Karl Lagerfeld (born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt on September 10, 1933 in Hamburg)is a German fashion designer, artist and photographer based in Paris, France. He has collaborated on a variety of fashion and art related projects, most notably as head designer and creative director for the fashion house Chanel. Lagerfeld helms his own label fashion house, as well as the Italian house Fendi.
Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany. He has claimed he was born in 1938; however it has been reported that he was actually born in 1933 (according to the local christening register); indeed the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag has quoted his former teacher and classmates as confirming the earlier date.He is known to insist that no-one knows his real birth date: Interviewed on French television in February 2009, Lagerfeld said that he was "born neither in 1933 nor 1938."His older sister, Martha Christiane (a.k.a. Christel), was born in 1931. Lagerfeld also has an older half-sister, Thea, from his father's first marriage. His original name was Lagerfeldt (with a "t"), but he later changed it to Lagerfeld as "it sounds more commercial."
Karl's father is from Vladivostok, Russia; his mother is from Berlin, Germany (according to "Lagerfeld Confidential", Marconi Rodolphe, 2006). Though Lagerfeld has stated that his father was Swedish, journalist Alicia Drake in The Beautiful Fall (Little, Brown, 2006) established that Karl's father, Otto Lagerfeldt, who worked as a distributor at a company introducing condensed milk to Germany, was indeed German. According to Drake, Lagerfeld's mother, Elisabeth Bahlmann, was a lingerie saleswoman in Berlin when she met her husband and married him in 1930.
Karl Lagerfeld moved to Paris in 1953. Initially he worked as a draftsman for fashion houses. At the time, in fashion, drawings were preferred over photographs. Lagerfeld is able to recap any costume style in European history at the drop of a hat, e.g., explaining collar styles used in 1710 Germany, as he has demonstrated in a German television series in the 1980s.
In 1955, at the age of 22, Lagerfeld was awarded a position as an apprentice at Pierre Balmain, after winning second place, behind Yves Saint-Laurent who came first, in a competition for a coat sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. He told a reporter a few years later, "I won on coats, but actually I like designing coats least of all. What I really love are little black dresses." Yves Saint Laurent also won the contest for a dress award. "Yves was working for Dior. Other young people I knew were working for Balenciaga (Spanish Basque fashion designer and the founder of the Balenciaga fashion house), whom they thought was God, but I wasn't so impressed," he recalled in 1976.
In 1958, after three years at Balmain, he moved to Jean Patou, where he designed two haute couture collections a year for five years. His first collection was shown in a two-hour presentation in July 1958, but he used the name Roland Karl, rather than Karl Lagerfeld (although in 1962, reporters began referring to him as Karl Lagerfelt, and Karl Logerfeld.) That first collection was poorly received. Carrie Donovan wrote that "the press booed the collection." The UPI noted: "The firm's brand new designer, 25-year old Roland Karl, showed a collection which stressed shape and had no trace of last year's sack." The reporter went on to say that "A couple of short black cocktail dresses were cut so wide open at the front that even some of the women reporters gasped. Other cocktail and evening dresses feature low, low-cut backs." Most interestingly, Karl said that his design silhouette for the season was called by the letter "K" (for Karl), which was translated into a straight line in front, curved in at the waist in the back, with a low fullness to the skirt.
His next collection, for spring 1959, was a vast improvement according to Carrie Donovan, who noted that the press "applauded widely and even shouted several bravos." She wrote that "His clothes... have a kind of understated chic, elegance, and just plain 'class' that has not been seen on this side of the Atlantic since Molyneux and Mainbocher closed up shop."
His skirts for the spring 1960 season were the shortest in Paris, and the collection was not well received. Carrie Donovan said it "looked like clever and immensely salable ready-to-wear, not couture." In his fall 1960 collection he designed special little hats, pancake shaped circles of satin, which hung on the cheek. He called them "slaps in the face." Karl's collection were said to be well received, but not groundbreaking. "I became bored there, too, and I quit and tried to go back to school, but that didn't work, so I spent two years mostly on beaches – I guess I studied life."
After launching himself as a freelance designer, working with brands such as Mario Valentino, Repetto, and the supermarket chain Monoprix and with financial backing from his family, he set up a small shop in Paris. At this time, he would often consult with Madame Zereakian, Christian Dior's Armenian fortune teller. Lagerfeld later said, "She told me I'd succeed in fashion and perfume."
In 1963, he began designing for Tiziani, a Roman couture house founded that year by a man named Evan Richards (b. 1924) of Jacksboro, Texas. It began as couture and then branched out into ready-to-wear, bearing the label "Tiziani-Roma -- Made in England." Lagerfeld and Richards sketched the first collection in 1963 together. "When they wound up with 90 outfits, Tiziani threw caution and invitations to the winds, borrowed Catherine the Great's jewels from Harry Winston, and opened his salon with a three-night wingding," according to one report in 1969. Lagerfeld designed for the company until 1969. Elizabeth Taylor was a fan of the label (she referred to Evan as "Evan Tiziani") and began wearing it in August 1966. Gina Lollobrigida, Doris Duke and Principessa Borghese were also customers while Lagerfeld was designing the line. He was replaced in 1969 with Guy Douvier.
Lagerfeld had begun to freelance for French fashion house Chloe in 1964, at first designing a few pieces a season. As more and more pieces were incorporated, he would soon design the entire collection. In 1970, he also began a brief design collaboration with Roman Haute Couture house Curiel (the designer, a woman named Gigliola Curiel, died in November 1969.) His first collection was described as having a "drippy drapey elegance" designed for a "1930s cinema queen." The Curiel mannequins all wore identical, short-cropped blonde wigs. He also showed black velvet shorts, to be worn under a black velvet ankle-length cape.
His Chloe collection for Spring 1973 (shown in October 1972) garnered headlines for offering something both "high fashion and high camp." He showed loose Spencer jackets and printed silk shirt jackets. He designed something he called a "surprise" skirt, which was ankle-length, pleated silk, so loose that it hid the fact it was actually pants. "It seems that wearing these skirts is an extraordinary sensation," he told a reporter at the time. He also designed a look inspired by Carmen Miranda, which consisted of mini bra dresses with very short skirts, and long dresses with bra tops and scarf shawls.
In 1972, he began to collaborate with Italian fashion house Fendi, designing furs, clothing and accessories.
Starting in the 1970s, Lagerfeld has occasionally worked as a costume designer for theatrical productions. He collaborated with stage directors such as Luca Ronconi and Jürgen Flimm, and designed for theatres like La Scala in Milan (Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz, 1980; directed by Ronconi), the Burgtheater in Vienna (Komödie der Verführung by Arthur Schnitzler, 1980; directed by Horst Zankl), and the Salzburg Festival (Der Schwierige by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1990; directed by Flimm).