Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Karl Lagerfeld - A Profile

Photography courtesy of and copyright Chanel.
After a career spanning six decades, Karl Lagerfeld is still at the top of his game. He is director of collections at Chanel, a label synonymous with high fashion and couture. During Lagerfeld's time in this role, the label has once again attained the zenith of creativity it had in the glory days of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. In addition to designing for Chanel, Lagerfeld has his own labels Karl Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Collection, his first New York based lines and works as an artistic adviser for Fendi (a collaboration which began in the 1960s). As well as designing, Lagerfeld is an accomplished artist, having taken a break from his fashion career in the 1960s to study this subject.

A prodigy, Lagerfeld gained his entree into the fashion world by winning a design competition in 1955, at the age of seventeen. Also at the competition, winning a different category, was another young, unknown designer, Yves Saint Laurent. Lagerfeld's win gained him a position at the fashion house of Pierre Balmain, then incredibly popular. Vintage Balmain has always been sought-after, but is starting to become very collectible. The mark of the early years of Lagerfeld's career, both at Balmain and then Jean Patou (another very fashionable, innovative label at the time) can be seen in the incredible cut and tailoring of Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel. However, as anyone who has watched Chanel's collections from the Lagerfeld years knows, classic tailoring is tempered with a palpable sense of modernity. It was perhaps this desire to be free from the stifling atmosphere of 1950s and 1960s couture houses which prompted Lagerfeld to quickly move into a career as a freelance designer and then take a break to study art. Scenes from the recent documentary "The House Of Chanel" showed just how marvellous an artist Lagerfeld actually is, sketching quickly and accurately the ideas which come into his head, but with the skill of an illustrator.

The fashion bug had not completely left Lagerfeld however. He returned to the industry in the 1960s and made his name at Chloe in the 1970s. His work for this label again showed his desire for the designer and the consumer to be free from the strictures of contemporary couture.

Joining Chanel in 1983, Lagerfeld has made the label his own. The Chanel haute-couture show is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the season. Lagerfeld's ready-to-wear designs are aware of the label's traditions, stalwarts include signature tweeds and quilted bags, for example, but with a thoroughly modern twist. The accessories line, in particular the bags and sunglasses, has become incredibly popular in recent years. No Hollywood starlet seems complete without her Chanel bag, whether a classic quilted model or a more daring design from the current Paris-New York or Luxury By Chanel lines. These lines display classic or signature Chanel details, diamond pattern stitching , chain handles, double C logo, with more unusual and varied fabrics, for example, ponyskin, suede, distressed leather, oversized alligator. Such marriage of tradition and innovation is key to the way Lagerfeld works at Chanel. This season's Chanel collections can be summed up as "rock and roll classic": tweed jackets teamed with skinny jeans, deconstructed leather jackets over ruffled shirts, mini skirts and boots. Eveningwear is both short and long, featuring tiers, black lace and intricate surface detail. The palate, as so often with Chanel, is monochrome, with dashes of colour here and there, mainly blue and red. A sportswear line is also designed.

Lagerfeld's own lines have their unique distinct design ethos. Again working with a palette of mainly, but not exclusively, black they feature more relaxed designs, some deconstructed, some impeccably tailored. Use of a wide range of materials and the concept of drape is key.

In addition to fashion design work, Lagerfeld is also known for his photography, which has featured in several magazines. He is also well-known in recent years for a diet which helped him to lose 92 pounds. This is the subject of a book: The Karl Lagerfeld Diet by Karl Lagerfeld, Dr Jean-Claude Houdret and Ingrid Sischy. Furthermore, Lagerfeld has also produced costumes for several key stage productions for La Scala in Milan, the opera in Florence and the ballet of Monte Carlo.

A true fashion original, he shows no sign of slowing down and we're sure to see more fabulous collections from him in years to come.
Quis Sum?

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