Karl Lagerfeld is globally known as a fashion icon, his relevant approach to style. In addition to being the creative director of his signature brand, Karl Lagerfeld also is the creative director of the Chanel and Fendi fashion houses.
Before his glamorous life came to be, it is surprising to know he came from humble beginnings. Lagerfeld told Suzy Menkes, International Editor for 21 editions of Vogue online, in an interview, he was born in Germany in the mid-1930s, the beginning of a brutal era from which he says he was totally detached, protected by living on his father’s country estate.
Lagerfeld said that after his father died his mother wanted to leave Germany, and her move to Paris was essential. He mentioned briefly, in passing, his sister in America, and her daughter, a promising opera singer.
In this interview, he makes it clear that he is not a European citizen, nor a French citizen. “No! No! I am a citizen of Europe. I’m not French and I never intend to become French, because I like to be a stranger,” he says. “I’m a stranger in Germany and a stranger here. I never wanted to be part of something I could not get away from. I love to be an outsider. I’m part of nothing, no milieu. I am totally free in that sense of the word.”
Though he does not consider himself a French citizen, it must strike everyone’s curiosity to wonder if he would have impacted the fashion industry and the Chanel brand the way he did if he did not grow up in Paris.
According to a 2011 Vogue report, in 1967, he joined Fendi, then Chloe the following decade. He joined Chanel in 1983, only a decade after Coco Chanel died and only five years after the label’s first ready-to-wear collection.
When Lagerfeld came to Chanel to work on his first Chanel collection, Couture for fall 1983, he was not met with open arms. According to Women’s Wear Daily 2017 report, Lagerfeld knew Chanel needed to be pushed into modernity, and brought in many of his own people to get the job done, but he was also nothing if not respectful of the house’s legacy.
At the time not everyone agreed with Karl’s ideas. Women’s Wear Daily writer, Christopher Petkanas interviewed Lagerfeld in 1983. Lagerfeld “committed too many Chanel Dont’s and not enough Do’s” in its review, lamenting “bulky” fabrics, pockets at the hip, back-buckling belts and even a lack of ironing. But French socialite Marie-Hélène de Rothschild was more generous, saying after the show that “No one could have done it on the first try. It will come.”
With over 30 years at Chanel, most would agree that Lagerfeld has figured the brand out.