The Karl Lagerfeld Legacy

Lakshmi Sreedhar marks Karl Lagerfeld’s passing with a touching tribute to his memory. Whether you love him or hate him - he will always be a legend in the fashion world. What do his designs mean to you?


“Le couturier Karl Lagerfeld est décédé”- that’s how I first heard about his passing. He was said to be ‘tired’ owing to which he was scheduled to not attend the ongoing fashion weeks. Although I was prepared to go ahead with covering them in spite of his absence, let’s just say I was too surprised to react when I heard of his death. I still cannot believe it.

Lagerfeld left behind a cultural legacy which was so powerful, it will be hard to replace by the current generation in the fashion industry. After all, he was the creative director of the House of Chanel, Fendi and his own eponymous fashion label at the time of his death. Many people, including me, have admiringly followed and worn his masterpiece designs all around the world.

Born in Hamburg to a businessman father and the daughter of a local politician, Lagerfeld used to claim that nobody actually knew his date of birth and parents’ background. He was an ardent lover of French artists and learnt French with the sole motive of moving to France. He completed his secondary school when he migrated to Paris where he studied drawing and history at Lycée Montaigne.

After living in Paris for two years, in 1954 Lagerfeld won first prize in a contest to design a wool coat, a design subsequently produced by designer Pierre Balmain who offered a 17-year old Lagerfeld, a job as his assistant. This is where he befriended his lifelong artistic rival Yves Saint Laurent. By 1958, he was an art director for designer Jean Patou. In 1964, he went to Rome to study art history but ended up freelancing for multiple brands including Chloé, Charles Jourdan, Krizia, and Valentino. In 1967, Lagerfeld was hired by Fendi to modernize their fur line. He was creative director of the label until his death in Paris a few days back.

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In 1982, he took over Chanel, which had been dormant since the death of its founder, Coco Chanel, more than a decade earlier. The brand was supposedly “near-dead”. As he said once, "When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty – not even a beautiful one. She snored." He revamped it, introduced wide usage of the Chanel logo and brought Chanel back to life through the ready-to-wear fashion line.

In 1984, Lagerfeld started his own label, Karl Lagerfeld, which was established to channel "intellectual sexiness". He went on to produce work in collaboration with Macy’s, H&M, Falabella and Diesel later on.

But Lagerfeld was no stranger to controversy. He was a supporter of the use of fur in fashion, although he himself did not wear fur and hardly ate meat. His caricature drawing Harvey Schweinstein showed shamed film producer Harvey Weinstein as a pig was criticized as being dehumanizing. Shortly after his death, an article on the site Wear Your Voice, was written by Lara Witt, titled "Stop Mourning Oppressors: Anti-Condolences For Karl Lagerfeld" which lead to a Twitter rant between Jameela Jamil and model Cara Delevingne, as reported by The Independent, The Mirror and The Huffington Post. It is truly a pity that people can be so inhuman as to write articles such as this within 24 hours of anybody dying, let alone a legend like Lagerfeld. I don’t think their criticism of Lagerfeld being ruthless is justified while they are behaving the same.

Celebrities like Melania Trump, Naomi Campbell, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Elton John, Donatella Versace, Rihanna and Claudia Schiffer, to name a few, mourned his death.

Despite all the rampant rumours, undying controversies and harsh political opinions, Lagerfeld has left the world an unceasing, extravagant and immortal cultural legacy awaiting advancement. In its announcement of creative director Karl Lagerfeld's passing, the House of Chanel confirmed the appointment of Lagerfeld's righthand Virginie Viard as his successor.

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"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, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on," read the official statement. I wish the best to Viard and look forward to witnessing some of her designs for Chanel at the fashion weeks next fall.

Meanwhile, 15 hours before I wrote this article was Karl Lagerfeld’s final show for Fendi at the Milan Fashion Week, featuring a heartfelt tribute to the late designer. On a bittersweet note, I too bid adieu to the man I have admired since I was about eight and whose designs inspired me to join the fashion world. Je t’aime and au revoir, Karl Lagerfeld. Love him or not, he will always be a legend.