expertise in shoemaking dan Maison Michel for its millinery. This acquisition has allowed the Chanel house not only to preserve the know-how that otherwise would be dying, but also to present a special collection every year.
Just like its Cruise collection, Some of these Métiers d’Art collections are presented in various destinations around the world. Ever since, Chanel has become the pioneer in staging fashion shows in different countries, embodying the true luxurious world of jetsetters.
Guardian of Heritage
Lagerfeld’s key strength, aside for his keen for details and his extraordinary imagination, is his ability to ensure that Coco Chanel’s heritage remains alive throughout his career. With Karl, the aesthetics that Coco Chanel has created and what made the house famous such as the tweed tailoring and little black dress, have been reinvented over and over again with modern twist here and there to keep it as relevant as possible.
It actually comes in no surprise that following Lagerfeld’s death, the house have chosen Virginia Viard, Karl’s closest collaborator and former studio director, to takeover the Creative Director position. The public might expect a new designer to make a fresh restart for Chanel, but after all, this is a house that has maintained Karl Lagerfeld to be at the helm for 35 years. Meaning, the Wertheimers seem to be the kind of leaders who think “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!”.
Groomed by Mr. Lagerfeld himself, Virginie Viard will be the house’s female Creative Director after Mademoiselle herself. In the era of women power narrative in the fashion industry, wouldn’t it be great for the house?
For sure, Virginie’s appointment meant one thing: the Wertheimers have no intention to erase Lagerfeld’s legacy, and in fact, it should be kept alive along with Coco Chanel’s. And on that note, carry on, Virginie.
The original article was published by the author in Indonesian on L'OFFICIEL INDONESIA website.