Written by Kirill Omelich
The iconic couturier, responsible for the Chanel we have come to love and know, has died at the age of 85. As creative director of Chanel for 36 years, Karl Lagerfeld’s designs and stewardship defined an era. That we see another designer as talented and influential in our lifetimes is questionable at best: Karl Lagerfeld is truly irreplaceable.
When Karl assumed the reins of Chanel’s creative director in 1983, he breathed new life into the French house, which was on a path of steady decline following Coco Chanel’s death in 1971. His creative genius allowed him to take Chanel’s fundamentals—the tweed suits, teeny black dresses and the staple quilted flap handbags—and modernize them with his savvy knowledge of current popular culture. Whether it was hip-hop, surfer girls, even his post-mortem debut of the après-ski collection in March of 2019, across the spectrum of Karl Lagerfeld’s designs we see a common factor: all are undeniably Chanel. All of his pieces embody Coco Chanel’s core values of elegance, class and femininity, and through his masterful, modernized designs he revitalized and delivered Coco’s legacy unto us.
To any true fashionista, Lagerfeld and Chanel are two inseparable names. He brought us the extraordinary fashion shows, the intriguing collections and theatrical displays. some of his most influential work, particularly with Chanel handbags, is lesser known. When we think of a Chanel flap bag, we immediately envision the shiny, metal interlocking CC logo. Unknown by many, this was an entirely Karl Lagerfeld creation, which debuted in the 1980s. It was a simple yet genius design that brought the classic Chanel flap bag back to life because of its appeal to younger generations. The leather straps enveloped in metal chain links too were a purely Karl Lagerfeld addition. He once said, “luxury bags make your life more pleasant, make your dream, give you confidence and show your neighbors you are doing well.” Anyone who places a 2.55 bag over their shoulder can attest to what Karl was saying—he gave the flap bag emotion, purpose and satisfaction, all while never sacrificing Coco’s spirit in his designs. Last but not least, Karl Lagerfeld turned the Chanel flap bag into a valuable investment asset. A bag that originally sold for $220 in 1955 now retails for over $6,000.
However, with his successes came the inevitable notoriety surrounding his name. Karl became well known for his frank, to-the-point statements. “I am very much down to Earth, just not on this Earth,” he once said, embodying his penchant for witty remarks. Some viewed his blunt attitude as insensitive; others celebrated it as invigorating, but what is a legend without controversy? The public’s fascination with the eccentric figure—with his dark sunglasses, black leather gloves, chrome rings and powdery white ponytail—rivals that of Chanel herself, perhaps even surpassing the mademoiselle as we continue to mourn and remember the great Karl Lagerfeld. We can only hope that Chanel and Karl’s successor continue his forward thinking yet conserving-of-heritage mentality. And while we miss him greatly, his presence, his contributions and his legacy will never be forgotten.