For the first time in a career spanning over half a century, Karl Lagerfeld sparked concern by not appearing at the end of his Chanel shows in Paris in early 2019, a development the house attributed to his being “tired.” Days later, on February 19, 2019, it was announced that the legendary designer had passed away, on the same day a new Karl Lagerfeld boutique was supposed to open in The Dubai Mall.
Karl Lagerfeld, who never revealed his true birthday, was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in Hamburg, Germany, on September 10, 1933, as it’s been reported. One of the most acclaimed fashion designers in the world, he was known for his bold designs and constant reinvention.
Lagerfeld’s father, Christian, made his fortune by bringing condensed milk to Germany. Karl and his older sister, Martha, and a half sister, Thea, grew up in a wealthy home. Intellectual activity was encouraged at the Lagerfeld home. His mother, Elizabeth, was an accomplished violin player and talk at the dinner table often included subjects such as religious philosophy.
When Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, the Lagerfelds moved to a rural area of northern Germany, where, as Karl would later recount, he was cut off from any knowledge about the Nazis.
From an early age, Lagerfeld expressed an interest in design and fashion. As a child he often cut out pictures from fashion magazines. He was also known to be critical of what others wore to school. But it wasn’t until his teen years, after his family had returned to Hamburg, that Lagerfeld immersed himself in the world of high fashion.
“When I was four I asked my mother for a valet for my birthday.”— The Beautiful Fall
Sensing his future lay elsewhere, 14-year-old Lagerfeld made the bold decision, with the blessing of his parents, to move to Paris. He’d been there just two years when he submitted a series of sketches and fabric samples to a design competition. He ended up taking first place in the coat category and meeting another winner, Yves Saint Laurent, who would become a close friend.
Soon, Lagerfeld had full-time work with French designer Pierre Balmain, first as a junior assistant, and later as an apprentice. It was a demanding position, and the young designer remained in it for three years. He took work as a creative director with another fashion house before finally, in 1961, striking out on his own.
Good work soon followed, with Lagerfeld designing collections for Chloe, Fendi (where he was brought on to oversee the company’s fur line) and others. Lagerfeld became known in the fashion industry for his innovative, in-the-moment styles. But Lagerfeld also had an appreciation for the past, and he often shopped in flea markets, finding old wedding dresses to deconstruct and reimagine.
By the 1980s, Karl Lagerfeld was a major star in the fashion world. He was a favorite among the press, who loved to chronicle his changing tastes and social life. Lagerfeld kept company with other major stars, including his good friend Andy Warhol.
During his career he developed a sort of hired gun reputation for jumping from one label to the next, and also put together a track record of success that few designers can match. At Chanel in the early 1980s he did what few thought possible: He returned what was perceived to be a near-dead brand back to life with a revamped ready-to-wear fashion line.
Around that time Lagerfeld launched his own label, in 1984, which he built around the idea of what he described as “intellectual sexiness.” Over the years, the brand developed a reputation for quality tailoring with bold ready-to-wear pieces like cardigan jackets in bright colors. In 2005 Lagerfeld sold the label to Tommy Hilfiger.
Lagerfeld, whose work crossed over into film and photography, continued to maintain a busy schedule. In 2011 he designed a line of glassware for the Swedish company Orrefors and signed on to create a new clothing collection for Macy’s. In 2015 he opened up his first Karl Lagerfeld store in Doha, Qatar. In 2016 it was announced that Lagerfeld was moving into the hospitality business with the launch of Karl Lagerfeld Hotels & Resorts, a brand that will encompass hotels, restaurants and private clubs.
“Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give and nobody will care for you.”—The World According to Karl