Visionary, eclectic, and iconic, Karl Lagerfeld would most certainly have been an enlightened mind in the Age of Enlightenment. As a fashion designer, photographer, publisher, designer, and also film director, Karl Lagerfeld has created a universe in which every line is perfectly under control, each detail of absolute importance. The Cartesian mind has hatched a caustic, ultramodern, highly structured style, with an allure and a manner that emerges through graphic symbols that have become his unequivocal hallmarks.
Karl Lagerfeld instinctively grasps every molecule from the atmosphere and turns it into the mood of the moment. His style delves deep into his cosmopolitan background and into his perfect mastery of languages, which he acquired in Hamburg, where he was born in 1938. As soon as he had finished his studies in Paris, he entered the world of fashion still a very young man, and in 1954 he won the Woolmark Prize. The coat he created for the occasion, which won over the jury, was made by Pierre Balmain, who recognized the young graduate’s talent and took him on as his new assistant. Three years later, Karl Lagerfeld was appointed artistic director of the Maison Jean Patou. Karl Lagerfeld is intriguing and ever-questioning, never leaving anyone indifferent. His ability to capture, anticipate, and interpret tomorrow’s trends always fascinates. Just when ready-to-wear fashions were first taking shape, he embarked on a career as a freelance fashion designer in France, Italy, Britain, and Germany. In Paris he left his marks on Chloé. In Rome he worked to give a new look to Fendi furs. His joint venture with the Italian fashion house started in 1965 and, over the years, extended to all the label’s ready-to-wear collections, and it is still going today. A chameleon of style, Karl Lagerfeld has nevertheless refined stylistic features of his own, which he works into his own eponymous line, which has been going since 1984. One year earlier, he had been called in to give new life to Chanel: he gradually shook up its stylistic elements, rejuvenated its image, and introduced a breath of fresh air that allowed the brand to reassert its supremacy in the world of luxury and fashion.
An insatiable couturier and designer, he again put his name to the Chloé collections from 1992 to 1997, and opened up a new chapter in his own name, launching the Lagerfeld Gallery in 1998 (the maison again adopted the name of its founder in 2006: Karl Lagerfeld). Always in tune with the world around him, he was the first to agree to take on the mass market, designing thirty models for H&M. This experience led to a new idea – a “new beginning”- which he started working on in 2010, announcing a collection for 2011 based on a new concept: mass-market ready-to-wear garments steeped in the luxury and quality of which the Lagerfeld’s style is a symbol: “mass elitism, which has long been my dream (…), it’s the future of modernity.”
“What I really like is what I’ve never done before”, says Karl Lagerfeld. Since he can never be content with the countless successes he has achieved in his fashion career, he has opened out his range of expression; creating opera costumes, revamping the Coca Cola Light bottle, and giving a new look to Medicom Toy’s Bearbrick and Steiff plush toys. In 1999 came the opening of his 7L bookshop and, the following year, his Editions 7L publishing company.
In 1975 he wrote a new page of artistic expression with the Chloé perfume. His catalogue of olfactory sensations was later enhanced with Lagerfeld pour Homme (1978), Jako (1998), and Kapsule (2008), as well as Photo, in 1991, an insolent citrusy fragrance that appears to gesture towards Lagerfeld, who by then had been behind the lens for some years.
“Long before I decided to turn to photography myself, I had always been struck by the idea of expressing my vision of things through anonymous ‘machine’, as though it were a paintbrush or a pencil.”
Ever since then, Karl Lagerfeld has himself shot all the advertising campaigns for the brands he has worked for as a designer. Under his direction, Claudia Schiffer, Vanessa Paradis, Diane Kruger, and Lilly Allen, as well as les tops Freja Beha Erichsen, Coco Rocha, Elisa Sedanoui and Babtiste Giabiconi have revealed a different face and played new roles. His great passion for photography has led to several works being published by Steidl (including The Beauty of Violence in 2010) as well as of series for the great fashion magazines (Numéro, Vogue, …), information magazines (Vanity Fair, Stern,…) and specialized publications (Connaissance des Arts, Interview, …).
“Today, photography is part of my life. I can’t see life without the vision of photography. I look at the world and at fashion with the eye of a camera. This enables me to maintain a critical detachment in my everyday work, which helps me more than I could ever have imagined.”
As well as for his sense of style and allure, Karl Lagerfeld is also in great demand for his sense of image and for the visual identity that so forcefully emerges from his printed works on paper. Whether he is photographing for advertising or fashion magazines, for an exhibition at Art Basel, at the Maiosn Européenne de la Photographie, at the palace of Versailles, in Tokyo or New York, or even in Berlin, his style is always instantly recognizable. “A highly personal vision of reality”, as Anne Cartier-Bresson puts it.
“Of all materials in the world, the one I like best is papers. It’s the starting point for a drawing and the finishing point for a photograph.”
With this taste for photography and this sense of stage direction, Karl Lagerfeld could not fail to be turned to as a director for the silver screen. The results of this new form of applied art – his short movies Remember Now, Vol de Jour, Shopping Fever and his latest, La Lettre – all reveal a certain idea of Lagerfeld’s aesthetic vision. A new facet of the fashion designer, and certainly a prelude to future projects…
Karl Lagerfeld – Bibliography
Parcours de Travail, 2010; Beauty of Violence, 2010; Serge, Misia, Coco et les autres…, 2009; Moderne Mythologie, 2009; Chanel’s Russian connection, 2009; Mademoiselle – Coco Chanel / Summer 62, 2008; You Can Leave Your Hat On, 2008; Metamorphosis of an American, 2008; Visions and a Decision, 2007; Konkret Abstrakt Gesehen, 2007; Palazzo, 2007; One Man Shown, 2006; Room Service, 2006; 7 Fantasmes of a Woman, 2005; Les Vases de Ciboure. L’Illusion de l’ideal, 2005; A Portrait of Dorian Gray, 2005; Factory Constructivism, 2004; The S.L.ED, 2003; Waterdance/Bodywave, 2002; Abstrakt, 2000; Escape from Circumstances, 2000; Pari Pris, 1998; Tadao Ando – Vitra House, 1998; The House in the Trees, 1998; La Brochure, 1998; Casa Malaparte, 1998; Ein deutsches Haus / Villa Jako, 1997; Schlosshotel Vier Jahreszeiten, 1996; Visionen, 1996; Achillion, 1996; Grunewald, 1995; Villa de Noialles, 1995; Faust, 1995