Fashion designer and icon Karl Lagerfeld died Feb. 19. Sheila Connelly, director of the fashion design program at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), reflects on his five decades of influence in the world of high fashion and inspiration for fashion design students.
The world of fashion has lost a genius.
It’s impossible to imagine Paris fashion without iconic designer Karl Lagerfeld. He began his career in 1954 when he won a fashion competition along with another young French designer, Yves Saint Laurent. Lagerfeld’s extraordinary career was prolific: He simultaneously designed collections for Chanel, Fendi and his own signature collection, Lagerfeld. I was working as a young designer when Lagerfeld came to the House of Chanel and revolutionized the brand, yet always staying true to Madame Chanel’s original vision.
In recent years, Lagerfeld became equally famous for his spectacular, theatrical fashion shows. My favorite was his spring 2015 show when he sent the models down the streets of Paris carrying protest signs reading “We Can Match the Machos” and “Ladies First.” With the House of Chanel’s 33 million Instagram followers, these images flooded social media and another generation fell in love with the amazing Lagerfeld.
What I most respected about Lagerfeld, which I try to impress upon my students, was his insatiable quest for knowledge. He understood the need to build a design narrative and have a breadth of references from which to draw. He most loved books on history and biographies, and we can see how this consistently informed his extraordinary work.