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In His Own Words: Fashion Visionary Karl Lagerfeld’s Life In Quotes

In His Own Words: Karl Lagerfeld's Life In Quotes

“When I was four I asked my mother for a valet for my birthday.”

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Karl was born in born in Hamburg, Germany on the 10th of September 1933. From an early age, he embodied the ambition and drive associated with his Virgo astrological sign.  At 14, he moved to Paris to pursue his dreams of being a fashion designer. The risk reaped the rewards – at 21, with no fashion or art school credentials to his name, he won the prestigious Woolmark prize. Lagerfeld assisted Pierre Balmain before moving to Jean Patou, where he produced ten couture collections over five years.

“My thing is to work more than the others to show them how useless they are.”

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In 1965, Karl was offered a position as Creative Director at Fendi. The Fendi sisters hoped he could inject youthful vigour into the brand – he did. Lagerfeld’s relationship with Fendi spanned 54 years. His tenure at Fendi was unheard of in an industry where designers typically spend only a handful of seasons directing. At the same time, he was appointed head designer at Chloe, where his clients included legends of the screen – Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, and Jackie Kennedy. All before age 32. Lagerfeld has always been dismissive of designers who complain about long hours the fashion industry demands, “When you hear designers complaining about their profession, you have to say: don’t get carried away, it’s only dresses.”

“What I do CoCo would have hated.. I had to go from what Chanel was to what it should be, could be, what it had been to something else.”

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In 1983, Karl was appointed artistic director for Chanel. It’s impossible for a person born in the 90s to imagine Chanel without its iconic interlocking Cs. However, the logo was brought to the brand by Lagerfeld in the 1980s as part of a 360 branding restructure. Lagerfeld said coming to Chanel was like “resuscitating a sleeping beauty, and not a pretty one.” He worked the new logo into belts and jewels whilst incorporating tartan and plaid, popular with the grunge and punk movements, into couture pieces. Lagerfeld’s genius was marrying the heritage of the brand with the zeitgeist of the moment. This eye for the next big thing also made him a star-maker for little known models – Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and more recently, Bella Hadid, Cara Delevingne and Lily-Rose Depp all benefited from his mentoring. And Karl transformed Chanel from a prestige couture house on its death-bed into the 10 billion dollar success story it is today. A sleeping beauty indeed.

“I am modern. Whatever that means.”

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Karl’s image has never changed. He has said that even as a child, he would wear a suit and tie given the opportunity. While Lagerfeld has been loyal to his uniform, in business, he consistently innovated and looked to the future. He was the first designer to launch a fragrance in 1975. Now it is challenging to think of a major fashion house without a suite of scents, but at the time the launch of Chloe’s namesake raised eyebrows.  In 1960 his skirts scandalised, they were dubbed “the shortest in Paris” – by the end of the decade the thigh-grazing mod look had swept the globe.  He broke all the rules, helming two competing brands Fendi and Chanel for decades and directing them both to profit. His introduction of “fun fur” resuscitated the Fendi brand’s fortunes. Lagerfeld was also one of the first fashion designers to collaborate with H&M, he took a risk in 2004, and his success saw other brands like Balmain and Moschino follow.

The 85-year-old even managed to stay relevant on social media. Lagerfeld wisely avoided undignified selfies (which he referred to as “electronic masturbation”) – instead, he encouraged engagement with his cat Choupette through a satirical Instagram and Twitter accounts. A masterstroke of passive self-promotion.

“A sense of humour and a little lack of respect: That’s what you need to make a legend survive.”

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Nobody was more aware of Karl Lagerfeld’s public perception than Karl Lagerfeld. Often criticised for his blunt commentary on sensitive industry topics like weight and fur (hint: he felt models should be thin and the conversation around fur was “hypocritical”), he became so well known for his acerbic barbs that a book of his put-downs was published. His criticisms of everyone from Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Heidi Klum, Lana Del Rey, and Adele have earned him reams of free publicity.

GQ Editor In Chief Dylan Jones reflected on his most memorable moment with friend Karl Lagerfeld. “We were backstage at a show, and he was ordering his assistants around in a way that was firm, but also funny and self-deprecating. Even then he knew what being Karl Lagerfeld meant to people, what it meant to the world, and he slightly amplified it for comic effect.”


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History will remember Karl Lagerfeld as one of fashion’s greatest visionaries. However, his vision has been criticised for lacking inclusivity. He has been accused of fat-phobia, misogyny, cultural appropriation and endorsing animal cruelty. Many have suggested that the industries’ most influential man embodied many of fashion’s most significant shortcomings. Lagerfeld’s career began in 1954, a time when fashion was the exclusive concern of the elite.

Karl Lagerfeld

An innovator in matters of business and style Lagerfeld’s social attitudes were stubbornly rooted in the past. Chanel now has the opportunity to update their ethos, just as Kaiser Karl updated their image in 1983.  In the meantime, we can celebrate a genius and an industry giant, while reflecting on where fashion will go from here.

The 2015 British Fashion Award Winners & Hot Frocks
Karl and Vogue Editor Anna Wintour Image: @fashiontomax
Karl Lagerfeld's Short Film 'Reincarnation' For CHANEL Starring Pharrell & Cara...OH MY!
Karl Lagerfeld’s Short Film ‘Reincarnation’ For CHANEL Starring Pharrell & Cara…OH MY!  

Written by Ruby Feneley

Ruby Feneley is The Carousel Beauty Editor. Her obsession with makeup and skincare started when she modelled in her teens. While she studied English Literature at Sydney University she pivoted from front to behind the camera – receiving her Diploma of Artistry and working as a makeup artist, assisting industry leaders across multiple top brands. In 2017, she moved to New York where she worked as a copywriter for celebrity children’s wear label Appaman Inc. Ruby is now combining her love of makeup and skincare with her passion for writing. She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of makeup and skincare – she can spot a Nars lip from 30 feet and recommend skin creams and treatments from chemists to La Mer at a glance. She is always looking for the next big thing in beauty whether it’s an “unsung hero” product, a highlighter hack or a technological innovation to accelerate your anti-ageing regimen.

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