Karl Lagerfeld is the master of reinvention, having repeatedly transformed himself as well as his labels. He is currently the creative director of Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label. He has previously designed for Chloe and created a range for H&M.
He has one older sister, Martha Christiane, who was born in 1931, and an older half-sister – Thea – from his father’s first marriage.
Lagerfeld changed his original surname from Lagerfeldt, removing the ‘t’ because – as he wrote in his book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet – it sounded “more commercial”.
Lagerfeld emigrated to Paris at the age of 14 and studied drawing and history, before becoming a design assistant for Pierre Balmain, and later Jean Patou, working on the haute couture collections.
He has taken on the role of costume designer for a number of productions, including Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz at Milan’s La Scala theatre,Komödie der Verführung by Arthur Schnitzler at the Burgtheater in Vienna and Der Schwierige by Hugo von Hofmannsthal at the Salzburg Festival.
Karl speaks several languages and owns 7L – a bookshop in Paris. He has also published books of his art photography.
In 1955, Lagerfeld worked at Pierre Balmain after winning a competition, before working at Jean Patou, Krizia, Charles Jourdan and Valentino.
In 1967, he joined Fendi, then Chloe the following decade.
He joined Chanel in 1983, only a decade after Coco Chanel died and only five years after the label’s first ready-to-wear collection.
In 1984, he launched his own name Karl Lagerfeld label which, he said, would channel “intellectual sexiness”.
By 1997, Vogue crowned Lagerfeld “unparalleled interpreter of the mood of the moment”.
Lagerfeld is famous for having lost a lot of weight and bringing out a diet book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. He lost 90lbs on a diet which included eating tuna and blackberry mousse. He said “I think that fashion is the healthiest motivation for losing weight.” He also revealed that dieting isn’t any fun: “You have to be a real bore like me for it to work.”
In 2005, Lagerfeld sold his own name brands (Lagerfeld Gallery and Lagerfeld), to Tommy Hilfiger, but maintained full design involvement.
In March 2005, Lagerfeld spoke of his mother, thanking her for the fact he had never smoked. He said “‘If you smoke, you hands are always on show, and yours aren’t particularly nice,’ she said. I’ve never had a cigarette. I wanted to please her because she hated anything second-rate.”
Lagerfeld designed two footwear lines for Italian label Hogan in 2010.
It was announced in March 2011 that Lagerfeld would design Lily Allen’s wedding dress, for her marriage to Sam Cooper in June 2011 – in fact he designed her evening dress for the occasion, rather than her wedding gown.
Karl said in May 2011 that he wasn’t a big technology man: “I don’t use cell phones. I read, I write, I love faxes, I like to take notes. I hate to be on the phone, I think it’s an intrusion. I’m reading, I’m sketching, I don’t want to be interrupted,” he said.
Swedish company Orrefors unveiled the collection of delicate glassware designed for them by Lagerfeld in June 2011. In clear, black and milky glass, the collection embodied his minimal clean aesthetic. “What I enjoy most is doing something I’ve never done before,” the designer said of his collection of glasses, vases and bowls.
It was confirmed in July 2011 that Lagerfeld would create a capsule collection for American department store Macy’s. “The collaboration is a kind of test how to do this kind of clothes in that price range. As you know, I love occasional co-branding,” explained Lagerfeld. “Macy’s is the perfect department store in the US, where everybody can find what they’re looking for without ruining their budget.”
On 3 June 2011 he was awarded the Gordon Parks Foundation Award in recognition of his work as a designer, photographer and filmmaker. “I’m so proud, and so very thankful, but I’m never done,” said Lagerfeld of the honour. “I knew Gordon’s photos before I knew Gordon, and they left such an impression on me as a student in München. That’s what you want, as an artist. That’s what I hope for.”