Photographer, designer, collector, author… these are just some of the titles given to world renowned Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most influential fashion designers of the twentieth century.
Karl Otto Lagerfeldt (later known as Karl Lagerfeld) was born to Christian and Elizabeth Lagerfeldt in Hamburg, Germany. There is actually some controversy surrounding his birth year. Although the Catholic baptismal record states Karl’s date of birth as September 10, 1933, Karl Lagerfeld advises that he was actually born in 1938.
Karl’s father belonged to a Swedish banker family, and he became wealthy after introducing condensed milk to Germany. Karl’s mother was young, highly fashionable and a woman who loved fragrances—all qualities that clearly influenced Karl’s path in life.
Growing Up Wealthy
Karl enjoyed the benefits of growing up in a wealthy household, although his childhood was a sheltered one. As a young boy, Karl learned to speak German, but also French, English and Italian.
Fascinated by fashion at an early age, Karl loved history books and pored through them, not to read about battles and historians, but rather to learn about costumes and period clothing. His favorite childhood hobby was designing and drawing dresses.
At just fourteen years old, Karl was sent to Paris to study. Continuing to sketch and design clothing, he entered the International Wool Secretariat Competition with his sketch of a coat. Karl won the contest and was awarded a position at Pierre Balmain. This, in turn, led to a position at Jean Patou, after which Karl took a couple of years off “just to live.”
Karl Lagerfeld Clothing Design
Karl set up a small shop in Paris where he sketched his associate Anna Piaggi, the Italian style icon and fashion writer. Some of Karl’s legendary design pieces of the time were:
- the car-dress: complete with radiator grill and fender
- the shower-dress: actually had beads, like water, flowing down the front to create the dramatic illusion of water
- multitudes of eye catching (eccentric) hats.
In more recent years, Karl Lagerfeld designed outfits for such celebrities as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez and Princess Diana. His work with different fashion labels (Chloe, Fendi, Chanel) raised his recognition as an independent creator. His own label, Lagerfeld, boasts an original line of perfume and clothing.
Karl Lagerfeld began to work as a photographer in 1987. Since that time he has published more than twenty books of his own photography. An avid photographer, he often shoots his own press photos, which highlight his trademark look: long white silvery hair pulled back in a ponytail and the all-important fan.
However, it is his photographic collections that continue to impress an enthusiastic audience. His style reflects the classical with the avant-garde as he portrays models, celebrities, nudes, stills and his unique views of Paris.
As the recipient of the cultural prize from the German Photographic Society, Karl reflects numerous abilities. He photographed many advertisements for Chanel and House of Lagerfeld, capturing the allure of high fashion and popping images. Additionally, he has held gallery shows in Paris for his many fans. His photo exhibit “Farewell to Daylight” was displayed in New York in June of 2006, and it reflected a dreamy, unique view of Paris.
Karl Lagerfeld—fashion designer, creative director, author, photographer and restorer of old mansions—always seems to have yet another talent to share with the world. Perhaps it this quote, spoken by Karl Lagerfeld that gives us a glimpse into what makes him unique, “I don’t like standard beauty—there is no beauty without strangeness.”
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