Karl Lagerfeld's enduring influence, beyond fashion weeks

Updated 20th February 2019
German fashion designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld poses with models during the launch party of Coke diet (Coca Cola Light) in Paris on April 7, 2011. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND LANGLOIS (Photo credit should read BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Karl Lagerfeld's enduring influence, beyond fashion weeks
Written by Alyssa Coscarelli, CNN
The late Karl Lagerfeld will be remembered for turning Chanel into the iconic brand it is today, popularizing the "double-C" logo you now can't picture the fashion house without. And as one of the world's most prolific designers, he also transcended Chanel to establish himself as a personality in his own right.
True to his reputation for diligence, Lagerfeld seemed to work tirelessly through his later years. While he wasn't able to give a bow at Chanel's Couture show in Paris last month (sparking initial rumors of ill-health), he was, in his final weeks, said to be preparing his team at Fendi for its upcoming show in Milan.
But while the fashion industry mourns the loss of Lagerfeld, who passed away Tuesday, it's important to note his legacy outside the realm of fashion.
Remembering Karl Lagerfeld
The designer's sphere of influence extended far beyond the runways, and his multifaceted abilities spanned everything from branding to photography and filmmaking. Once quoted saying that we must "embrace the present and invent the future," his boundary-pushing collaborations were also ahead of their time.
As memories and eulogies flood in from colleagues, models, friends and fans alike, we're taking a moment to recognize the lasting impact Karl Lagerfeld has had across industries; a legacy that outlives clothing and fashion trends.

Spearheading collaborations

Collaborations have become an essential way for brands to stay relevant and buzzy -- and in recent years we've seen designers and creatives bridging the divide between industries to create highly-sought after products.
Display of cloths at the launch of Designer Karl Lagerfeld's new collection for high street fashion label H&M in 2004.
Display of cloths at the launch of Designer Karl Lagerfeld's new collection for high street fashion label H&M in 2004. Credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
What you may not realize is that Lagerfeld blazed the path for collaborations to become the mainstay they are today. Perhaps most memorably, he was responsible for the first of H&M's now hugely popular collaboration series back in 2004. And since working with Lagerfeld, H&M continued the tactic with numerous high-end labels from Moschino and Kenzo to Comme des Garcons and Stella McCartney.
Based on the success of this first capsule collection, which sold out in minutes, Lagerfeld went on to collaborate with watchmaker Fossil, the department store Macy's, makeup brand Shu Uemura and even drinks giant Coca Cola in the following years (offering more affordable and accessible ways to purchase his creations). There's even a Karl Lagerfeld Barbie doll based on the designer's iconic style.
Collaboration may seem like the new normal in today's marketing landscape, but 15 years ago, Lagerfeld was breaking ground.

Putting on a show

Just as he pushed the fashion industry to work with other sectors, Lagerfeld wanted runway shows to be about more than just clothing.
It's now commonplace for labels to provide audiences with memorable, or better yet, shareable experiences. But before the days of Instagram, Lagerfeld was well ahead of other designers in creating cinematic sets and headline-worthy moments.
The themed shows from his tenure at Chanel have all been photo-worthy, from the larger-than-life carousel built in the Grand Palais for its Fall/Winter 2008 collection, to more recent, over-the-top themes like the Chanel grocery store, airport terminal and even space station (complete with a life-size rocket ship).
Models present creations by Chanel during the women's Fall-Winter 2017-2018 fashion show at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2017.
Models present creations by Chanel during the women's Fall-Winter 2017-2018 fashion show at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2017. Credit: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, other fashion houses have followed suit in recent years, putting on their own immersive show sets. Louis Vuitton took over the indoor-outdoor setting of Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Calvin Klein covered its runway with a deep layer of popcorn in 2016 , and brands from Dior to Opening Ceremony have opted for plays or performances over traditional runway shows.
And it's Lagerfeld -- alongside Alexander McQueen, perhaps -- who can be credited with instigating the unspoken competition of who can create the most memorable show experience.

Becoming a brand

Besides being the creative force behind Chanel and Fendi, Lagerfeld emerged as a brand of his own.
As soon as you saw the slicked-back white ponytail, sharp suit, high-collared shirt and famous black sunglasses, you knew it was him. Part of what this creative icon did so well was, well, just that: Be an icon.
Though Lagerfeld managed to keep his personal life largely private, he didn't shy away from public attention. He was openly gay, spoke frankly about his weight loss and often professed his admiration for his one true love: his cat, Choupette (who has garnered Internet fame, collaborations and a respectable Instagram following of her own.)
Beyond designing, Lagerfeld also had a hand in photography, shooting numerous campaigns for Chanel and others. He directed a short film starring Keira Knightley and even took a voice part in a French animated movie. He was also known for his love of books, which he collected in an extensive personal library, and for setting up his own publishing imprint.
Lagerfeld always stuck to his image and uniform, setting a precedent for other designers to be seen as public-facing figures rather than behind-the-scenes masterminds.
This seems all-too relevant in a time when people increasingly feel pressure from the Internet and social media to curate their own brands -- and package our views, our uniform, ourselves overall -- in similar ways.

Harnessing star power

Wearing his signature uniform, Lagerfeld was often pictured with other celebrities -- some of whom can thank him for putting them on the map.
From fellow designers Tom Ford and Diane Von Furstenberg, to models Audrey Marnay and Claudia Schiffer, stars have been paying tribute to the designer, saying he played a large part in their success.
"Karl was my magic dust, he transformed me from a shy German girl into a supermodel," Schiffer shared on her Instagram. "He taught me about fashion, style and survival in the fashion business.
"What Warhol was to art, he was to fashion; he is irreplaceable. He is the only person who could make black and white colorful. I will be eternally grateful to him."
And no red carpet felt complete without a look or two from Chanel -- Jennifer Aniston, Dakota Johnson, Sarah Jessica Parker and Margot Robbie to name just a few. In fact, it's hard to name an A-list actor who hasn't donned one of Karl's creations.
In recent years, Lagerfeld and Chanel have welcomed young talent across Hollywood and the music industry, sitting K-pop star G-Dragon front row and having Azalea Banks drop a song at a Chanel party in Tokyo. Young models like Lily Rose-Depp and Kaia Gerber, who worked closely with Lagerfeld and have both grown dramatically in popularity since, have also been paying tribute.
Lagerfeld's recognition was arguably the ultimate stamp of high-fashion approval; if you could work with Karl, you could work with anyone. His reach as kingmaker spanned decades, ages and industries -- it was as if everything he touched turned to gold.