One of fashion’s biggest names is being honoured with the Outstanding Achievement Award later this month at the British Fashion Awards. Praised for his passion, innovative designs and attention to detail, we take a closer look into what makes Chanel’s No. 1 tick.
Words: Christie Bannon, Subeditor: Tsakane Chabane
Born in Hamburg, Lagerfeld always had an interest in fashion and design. As a young child, he used to cut out pictures from fashion magazines and was even said to judge what other children wore to school. At just 14 years old, he made the brave decision to relocate to Paris where he began developing his interest in high fashion even further. He started entering competitions, and after winning one, he met the soon-to-be famous; Yves Saint Laurent.
Very soon after, Lagerfeld was snapped up by French designer Pierre Balmain where he became a junior assistant followed by an apprentice. Three years later, in 1958, he moved to Jean Patou where he designed two collections a year. His first collection wasn’t exactly a hit with the press, as it apparently received negative reactions. Even then Lagerfeld was trying new things, the cocktail dresses in the collection had daring cuts for the time. Many with low-cut backs and wide open fronts. The interesting part is that the design silhouette for the collection was in the shape of a ‘K’ for Karl, which meant a straight line front, curved waist, and a low fullness to the skirt. Two years later, his skirts for the 1960 spring collection were the shortest in Paris, and once again the collection wasn’t well received. These were all early signs that Lagerfeld was well ahead of the game, or just liked taking risks.
Eventually, at around 28, he branched out to work on his own. Little did he know that this decision was going to change his life. He started off by designing collections for the likes of Fendi and Chloé, until around the 1980’s when he’d really made a name for himself. It was around this time that Lagerfeld managed to reinvent Chanel by producing a fresh looking ready-to-wear collection.
As well as this, he decided to launch his very own label which was structured around the idea of ‘intellectual sexiness’. Over time, the brand was recognised for its quality tailoring and designs. He’s also had his fair share of collaborations over the years – a big one being with Diesel. Lagerfeld asked the founder of Diesel to work with him on a special denim collection for the Lagerfeld Gallery. The collection had five pieces, and after being shown at Paris Fashion Week, over 90% of the trousers sold out during the first week of sales in New York. In 2004 he worked with high street store H&M to produce a range of clothes for men and women, which sold out in two days. Since then, Lagerfeld spoke out and said he feared that collaborating with high street stores would tarnish his image.
In more recent years, who could ever forget his amazing shows at Paris Fashion Week? His contemporary designs paired with his inventive stages make for arguably one of the most entertaining shows of the season. This year of course saw Chanel Airlines take off as the show was transformed into a chic departure lounge complete with a check-in desk, departures board and numbered gates. The year before, Lagerfeld decided to turn his show into a feminist protest, fronted by British model Cara Delevingne.
However, no great designer comes without a bit of controversy, and Lagerfeld has had his fair share. As a supporter of using fur in fashion, he became PETA’s target in 2001 at a fashion premiere in New York City. This was when animal rights activists threw tofu pies in protest of the use of animal fur in his collections. Since then there have been numerous things said about Lagerfeld by PETA, but in 2010 he actually used faux-fur in his Chanel collection.
With so much experience and success, it’s clear to see why he is being honoured with this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award. We think he thoroughly deserves this recognition for all of his amazing work in the fashion industry over the years. He’s also said to be attending the British Fashion Awards to collect the award in person. Who knows, maybe he’ll even walk the red carpet with his beloved cat, Choupette.