Those Karl Lager-Feels: Lessons from the Father of Fashion
Posted on May 03 2019
In the wake of the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, his followers - devoted disciples - find ourselves at a loss. It’s difficult to recall a world before his white ponytail and opinionated genius guided the runways and magazines. Karl taught the fashion community with a leather glove-covered iron fist, and he was full of wry humour and life lessons.
Though he pushed almost every boundary imaginable when it came to his designs, his cynical viewpoints pointed towards a more traditional mindset. Karl hated tattoos, and renounced selfies, harping on their unflattering angles and pointless vanity.
He never appeared in public without his fingerless gloves, dark sunglasses, and signature white starched collars, so tall they brushed the bottom of his chin. A serious man from the start, even childhood photos show a proper little Karl dressed so swanky in a suit and tie.
From his seemingly harsh quips and bitter humour, one could sense that Karl was a cynic, exercising his infamous braggadocio, scoffing at every detail out of place. But with further introspection, could it possibly be that Karl, the most fashionable and notorious man in the world was... modest?! Though a strong supporter of miniskirts, he found inspiration to cover the arms, in the form of long gloves, layered jackets and even arm sleeves (presumably to cover tattoos, perhaps). For Fendi A/W 2009, Cognoscente Karl introduced to the world… sleeves, wittingly pairing them in a way only Karl can do. (https://fendi.com)
A/W 2018 Couture
The Kaiser was a champion of modest fashion, upholding Coco Chanel’s vision for practical, elevated apparel for women, although as Karl said “Coco would have hated what I did with Chanel.” Stirred in with the crystal-encrusted bikinis and barely-there bras, there were posh work clothes that continuously line the closets of ladies worldwide, from teenagers to great-grandmothers.
The iconic Chanel suit, a cropped tweed jacket with matching skirt, was re-imagined by Karl hundreds of times over his decades as designer for the distinguished French maison. Though the bouclé fabrics ranged from wools to denims to sequins, the core design elements of a strong epaulette, high neckline and contrasting trim on the jackets remained true. When paired with the knee length skirt, this prototypical suit has become a main-stay in modest, stylish dressing for the soigné woman. Flattering, classic and timeless, 'The Little Black Jacket' is a look that has been around for the better part of a century, and absolutely shows no sign of being forgotten.
Karl more recently favoured arm sleeves in his designs for Chanel, adding ruffles to the hem or embellishing crystals for a high-fashion look. He expertly styled them in a plethora of ways; with sleeveless evening dresses or low-slung pants and tank tops, working them into his incredibly diverse repertoire. This bravura shows Karl’s practical streak amongst his haute couture red carpet creations - an accessory that could be worn a variety of ways, for the everyday.
S/S 2018 Couture
Karl Lagerfeld was a prolific genius saying ‘Embrace the present and invent the future.’ He did just that. In the lightning-speed world of fashion, Karl not only was au courant globally but pushed for progress, all the while maintaining his traditional values of modesty. Whilst his fashion shows were infused with flamboyant whimsy, his designs for the modern woman were genuinely wearable and approachable.
Like his classic ‘double C’s’ he never slowed down. 'Don’t overact the story of your name. Overact the story of your work,’ he said. In fact, it seems like Lagerfeld’s raison d’etre was creation. A mortal superman that not once entertained the thought of retirement since coming on the scene at the ripe age of 17 as studio assistant for Pierre Balmain. Even his last days at impressive 85 years were still encompassed by fashion designing, adding author, photograper, artist, hotelier, literary reviewer, and caricaturist to his monumental lifetime oeuvre.
Did his modest personality contribute to his workaholic attitude? Or his incredible fashion designs? It most reasonably seems so… Karl was once quoted to say,
‘A respectable appearance is sufficient to make people more interested in your soul.’
To me, that’s a damn good definition of modesty!