by Julianne Lombardi
photos courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar
Karl Lagerfeld’s recent passing truly marks the ending of an era. As one of the most iconic names in the industry, Lagerfeld has left his mark on brands such as Fendi, Chloe, his eponymous Karl Lagerfeld and, perhaps most familiarly, Chanel.
It was 1983 when Lagerfeld took on the role of art director for Chanel at a rather precarious time in the brand’s history. Sales were down and the general perception of Chanel was that it was old fashioned and meant for your grandmother, not you. Lagerfeld changed everything. While paying homage to the iconic Chanel tweed, he updated silhouettes and designed for a more modern, bold woman, and began casting some of the most iconic supermodels of the decade. He introduced more provocative and flirtatious designs while remaining true to the Chanel ethos by keeping the tweed suits and double C’s; think tweed mini skirts, cropped blazers, and plenty of chain belts. ‘90s Chanel is so iconic it’s often referred in its own category of fashion, and is perhaps the most widely referenced period of Chanel by fashion bloggers and editors alike.
Lagerfeld was a true renaissance man in the industry; exploring photography and filmmaking, writing and publishing, illustrating for a well-known German newspaper, as well as designing for a multitude of brands throughout his career. What Lagerfeld accomplished for Chanel was extraordinary. He effectively reinvented Chanel as a brand and rejuvenated Chanel’s following, keeping the brand from becoming antiquated and forgotten.
With all his talent and genius, it is important to recognize that Lagerfeld expressed controversial views and made contentious remarks during his lifetime. Most recently, Lagerfeld had made comments about #MeToo movement, saying that he was “fed up” with the movement and suggesting that models who complained about being groped should “join a nunnery.” He was also noted saying that he did not want to see curvy women on the runway. He even warned people not to read his best-selling diet book unless they believed in being skinny for the sake of fashion. Though his immense talent deserves credit, these views should not be forgotten while honoring his life and career. Karl Lagerfeld was one of the most prominent names in fashion, and therefore his words carried immense weight. As a designer, his job was to empower women with his designs, however his words did not follow suit, which, to say the least, was a let-down.
So now, the remaining question: where does Chanel go from here? Chanel is confronting a post-Lagerfeld future at a time of heightened flux in the global fashion market. Chanel has named a relatively unknown company insider, Virgnie Viard, to carry on Lagerfeld’s work. She had worked as Lagerfeld’s “right-hand woman” throughout his time at Chanel. Viard would receive Lagerfeld’s sketches and coordinate teams and suppliers to begin bringing his designs to life. After working together for over 30 years, Viard and Lagerfeld had a very close friendship and he was quoted saying that she was perhaps the most important person for him, for the atelier, and for everything. We can only be curious of what Viard has in store for Chanel at this time when so many fashion houses are rebranding. Fashion is in a state of oscillation, and we as consumers can only wonder if Viard plans to continue Karl’s legacy or strike out and make her own mark on the brand. In this regard, only time will tell. However, in terms of honoring Lagerfeld’s career and time with Chanel, I recommend taking a look back at his work throughout the decades because it will never fail to impress.