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Lagerfeld, Karl

fashion award chanel house

B. 1939

Birthplace: Hamburg, Germany

Awards: Second Prize, International Wool Secretariat Design, 1954
         Neiman Marcus Award, 1980
         Bath Costume Dress of the Year Award, 1981
         Golden Thimble Award (Dé d’Or), 1986
         Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, 1991
         Fashion Footwear of America Award, 1991

He has been referred to as Kaiser Karl, the Don Corleone of the fashion industry. He seldom appears without a fan in one hand and a Diet Coke in the other, always with his dark glasses, signature pony tail, and white powdered hair. He has houses in Monte Carlo, Hamburg, Brittany, and Paris. He tries to skim one book every day and reads newspapers in four languages, often while listening to music ranging from rock to classical. He is an accomplished illustrator, book critic, and, above all, probably the most famous and influential designer of the twentieth century, producing as many as sixteen collections a year. He is the highly skilled and famously disciplined Karl Lagerfeld.

His appreciation for all things finer—from fine paintings to fine furniture—began when he was quite young. Raised in a German château by wealthy and accomplished older parents who doted on him, he was encouraged to try anything that appealed to him—painting, sketching, photography—and he was particularly interested in clothing. When Karl was fourteen, the family moved to Paris where, at the age of sixteen, he designed a coat that won second prize from the International Wool Secretariat. (The young Valentino had also recently won a competition sponsored by the same organization.) This recognition reaffirmed his determination to work in the fashion business.

His first position was as design assistant to Pierre Balmain who took Lagerfeld’s award-winning coat and put it into production. Four years later, in 1958, he became an art director for Jean Patou, and in 1964 he was commissioned by the House of Chloé, as a freelance designer and eventually became its principal designer. As a freelancer, he also worked on the collections of Charles Jourdan, Max Mara, Krizia, Valentino, and Ballantyne. One of Lagerfeld’s most famous collaborations was with Fendi, the Italian leather and fur house established in 1918 by Adele Casagrande. The five Fendi daughters had been designing the luxurious leather and fur collections when Lagerfeld was added to the team in 1966. Lagerfeld created fur collections in exciting new colors, and in furs such as squirrel and ferret, which were previously considered unsuitable for fine coats. His dramatic and innovative treatment of fur brought the Fendi name to the attention of the fashion world.

Undoubtedly his most famous contribution to late twentieth-century fashion was his revival of the House of Chanel. In 1983 Lagerfeld was brought on as “consultant to the couture” and in short order made Chanel the most talked about name in Paris and the world. He reintroduced the Chanel suit of the 1950s by cleverly manipulating the traditional Chanel logo, hiking up skirts, and piling on the gold chains, giving the clothing a sense of humor and newness, thereby attracting a whole new generation.

While working for Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel simultaneously, Lagerfeld found time to develop and license his own ready-to-wear line, Karl Lagerfeld, and his diffusion line, KL. In addition, he has, throughout his career, developed enduring fragrances including Sun Moon Stars, Farenheit, KL, Lagerfeld, and, of course, Chloé, one of the best-selling perfumes in the world. Other licensing agreements include those with Eve Stillman, in the United States, for the production of lingerie; Charles Jourdan S.A., in France, for shoes; and Hutschenreuter, in Germany, for fine china.

Lagerfeld is an expert at creating light, fluid clothing by eliminating linings and extra seaming, which is exactly what he did at Chloé, while maintaining the floating feminine look for which the house was known. He is also a genius at combining the elements of street style with the elegance of haute couture. It is his ability to mix the quirky with the classic that has brought him such notoriety, like pairing tulle skirts with motorcycle boots and leather jackets, virtually changing the direction of modern fashion.

Lagerfeld has said many times that fashion should not be taken too seriously, claiming that it is always changing. “The things you hate one day, you are very likely to love another,” Lagerfeld once told an interviewer. “Fashion is a reflection of the moment.” Certainly, Karl Lagerfeld has spent each moment wisely.

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