Commentary

Fashionistas, Celebrities Mourn Karl Lagerfeld, Who Revived Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld, the designer who reveled in edgy mystique and transformed Chanel from a dowdy has-been to one of the most recognizable brands in fashion, died in Paris yesterday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“Once upon a time Chanel was old hat. It was only Parisian doctors’ wives who still wore it. Nobody wanted it, it was hopeless,” he said after he showing his first collection for the fashion house in January 1983, Bethan Holt writes for The Telegraph.

“The catwalk show took place in the legendary Rue Cambon with models wearing sleek column gowns, chic tea dresses and elegant LBDs inspired by Coco's 1920s and 30s designs -- it was the beginning of a monumental revival making Chanel the most famous designer brand in the world,” Holt continues.

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“He was like an emergency doctor who applied, you know, electric shock to this corpse and suddenly brought it back to life and made it super exciting and fashionable so that instead of, you know, just a handful of leftover old ladies wearing it, all kinds of young women suddenly thought, whoa. Chanel is cool again,” Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, tells Andrew Limbong on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Known for his own quirky style, Lagerfeld always seemed to have a sharp quip up his sleeves. “Chic is a kind of mayonnaise -- either it tastes, or it doesn’t,” he famously said.

“Creative director of Chanel since 1983 and Fendi since 1965, and founder of his own line, Mr. Lagerfeld was the definition of a fashion polyglot, able to speak the language of many different brands at the same time (not to mention many languages themselves: He read in English, French, German and Italian),” Vanessa Friedman writes for the New York Times.

“Today the world lost a giant among men,” said Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, describing Lagerfeld’s “creative genius” as “breathtaking.” “Karl was brilliant, he was wicked, he was funny, he was generous beyond measure, and he was deeply kind. I will miss him so very much.”

Born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in Hamburg, Germany in the 1930s, he removed the “t” from the end of his surname because he believed it would sound “more commercial” without it, according to Biography.com. 

He was 85 -- or thereabouts. 

“Like his famed predecessor, Coco Chanel, Lagerfeld habitually lied about his age, and he seemed to stop time by adopting a personal uniform that was instantly recognizable and endlessly parodied,” Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell writes for The Atlantic.

“One of fashion’s most revered creatives, he leaves a heavily coiffured, near-mythological hole in the beating heart of an industry that will not only mourn a million iconic fashion moments (not least his own -- his trademark silver ponytail, black suit and fingerless leather gloves have long been some of Pinterest's favorite fancy dress fodder) but also a game-changer admirably adept at brand spin,” writes Katie Baron for Forbes

“Tracking back, from catapulting Chanel to brand stardom to inaugurating the now-ubiquitous ‘masstige’ collaborative model with his partnership with H&M, Lagerfeld was a disrupter far before the term was co-opted by Silicon Valley startups,” she continues.

Indeed, his death leaves a void atop both Chanel and Fendi, the Italian fashion house owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE where he had been a creative director since 1965, observes Matthew Dalton for the Wall Street Journal. “Both brands face deep questions about their future direction without Mr. Lagerfeld, whose outsize personality and creativity were integral to their identity.”

“We have lost a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world,” Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire who leads LVMH, said Tuesday.

Elle’s Alyssa Bailey pulled together a list of Instagram tributes to Lagerfeld from fashion designers and celebrities.

“Karl your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Gianni and I. We will never forget your incredible talent and endless inspiration. We were always learning from you,” Donatella Versace writes.

And Vogue U.K.compiled 25 of Lagerfeld’s own “most iconic muses.” Among them: “I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me, the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.”

Until it doesn’t. R.I.P. to a creative giant and colorful character.

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