Iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld passed away on Tuesday at a hospital in Paris. He was 85.
In a seven-decade career as fashion’s ultimate free agent, Lagerfeld created collections simultaneously for the celebrated houses of Chanel and Fendi, in addition to his signature label, at a pace without rival in the luxury industry.
Virginie Viard, director of Chanel’s design studio and Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, will take the creative reins at the company’s fashion business.
“Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel’s success throughout the world,” said Chanel CEO Alain Wertheimer in a statement. “Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.”
Lagerfeld landed his first job in the fashion industry in 1955 as an assistant to French designer Pierre Balmain. He spent the next two decades freelancing for a number of the world’s top fashion houses, including Krizia, Valentino, Chloe, Repetto, Curiel and Fendi before taking over at Chanel in 1983, 12 years after founder Coco Chanel’s death. He is credited with transforming the house into one of the world’s most profitable luxury brands.
It was 1965 when Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda Fendi welcomed a pioneering young German designer named Karl Lagerfeld, who would soon revolutionize the very essence of fur and lead Fendi through five decades of pure, unwavering innovation, giving life to creations that have stretched the boundaries of fashion.
From his first days at Fendi, the longest relationship in the fashion world between a designer and a fashion house, Lagerfeld was a true visionary in everything he conjured up, from the advertising campaigns to his ready-to-wear and couture collections. He dared to push boundaries, a modern-day genius with a unique sense of aesthetic fearlessness, who influenced a whole generation of designers. Thanks to the unparalleled creativity of Lagerfeld, in collaboration with Silvia Venturini Fendi, Fendi is today synonymous with timeless quality, strong tradition, relentless experimentation and daring creativity.
“Working with Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi allowed me to catch a glimpse of the secret of the continuous renewal of the House,” said Serge Brunschwig, chairman and CEO of Fendi. “I profoundly admire Karl’s immense culture, his ability to rejuvenate at all times, to taste all the arts, to not overlook any style, along with a persistent refusal to turn to his past, to look at his work in a mirror. He was restless and his exigent nature would never leave him. The show was just ending that Karl would always say, “And now number next!” He leaves us an enormous heritage, an inexhaustible source of inspiration to continue. Karl will be immensely missed by myself and all the Fendi people.”
“I am profoundly saddened as today we have lost a unique man and an unrivalled designer, who has given so much to Fendi and to myself,” added Silvia Venturini Fendi, creative director of menswear, accessories and kidswear at Fendi. “I was only a child when I first saw Karl. Our relationship was very special, based on a deep and very genuine affection. We had a lot of mutual appreciation and endless respect. Karl Lagerfeld has been my mentor and my point of reference. A blink of an eye was enough to understand each other. For Fendi and myself, the creative genius of Karl has been and will always be our guiding light, molding the Maison’s DNA. I will miss him deeply and always carry with me the memories of our days together.”
As designers half his age complained of burnout from fashion’s maddening pace, Lagerfeld made himself even busier by dabbling in a constant stream of publishing, photography, film and design projects, even working up until the last few weeks.
For Lagerfeld, to design was to breathe, “so if I can’t breathe, I’m in trouble,” he often quipped to journalists who were astonished by his inexhaustible work ethic and his insistence that he would never retire.