I wore my glittery tweed Chanel blazer today, not because I love it, but to pay tribute to the great Karl Lagerfeld, who made it cool to wear the quintessential ladylike jacket – reinvented.
The prolific designer and artist, who died Tuesday at age 85, was a true visionary who changed the course of fashion history, transforming Chanel from a dormant house into one of the world’s most influential and rich fashion brands.
In doing so, he led the way for new generations of designers to revive moribund legacy brands – Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga, and so on.
He was a creative genius, not for the cut of a jacket, or flow of a gown, but for interpreting the times and making clothes that women wanted to wear, could easily wear. And he did it while respecting what is called the codes of the house – Coco Chanel’s signatures, like that boxy tweed jacket weighted down on the hem so it would fall just right, the quilted handbags, the little black dress, the piles of pearls.
“Looking back it is hard to pinpoint a style or silhouette that Karl created during these years (1970s),” writes Alicia Drake in The Beautiful Fall. His innovations – layering, unfinished hems, unconstructed dresses – “were in perfect synch with the feelings of the time, and that is what Karl Lagerfeld did and still does with unabashed brilliance,” she wrote in the 2006 book.
Lagerfeld knew it:
“I don’t know what modern means. It feels right for the moment,” he said in the backstage crush after a Chanel show I covered in 2000.
“I love a woman over 40 who can reinvent herself without being ridiculous.”
Among Lagerfeld’s creative coups – the constant fashion reinvention, the prolific and ethereal collections for Chanel, Fendi and his own label, the photography, the grandiose sets in the Grand Palais – an airliner, a beach, a starry night on the Place Vendôme, a grocery store – perhaps the most amusing and distinctive was his branding of himself.
With his white hair, starched collar, fingerless gloves, shades and clipped aphorisms, he admitted he was a caricature of himself. He was instantly recognizable.
“I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.”
Chanel took down its fashion collections from its site today, posting a tribute to the designer, and naming Virginie Viard, director of of the fashion creation studio and a Lagerfeld collaborator for 30 years, as his successor.
It is truly the end of an era. We have lost a great, great creative force.
My favourite Lagerfeld quote: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat.”
(Oh, oh. I bought a pair this week to wear around the house.)