Karl Lagerfeld (born Karl Otto Lagerfeld, 10 September 1933) is a German fashion designer, artist, and photographer based in Paris. He is the head designer and creative director of the fashion house Chanel as well as the Italian house Fendi and his own label fashion house. Over the decades, he has collaborated on a variety of fashion and art-related projects. He is well recognized around the world for his trademark white hair, black glasses, and high starched collars.
Lagerfeld was born on 10 September 1933 in Hamburg, the son of the businessman Otto Lagerfeld (1881–1967) and his wife Elisabeth Bahlmann (1897–1978). His father owned a company that imported and produced evaporated milk, while his grandfather Karl Bahlmann was a local politician for the Catholic Centre Party. His family belonged to the Old Catholic Church. His mother was a lingerie saleswoman from Berlin, when she met her husband; they married in 1930.
He is known to misrepresent his birth year, claiming to be younger than his actual age, and to misrepresent his parents' background. For example, he has claimed that he was born in 1938 to "Elisabeth of Germany" and Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt from Sweden, although these claims have been conclusively proven to be entirely wrong, as his father was from Hamburg and spent his entire life in Germany, with no Swedish connection whatsoever. There is also no evidence that his mother Elisabeth Bahlmann, the daughter of a middle class local politician, called herself "Elisabeth of Germany." He is known to insist that no one knows his real birth date; interviewed on French television in February 2009, Lagerfeld said that he was "born neither in 1933 nor 1938." In April 2013 he finally declared that he was born in 1935. A birth announcement was, however, published by his parents in 1933, and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him as born in that year, conclusively proving that he was born on 10 September 1933. Bild am Sonntag published his baptismal records in 2008 and interviewed his teacher and a classmate, who both confirmed that he was born in 1933. Despite that, Karl Lagerfeld announced publicly that he was celebrating his "70th birthday" on 10 September 2008, despite actually turning 75.
His older sister, Martha Christiane (a.k.a. Christel), was born in 1931. Lagerfeld has an older half-sister, Thea, from his father's first marriage. His family name has been spelled both Lagerfeldt (with a "t") and Lagerfeld; like his father, he uses the spelling Lagerfeld, considering it to "sound more commercial."
His family was mainly shielded from the deprivations of World War II due to his father's business interests in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH. His father was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake.
After attending a private school, Lagerfeld finished his secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, where he majored in drawing and history.
Lagerfeld was hired as Pierre Balmain's assistant after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in 1955. In 1958, after three years at Balmain, he moved to Jean Patou where he designed two haute couture collections a year for five years. His first collection was shown in a two-hour presentation in July 1958, but he used the name Roland Karl, rather than Karl Lagerfeld. Although, in 1962, reporters began referring to him as Karl Lagerfelt or Karl Logerfeld. The first collection was poorly received. Carrie Donovan, an American fashion journalist, wrote that "the press booed the collection". The UPI noted: "The firm's brand new designer, 25-year old Roland Karl, showed a collection which stressed shape and had no trace of last year's sack." The reporter went on to say: "A couple of short black cocktail dresses were cut so wide open at the front that even some of the women reporters gasped. Other cocktail and evening dresses feature low, low-cut backs." Most interestingly, Karl said that his design silhouette for the season was called by the letter "K" for Karl, which was translated into a straight line in front, curved in at the waist in the back, with a low fullness to the skirt.
His skirts for the spring 1960 season were the shortest in Paris, and the collection was not well received. Carrie Donovan wrote that it "looked like clever and immensely salable ready-to-wear, not couture." For his late 1960 collection, he designed special little hats, pancake shaped circles of satin, which hung on the cheek. He called them "slaps in the face." Karl's collection was said to be well received but not groundbreaking. "I became bored there, too, and I quit and tried to go back to school, but that didn't work, so I spent two years mostly on beaches—I guess I studied life."' In 1963, he began designing for Tiziani, a Roman couture house founded that year by Evan Richards (b. 1924) of Jacksboro, Texas. It began as couture and then branched out into ready-to-wear, bearing the label "Tiziani-Roma—Made in England." Lagerfeld and Richards sketched the first collection in 1963 together. "When they wound up with 90 outfits, Tiziani threw caution and invitations to the winds, borrowed Catherine the Great's jewels from Harry Winston, and opened his salon with a three-night wingding," according to one report in 1969. Lagerfeld designed for the company until 1969. Elizabeth Taylor was a fan of the label; she referred to Evan as Evan Tiziani, which was, of course, not his family name, and began wearing the outfits in August 1966. Gina Lollobrigida, Doris Duke, and Princess Marcella Borghese were also customers while Lagerfeld was designing the line. He was replaced in 1969 with Guy Douvier (1928–1993).
Lagerfeld began to freelance for French fashion house Chloé in 1964, at first designing a few pieces each season. As more and more pieces were incorporated, he soon designed the entire collection. In 1970, he also began a brief design collaboration with Roman haute-couture house Curiel; its head was Gigliola Curiel, who died in November 1969. Lagerfeld's first collection there was described as having a "drippy drapey elegance" designed for a "1930s cinema queen.” The Curiel mannequins all wore identical, short-cropped blonde wigs. He also showed black velvet shorts, worn under a black velvet ankle-length cape.
His Chloé collection for spring 1973 (shown in October 1972) garnered headlines for offering something both "high fashion and high camp." He showed loose Spencer jackets and printed silk shirt-jackets. He designed something he called a "surprise" skirt, which was in an ankle-length, pleated silk, so loose that it hid the fact it was actually pants. "It seems that wearing these skirts is an extraordinary sensation," he told a reporter at the time. He also designed a look inspired by Carmen Miranda, which consisted of mini-bra dresses with very short skirts, and long dresses with bra tops and scarf shawls.
From 1972, he collaborated with Italian fashion house Fendi, designing furs, clothing, and accessories.
Starting in the 1970s, Lagerfeld has occasionally worked as a costume designer for theatrical productions. He collaborated with stage directors such as Luca Ronconi and Jürgen Flimm, and designed for theaters such as La Scala in Milan (Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz, 1980; directed by Ronconi), the Burgtheater in Vienna (Komödie der Verführung by Arthur Schnitzler, 1980; directed by Horst Zankl), and the Salzburg Festival (Der Schwierige by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1990; directed by Flimm).
Lagerfeld at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival
At the time, he was maintaining a design contract with Japanese firm Isetan to create collections for both men and women through 30 licenses, had a lingerie line in the U.S. produced by Eve Stillmann, was designing shoes for Charles Jourdan and sweaters for Ballantyne, and worked with Trevira as a fashion adviser.
In 2002, Karl Lagerfeld asked Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel, to collaborate with him on a special denim collection for the Lagerfeld Gallery. The collection, Lagerfeld Gallery by Diesel, was co-designed by Lagerfeld and then developed by Diesel's creative team, under the supervision of Rosso. It consisted of five pieces that were presented during the designer's catwalk shows during Paris Fashion Week and then sold in highly limited editions at the Lagerfeld Galleries in Paris and Monaco and at the Diesel Denim Galleries in New York and Tokyo. During the first week of sales in New York, more than 90% of the trousers were sold out, even though prices ranged from $240 to $1,840. In a statement after the show in Paris, Rosso said: "I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear."
Lagerfeld designed the costumes for the Carmen sequences in the 2002 film Callas Forever; in 2004, some outfits for singer Madonna for her Re-Invention tour, and recently outfits for Kylie Minogue's Showgirl tour.
Lagerfeld collaborated with H&M, which, on 12 November 2004, offered a limited range of Lagerfeld clothes for men and women, in certain outlets. Only two days after having supplied its outlets, H&M announced that almost all the clothes were sold out. However, Lagerfeld has expressed some fear that working with lower-end brands will taint his image; although, in the past he has worked closely with the hosiery designer Wolford.
Lagerfeld is also a photographer. He produced Visionaire 23: The Emperor's New Clothes, a series of nude pictures of models and celebrities. He also personally photographed Mariah Carey for the cover of V magazine in 2005. In addition to his editorial work for Harper's Bazaar, Numéro, and Russian and German editions of Vogue, Lagerfeld photographs advertising campaigns for the houses under his direction—Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous line.
In the 1980s, Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" was published with drawings by Lagerfeld.
The designer was also the subject of French reality-TV series "Signé Chanel" in 2005. It covered the creation of his fall/winter 2004–2005 Chanel couture collection and aired on Sundance Channel in the United States during the fall of 2006.
He has also supported and encouraged the work of up-and-coming designers including Philip Colbert of Rodnik.
On 18 December 2006, Lagerfeld announced the launch of a new collection for men and women dubbed K Karl Lagerfeld, which included fitted T-shirts and a wide range of jeans.
Lagerfeld has signed a deal with Dubai Infinity Holdings (DIH); an investments enterprise that focuses on first-of-its-kind projects in non-conventional growth sectors, in line with its mandate to fulfil unmet market needs. Lagerfeld is to design limited edition homes on Isla Moda, the world’s first dedicated fashion island, The World. This is a collaboration between Dubai Infinity Holdings and Lagerfeld across the Cooperative Council of Arab States and India.
A feature-length documentary film on the designer, Lagerfeld Confidential, was made by Vogue in 2007.
Lagerfeld is the host of fictional radio station K109—The Studio in videogame Grand Theft Auto IV.
In 2008, he created a teddy bear in his likeness produced by Steiff in an edition of 2,500 that sold for $1,500. and has been immortalized in many forms, which include pins, shirts, dolls, and more. In 2009, Tra Tutti began selling Karl Lagermouse and Karl Lagerfelt, which are mini-Lagerfelds in the forms of mice and finger puppets, respectively.
Lagerfeld with Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco, 2011
On 10 September 2010, the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology presented Lagerfeld with an award created for him, The Couture Council Fashion Visionary Award, at a benefit luncheon at Avery Fisher Hall, New York.
On 10 November 2010, Lagerfeld and Swedish crystal manufacturer Orrefors announced a collaboration to design a crystal art collection. The first collection was launched in spring 2011, called Orrefors by Karl Lagerfeld.
Lagerfeld's apartment in Paris was published in the French issue of Architectural Digest in May 2012. He also revealed his vast collection of Suzanne Belperron's pins and brooches and used the color of one of her blue chalcedony rings as the starting point for the Chanel spring/summer 2012 collection.
In 2013, he directed the short film Once Upon a Time... in the Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, by Luc Besson, featuring Keira Knightley in the role of Coco Chanel and Clotilde Hesme as her aunt Adrienne Chanel.
In 2014, an auction house in Florida announced that many of Lagerfeld's early sketches for the House of Tiziani in Rome would be sold.