Karl Lagerfeld’s cultural legacy
He just died but his creations stand alive. Few know about the most intimate side of Karl Lagerfeld. Besides a fashion genius, he was a music lover, a prestigious hotel decorator and a postmodern dandy.
Karl Lagerfeld, designer of Chanel and Fendi, died on Tuesday, 19 February, aged 85, in a hospital in Paris. The German couturier was in charge of the giant French “maison”, Chanel, for more than three decades. He spent much of his life in the French capital, from where he directed one of the most prestigious fashion houses in the country.
The so-called “maison“, was an emblem of Parisian taste and elegant luxury since its conception. Its founder, precursor of XX Century Fashion, Coco Chanel, knocked on the dressmaker’s door to re-brand the firm. She did not know how to anticipate the universal huge success of jeans and miniskirts. Lagerfeld accepted and that’s how he rejuvenated the firm that Coco Chanel founded in 1910.
He had a unique personal style: dressed in a suit, with his white long hair pulled back in a ponytail and hiding his eyes always under his opaque glasses, The designer reinvented the ultra famous Chanel jacket suit to infinity, eternal symbol of the French Chic and one of the most universal creations of the French house. Year after year. the designer presented new and most original designs in tweed to modernize this iconic piece.
“Every season, I’m told that Chanel’s designs look younger. One day we will all become babies” joked the dressmaker.
The German designer has always been surrounded by controversy. His critical statements about overweight people and his disenchantment with French politics earned him the nickname “Kaiser” in the industry.
“The Kaiser of fashion” was the supreme master of the Chanel house for more than 36 years and was half a century immersed in the world of fashion.
This nickname was in reference to his German roots. But his secret passion was away from the runway. He had numerous overlaps with the music world, which is not unusual for fashion designers. He has been known to say:
“Music is part of the life of fashion, too.”
Rumors about Karl Lagerfeld‘s state of health had increased in recent months. Last January all the alarms about his possible retirement sounded, when he missed Chanel‘s show at the Paris Haute Couture Week, a date that was never lost. But, for the first time, he did not come out to greet as he usually did. Everybody noticed his absence as he delegated to his right hand, Virginie Viard, who is already mentioned as a possible successor.
The designer died on Tuesday, 12 February 2019, at the American Hospital in Paris, after being admitted in the middle of the night. For the moment, the cause of his death has not transcended.
Lagerfeld was a native of Hamburg (Germany). In 1982, the designer became the artistic director of Chanel, as well as his savior, since then the French fashion house suffered a stagnation. He himself defined himself as “a machine”. Certainly, as a good German, he really was a workaholic as he created ten annual collections for Chanel and two for the Italian firm Fendi.
Lagerfeld hotel designer
The talent of Karl Lagerfeld, the star of haute couture, not only satisfied himself with shining in the fashion industry. In 2016, he announced to the world his debut with a new brand: Karl Lagerfeld Hotels & Resorts, a series of “bespoke” projects that included collaborations in the interior design of luxury hotels and departments and private clubs through an agreement with the Dutch firm Brandmark Collective BV.
So far there is only one accommodation that bears his name: The Karl Lagerfeld Hotel that will soon open in Macau (China). Asia will have a hotel by Karl Lagerfeld. In the lobby guests will be received by a huge sculpture of his pet dog Choupette.
In addition to this venue where opulence and eccentricity will reign, the haute couture designer took part in the interior design of other luxury hotels. Here are some of them: Les Grands Apartements are two suites located on the fourth floor of the iconic Hotel de Crillon in Paris, owned by a Saudi prince and built in 1758. It is certain that the “Kaiser” of fashion was a great connoisseur of art, design and antiques of the 18th century. His exquisite taste is evident watching the unique decoration of these apartments. All luxury furniture was created exclusively for both spaces that belong to the Ten Signature Suites collection. There are 10 suites that bear the stamp of the prestigious decorator.
The interiors of the Patrick Hellmann Schlosshotel were also the work of Lagerfeld. The boutique hotel is located in the heart of Berlin, in the exclusive Grunewald district. Inside this stately mansion from 1913, forty rooms and ten suites are distributed. One of them, called Kaiser Wilhelm Suite, is the most elegant and spacious with 200 square meters. It is even equipped with an impressive library.
The Karl Lagerfeld Hotel, was the main project of the designer in the world of hospitality. It is currently being built in Macau, one of the administrative regions of China. It is also one of the projects of SJM Holdings Limited, one of the six companies authorised to operate with everything related to gambling games and casinos. The accommodation will have 270 rooms and suites in a 20-floor tower, within the Grand Lisboa Palace complex, which was inaugurated in 2018.
In 2013 the German couturier affirmed that, for him, moving to posterity was a “vacuous” concept and that, on the other hand, he gave much more importance to work and effort. Obsessed with books, photography and fashion, he did not want to be “normal“. He knew that a brand is not only built with the quality of its designs, but also with an overwhelming work and at the same time a strong personality. Lagerfeld patented his image to be different from the others: white hair gathered in a ponytail, black suit and starched white collar, chains, fingerless gloves and dark glasses. His “burka” is how he defined his lenses.
“Emotions are expressed through the eyes and that’s not something that I’m interested in showing. That’s why I wear dark glasses.”
All this paraphernalia served to hide his true self.
“I act 24 hours a day, my whole life is a pantomime”
Just after his death, there has been an overwhelming outpouring of social media sentiments from high profile musicians, for which Lagerfeld was a darling. For years Lagerfeld has been seen flanked by everyone from Madonna to Cher to Victoria Beckham to Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and on and on. Among these, the aforementioned Allen and Cyrus, Frank Ocean, Katy Perry, Courtney Love, Swizz Beatz, Kylie Minogue, to name a few. Many of whom he designed outfits for and who are expressing their admiration and their grief via timeless images with the designer himself.
There’s a delightful ode from 2012, ‘Karl Lagerfeld‘, by quirky Italian electropop duo, Fujiyamabit. And Rae Sremmurd’s ‘Chanel‘ featuring Pharrell commands, “Take her to Chanel, ‘cause she’s fine”. Plus, Lagerfeld made a cameo appearance in Jean-Roch’s video “St. Tropez” alongside Snoop Dogg.
What was interesting about Karl’s music taste was that he didn’t wait for a musician to become popular or well-known. He was one of those people (and they’re rare), that decide on their own. He liked what he liked and was into what he was into. He was more inclined to search out what was new and exciting, and put them in the front row of his shows. That was an indicator of taste and talent.
And there have been reports of a position in Lagerfeld’s employ as “iPod nanny” where the job description involved transferring his hefty collection of CDs to his 70+ iPods, as well as keeping him abreast of the freshest sounds.
“You could be inspired by anything, you can take it, and make it your own”
There is a book written by Jean-Christophe and Sandrine Destournelle which compiles the life sentences of the designer from documentaries, newspapers and books. Among Lagerfeld’s famous phrases, one that shows his love for music and his passion for living the present is:
“Music gives color to the air of the moment.”
His own quote, symbol of a gifted sensibility, is perfect to pay homage to this genius regarded as one of the most important fashion visionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries who has left us a rich cultural legacy.