You know someone’s an icon when you can recognise them from their predominant features alone; a square-rimmed pair of shades, fingerless gloves, and long white hair are what encapsulate Karl Lagerfeld. Despite having passed away over four years ago, Karl Lagerfeld’s grip on the fashion industry has far from relinquished; if anything, it’s stronger than ever. But what came to make him one of the most iconic designers in recent history, and why is the fashion industry so unwaveringly obsessed with him?
Born in Germany, Karl Lagerfeld grew up in a heavily Catholic family, which grew to be a huge influence on his designs in later life. He was deeply respected within the fashion industry for being one of the last designers still taking active inspiration from the “world of yesterday”, according to critics. Throughout his career, he came to be recognised for his love of European culture, and the Baroque and Rococo periods in history.
This is seen in his work at Chanel, the role which he was best known for, reviving the brand in the 1980s from tired to revolutionary. The passing of Coco Chanel a decade before had left the brand in a rut; it was stuck in the past with a dated silhouette and lack of direction. After Karl Lagerfeld’s appointment as Creative Director of Chanel, he introduced a new and updated look, by shortening the skirt, raising the heel, padding out the shoulders, ultimately modernising the brand. On top of that, Lagerfeld was also the creator of Chanel’s interlocking “CC” monogram, a now globally recognised motif which became an icon of the brand.
Lagerfeld was recognised for his eccentric character and celebrity social circle, which both fed into his allusive reputation. Throughout his career, Lagerfeld took inspiration from a range of muses whom he also befriended, from Inès de la Fressange and Linda Evangelista in his early career to Devon Aoki and Cara Delevingne in later life. Perhaps one of the greatest causes for his lasting impression on the fashion industry was that he was quick to engage with the supermodel frenzy of the 1990s, something which contributed to the hype around Chanel at the time.
Last night, The MET Gala – the museum’s annual celebration of the arts which exclusively invites celebrities and famous figures to attend – honoured Karl Lagerfeld by making him 2023’s theme. Despite the recent practice of celebrities massively missing the theme of the gala (we’re looking at you, Karlie Kloss), last night attendees arrived in breathtaking ensembles, draped in pearls and dragging trains. Not every garment donned was vintage Chanel, but it was all Karl Lagerfeld inspired.
Whilst his impact on the fashion industry is indisputable, many people have questioned whether Karl Lagerfeld is an appropriate choice for The MET Gala’s theme. Despite the art he created and the relationships he built within the industry, Karl Lagerfeld came under fire many times throughout his career for comments which were deemed fatphobic, racist, and misogynistic. It seems The MET Gala and those attending decided that they can, in fact, separate the art from the artist. However, the fashion industry’s ongoing obsession with Karl Lagerfeld paired with its refusal to acknowledge his controversial views is beginning to rub people the wrong way.
Whether you’re a fan of him or not, the MET Gala’s honouring of Karl Lagerfeld last night was something spectacular to see. From giant pussy-cats to bridal gowns, perhaps this was the very theme needed to revive the MET Gala and pull celebrities out of their apparent confusion around adhering to themes. Here’s hoping next year’s theme will be just as breathtaking… although a little less controversial.
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