Iconic Karl Lagerfeld Design Moments Through the Years

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With the fashion designer's sudden and significant passing, we pay reverence to his decades of innovation.

A mogul of fashion design if there ever was one, Karl Lagerfeld has transformed the fashion industry in his over six decades in it. From moving to Paris at the age of 14 to assisting in the house of Balmain, Lagerfeld's beginnings are as humble as they are impressive. Along his journey as a visionary working to develop his career, he rubbed elbows with a multitude of other iconic designers––Yves Saint Laurent, for example. He was able to mentor and be mentored by such successful peers and designers as he reached a point of independence in his career.

From here, he began designing for Chloé and Fendi, being specifically appointed to oversee the fur lines of the latter fashion house. Lagerfeld's acute attention to curves and color led his designs and shaped the Chloé brand back in the early 90s into what it is today. Even more notably, his three decades at Chanel as the label's creative director, a position he held until his death, brought the fashion house back to life. He partnered with the shapes and materials that gave Coco Chanel's eponymous label its reputation––synonymous with class and elegance––to create of-the-moment looks. His progressive vision disrupted expectations in fashion: He shortened skirts and jackets, giving other creative directors of the time (i.e. Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs) an outline for their own designs.

The iconic and unparalleled designer passed away today in Paris at the age of 85. Here, we revisit some of Lagerfeld's most influential designs to the landscape of fashion today. We see how before his time he was and how he offered a precedent to the major trends we are currently seeing.


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In 1983, the year he was appointed the creative director of Chanel, Lagerfeld wasted no time reinventing the label's classic look. While still paying homage to the traditional shapes and textures conceptualized by Coco Chanel herself, Lagerfeld exaggerated lines and cuts to add a touch more sensuality to her more conservative looks.


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In 1994, Lagerfeld dove deeper into his exploration of modern femininity. The designs of this year, and between 1990 and 1995 in general, became representative of modern, ready-to-wear Chanel. The new Chanel women became strong, confident, unabashed, and playful as well as strong––the latter of which was important to Coco Chanel. Barely-there swimwear and intentional nudity was prevalent in Lagerfeld's designs during these few years. 


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Simultaneous to his work as Chanel's creative director, Lagerfeld designed for Chloé, a label known for its expression of femininity. In his work with Chloé, specifically here in the spring/summer 1995 collection, we see the softer side of Lagerfeld's vision. Colors remained frothy and subdued while shapes offered movement and emphasized curves. 


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Lagerfeld's consciousness of the female form manifested itself over time in shoulder detailing. We can see, moving forward into Chanel 2012 and 2013, the ways he adorned shoulders and how doing so served to accent the cinched waists and lengthened silhouettes of his designs.


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In 2014, Lagerfeld dressed Rihanna in an ensemble that is the epitome of 2019 trend. Pastel violet monochrome, a belt bag, trainers, and the overall air of athleisure meets Chanel's iconic tweed pattern in this foreshadowing look.


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Known for looking ahead rather than behind, Lagerfeld brings Chanel's classic ensemble into the age of technology with this important moment in the brand's history. In Chanel's spring/summer 2017 collection, some models are dressed as androids while others carry tech-inspired accessories.