Karl Lagerfeld – From Ordinary Life to Extravagant Cathedral

Karl Lagerfeld – From Ordinary Life to Extravagant Cathedral

Karl Lagerfeld embodies contradictions, from a fashion style dominated by black and white to his personal life and illustrious career. In September 2022, Vogue announced “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” as the theme for the 2023 Met Gala, held on May 1, 2023, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, honoring the legend’s life, career, and aesthetic.

Since his departure from the world in 2019, Karl’s presence continues to be remembered. Every February 19th, the Instagram account of Choupette, Karl’s famous feline companion, posts a tribute to him. Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, mentioned that Karl is the departed figure whose perspective she would want on today’s social life. While Chanel, Fendi, and the Karl Lagerfeld brand now have new creative directors, Karl Lagerfeld’s influence and legacy endure.

Beyond his design talent, Karl is known as the “King of Quotes” in the fashion world due to his witty and sometimes controversial statements. Among them, fashion enthusiasts still regard the following quote as Karl’s distinctive way of describing his life and creativity:

“I am down to earth. Just not this earth”.

The Reality of a Genius

The world of fashion and creativity is often associated with extravagant parties and indulgent pleasures. What’s intriguing is that Karl Lagerfeld navigated this world while choosing a distinctive personal life. Karl’s reserved nature was shaped during his serene childhood in a village in Germany. Later, when he moved to Paris to embark on his career, Karl continued to carve out his own unique path.

Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent | Source: L’Officiel

According to the book “Karl Lagerfeld – Life, Career, and Mysteries,” Karl disliked participating in wild, night-long parties, even when his close friend at the time, Yves Saint Laurent, was entangled in addiction and revelry. In the 1980s, during the AIDS epidemic in the fashion world, some of Karl’s friends fell victim to the disease. Thanks to his disciplined lifestyle and rationality, Karl maintained a calm demeanor, distancing himself from that chaotic world and focusing on the reality that he loved—his work. Anna Wintour once stated that Karl valued solitude, enjoying this quietude until 2-3 in the morning.

The majority of Karl’s time was devoted to creation and simultaneously overseeing three fashion houses, producing over 20 new collections each year. He invested much of his energy in sketching and believed that the most beautiful drawings came to him in his dreams. Karl’s practicality was evident in the fact that he often visited fabric warehouses to find inspiration and create directly from these available materials. The more extravagant and luxurious his collections, the more Karl grounded himself in reality. He expressed that his life was ordinary, where he simply enjoyed drawing, reading, and caring for his beloved cat.

Karl Lagerfeld’s “down-to-earth” nature was also reflected in his marketing mindset. Karl’s friends mentioned that he disliked being labeled an artist. He always emphasized belonging to the “working class,” considering himself a commercial craftsman striving to fill stores with new and intriguing items. He genuinely created products to sell rather than just to marvel at.

Karl Lagerfeld, relentlessly creative every day | Source: ARTE Distribution

Karl enjoyed incorporating familiar elements of life into his designs and elevating them into luxury accessories. Whether it was a handbag shaped like a spaceship, Chanel’s shopping baskets, or accessory boxes resembling cassette tapes, Karl found pleasure in bringing these everyday elements to the realm of high-end fashion. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Karl once stated that his approach to fashion was “common sense.” Fashion, for Karl, was a reflection of the times and environment. His creative philosophy always had rationality, practicality, and significance.

A “New World Order” Created by Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld joined Chanel in 1983 when the fashion house was on the brink of collapse. Under Karl’s guidance, Chanel transformed into a fashion powerhouse with revenues in the tens of billions of dollars. What Karl did at Chanel was build upon the foundations laid by Gabrielle Coco Chanel to propel it into a different “planet” with innovations and improvements.

He made the iconic Tweed Jacket more wearable by shortening it and incorporating traditional tweed with diverse new fibers. Karl also used denim on Chanel’s classic jacket, paving the way for this material to enter high fashion in the 1990s.

The colossal runway becomes a ‘signature’ of Chanel under Karl’s creative direction | Source: Rosenbaumcontemporary

Karl Lagerfeld detested boredom. Consequently, he brought a vibrant, peculiar world into reality. For instance, while fashion runways used to be straight, in Karl’s “reality,” they became gigantic, surreal stages. No one would have thought Karl could create a beach with waves for the Spring-Summer 2019 collection, or construct a space station, the Eiffel Tower, or a forest with a waterfall at the Grand Palais. He went even bolder by combining luxury fashion with mass-market brands (H&M, Macy’s), something unprecedented until then.

Additionally, Karl’s mind always wandered into the future, with an awareness of a better world. Perhaps, this stemmed from his and his family’s experience during World War II, desiring to use art to escape the dreary reality. Karl recognized the need to protect and sustain artisanal crafts, as they were the soul of his collections.

Karl Lagerfeld bids farewell in the Métiers d’Art 2018/2019 show | Source: Prestige HK

For this reason, Karl created Chanel’s first Métiers d’Art show in 2002. The collection elevated craftsmanship, bringing it closer to the public, especially the younger generation. As traditional crafts were fading worldwide, Karl’s reality of creating new collections opened opportunities for these legacies to continue thriving.

Lastly, Karl Lagerfeld himself redefined his “just not this Earth” through transforming hobbies into actual professions. He once said, “My vision is always growing. I am always looking for new ways to express myself.”

The friendship between Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld | Source: A Journal

From a fashion designer, Karl became a photographer, a filmmaker, and an author. Even his approach to reading books, a normal hobby, became extraordinary. His library comprised over 300,000 books, unmatched by any designer. Indeed, Karl lived in this world, but his footprints undoubtedly lay in some other multiverse.

In a self-penned tribute just three days after Karl Lagerfeld’s passing, Anna Wintour wrote, “If the most exciting part of my job is discovering new talents, then the most heartbreaking is watching those I know and love leave it.” Yet, with Karl’s personality and character, we have the right to believe that he is tirelessly creating in another world, “just not this earth,” as he once said.


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