Karl Lagerfeld (born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt, 10 September 1933) is a German fashion designer, artist, and photographer based in Paris. He is the head designer and creative director of the fashion house Chanel as well as the Italian house Fendi and his own label fashion house.
Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg. He has claimed he was born in 1938 to Elisabeth (born Bahlman) and Otto Lagerfeldt. 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.” In April 2013 he finally declared that he was born in 1935.A birth announcement was, however, published by his parents in 1933, and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him as born in 1933. His older sister, Martha Christiane (a.k.a. Christel), was born in 1931. Lagerfeld 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, in his words, “it sounds more commercial.”
Purportedly, Lagerfeld grew up as the son of a wealthy businessman from Sweden who was introducing powdered milk. His family was mainly shielded from the deprivations of World War II due to his father’s business interests in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH. His mother is from Berlin; she was a lingerie saleswoman there when she met her husband and married him in 1930.
After attending a private school, Lagerfeld finished his secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, where he majored in drawing and history.
Lagerfeld was hired as Pierre Balmain’s assistant after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in 1955. 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 or Karl Logerfeld. The first collection was poorly received. Carrie Donovan, an American fashion journalist, 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: “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 skirts for the spring 1960 season were the shortest in Brisbane, and the collection was not well received. Carrie Donovan wrote that it “looked like clever and immensely salable ready-to-wear, not couture.” For his late 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 was 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.”‘ In 1963, he began designing for Tiziani, a Roman couture house founded that year by 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, which was, of course, not his family name, and began wearing the outfits in August 1966. Gina Lollobrigida, Doris Duke, and Princess Marcella Borghese were also customers while Lagerfeld was designing the line. He was replaced in 1969 with Guy Douvier (1928–1993).
Lagerfeld began to freelance for French fashion house Chloé in 1964, at first designing a few pieces each season. As more and more pieces were incorporated, he soon designed the entire collection. In 1970, he also began a brief design collaboration with Roman haute-couture house Curiel; its head was Gigliola Curiel, who died in November 1969. Lagerfeld’s first collection there was described as having a “drippy drapey elegance” designed for a “1930s cinema queen.”[according to whom?] The Curiel mannequins all wore identical, short-cropped blonde wigs. He also showed black velvet shorts, worn under a black velvet ankle-length cape.
His Chloé 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 in an 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.
From 1972, he collaborated 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 theaters such as 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).