Born: 1938 in Hamburg, Germany
Karl Lagerfeld was born in 1938 in Hamburg, Germany of a Scandinavian dairy magnate and his German wife. He afterwards said that when he was 12 years old, he spent 3 hours a day learning French. In 1952 at the age of 14, he came to Paris to study, but he says that he spent most of his time in the studios of the artists who thronged Paris in the 50s and with such men as Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre. He says "In the beginning, I wanted to be an illustrator, a painter. I really did not know what I could do. Fashion had always interested me even before I knew it was called fashion. I loved the costumes of figures in paintings and around me." With a passion for drawing, Karl studied history of costume. He would amuse himself by re-interpreting styles of various periods.
In 1954 he saw huge posters all over Paris inviting sketches to be sent to the International Wool Secretariat, for a competition for designs in various categories. He sent in some sketches for coats, and 6 months later, he heard by telegram that he had won the coat category. Yves St. Laurent won the dress category in the same competition. Pierre Balmain was one of the judges, and he immediately hired the talented young Karl Lagerfeld. He stayed there for 3.1/2 years. Karl still has many of the friends he made at Balmain, and a number of them work with him today. In everyone's opinion Karl was extremely gifted and destined for a brilliant future.
At the age of 20, Karl Lagerfeld became Art Director at the famous house of Jean Patou - designing two haute couture collections a year. In 1962 Karl Lagerfeld signed with the largest departmental store in Japan, ISETAN, to create fashion collections for men and women.
A year after that, Karl Lagerfeld left Jean Patou and started free-lance designing in Italy and France. He says "It worked well, nobody had done it quite like that before, it was exciting and right for the time, the mid-60s. Around that time, the idea of pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) was born. A sort of simplified high fashion which anyone could do well. Karl offered his talents to several houses. His goal was to design clothes for as many diverse types of women as possible.
Karl then joined the House of Chloe, and within a short while gained a reputation within the house for lightness and youthfulness. His ensembles at Chloe were all constructed of several light weight, airy layers, including camisoles, shirt-jackets and sleeveless jackets, used in different ways. Colours were ethereal as the thin silk itself and Lagerfeld experimented with many forms of decoration - painting silk in patterns and using inserts of lace. He tied silk blouses around the waist, wrapped scarves around the hips, made high collars to achieve a look called "Byronesque."
He continued making these beautiful clothes for 14 years until the Fall/Winter 1997 collection, when he handed over the house to Stella MacCartney, daughter of singer Paul McCartney who has brought out her first collection for Chloe, Summer 1998.
In 1963 Karl Lagerfeld met the Fendi sisters. They asked him to take over the design of their collections and little by little, they became his second family.
Karl Lagerfeld managed to expand the Fendi product line to include dresses, handbags, luggage, belts and accessories. The Fendi sisters loved him and say "Karl designs our entire line. It is such a pleasure to work with him because we have been together for years now, and we practically grew up together. We understand him and can pass his ideas on to our customers. We have well-known clients from all over the world, actresses to noblewomen. Catherine Deneuve is very faithful, Ira Furstenburg, Grace Jones, we really value these women who love Fendi and wear it with such class."
In 1975 Karl started Parfum Lagerfeld, a company which produces and markets perfumes such as Chloe, Lagerfeld for men and K.L. His memories of special scents from his childhood was the main inspiration for this.
In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was then given the artistic direction of the House of Chanel at a time when the name had been largely forgotten, remembered only for it's perfumes. He brought new life back into Chanel's shops. The most experienced and talented hands in Paris measured, cut, draped, sewed and embroidered the most expensive garments in the world. The meeting of 2 extraordinary talents, Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfield, had from the very first collection, been a sensation. Lagerfeld kept to the overall classic lines of Chanel yet updated the added a sparkle to the old house.
After working for Chanel for a year, Karl Lagerfeld started his own label, and from then on presented 2 collections a year as solely Karl Lagerfeld creations. This continued despite all of the other collections he creates. In the late 80s, he took up the design of porcelain for the West German pottery firm Hutchenrehter and has also found time to continue to design for films and the theatre, as well as neckwear and eyewear for all his contracts. In 1986 he launched an American Sportswear line, a semi-annual collection with an American point of view.
In 1987 Karl Lagerfeld was awarded the Golden Thimble the Fashion Industry's highest honour, for the collection of the year.