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When personality becomes the brand: Karl Lagerfeld

Updated: Mar 3, 2019

Karl Lagerfeld, who died earlier this week at age 85, was both Fendi’s and Chanel’s creative director – respectively, since 1965 and 1983; His death has left both brands with a gaping hole: the Kaiser of fashion built everything in his universe—and he made all of us citizens of it, whether we wanted to be or not.

But Lagerfeld’s influence goes much further than just those two maisons. The designer played an instrumental role in shaping the fashion industry, thanks to his personality, talent and visionary attitude. Lagerfeld is best remembered for his time at Chanel and the innovation that came with him: “He didn’t shape Chanel’s modern era. He was Chanel’s modern era,” said Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic for The New York Times “Everything we understand about Chanel really comes from Karl.”Today, Chanel is a powerhouse, and not just in name: according to Bloomberg, the brand can proudly show off $9.6 billions of annual sales.

When announcing his death, the maison remembered Lagerfeld’s “reinvention” of “the institutions created by Gabrielle Chanel: the Chanel jacket and suit, the little black dress, the tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewelry.”

Lagerfeld may have worked and cared after imagined dreams of others, but he was never in anyone’s shadow. The man has incarnated both a fashion and pop culture icon, known worldwide for big black sunglasses paired with his icy-gray ponytail.He was such a revolutionary soul that he put a solid effort to democratize fashion in a way that even frugalistas could afford. His namesake label wanted to include reasonably-priced women's wear, some men's items, denim, and sportswear. Of course this line was repositioned as a more commercial effort, a sort of brand-extension to all those fashion lovers without the luxe budget.

By total contrast to what everyone could think he could do, in 2004 he made his designs even more accessible to the masses through a co-branding collection with H&M, the first of its kind at the swedish retailer. And to whoever said it was a downgrading move for his haute couture empire, he responded: “It is all about taste. If you’re cheap nothing helps.”

As writing this, it’s still fashion week days in Milan. Everyone cried on February 21st, when we got to see the autumn-winter 2019 Fendi runway unveiled. Harper's Bazaar reports that Lagerfeld worked hard on this collection for Fendi until the day he died, sending notes from his bed to his team to create the show that went on stage last Saturday, the 23th . His absence was the most acute presence. It was a tribute to a 54-year-long love story, the one between Lagerfeld and Fendi: the fashion show presented its women's collections for next autumn-winter, the last one designed by him and the first without.

Whilst Fendi is still longing onto its loss, we overhear from France that Virginie Viard, the director of Chanel’s fashion creation studio, will fill now his shoes. It’s a symbolic choice, as Viard worked side by side with Lagerfeld for 30 years. But could Lagerfeld’s influence ever truly be replaced?

Written by: Chiara Estini

Edited by: Priscilla Greggio

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