Chanel fashion shows were late Lagerfeld’s ultimate legacy

Chanel fashion shows were late Lagerfeld’s ultimate legacy

Karl Lagerfeld once created a Walmart-sized “Chanel Shopping Center” for his 15-minute ready-to-wear collection featuring aisle upon aisle of luxury foods labeled "one for the price of two."

Immediately after it had been showcased by models on the shop floor, guests raided the shelves. Rihanna posed in a shopping cart, and Keira Knightley looked on amazed.

"Luxury should be worn like you're going to the supermarket. It's the pop art of the 21st century,” Lagerfeld said, his eyes barely visible beneath his enigmatic shades.

German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is applauded by his models at the end of the presentation of Chanel's fall and winter haute couture collection in Paris, France, July 26, 1983. (AP Photo/Jacques Langevin)

It was the type of presentation that came to define much of Lagerfeld’s six-decade career at the top of fashion.

When Chanel fell into decline following Coco Chanel’s death in the 1970s, its new owners looked for a larger-than-life designer to wake up the house from its creative coma. German-born Lagerfeld, a contemporary of Yves Saint Laurent with his strict ponytail and tight collar, was just the man.

As Chanel creative director from 1983 until his death on Tuesday, he quickly transformed the house into a billion-dollar industry leader, a position it retains today.

A model presents a black dress topped by a see-through strapless-brassiere reflected in mirrors during the presentation of the 1998 spring-summer haute couture collection of Chanel fashion house, designed by German Karl Lagerfeld, Jan.20, 1998, in Paris. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Lagerfeld, who had been poached from Chloe, used his creative scalpel to modernize the house’s signature skirt suits and tweed in the ‘80s as the house expanded internationally, opening some 40 boutiques around the world in that decade.

His work ethic was legendary. Beyond Chanel, he also began working with Italian fashion house Fendi in 1965 and held the top job at the LVMH-owned brand since 1977.

Yet Lagerfeld will be remembered as much for his showmanship, eccentric personality and acid tongue as for his youthful designs.

German Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is seen backstage during the presentation of Chanel's spring-summer 2005 haute couture fashion collection presented in Paris on Jan. 25, 2005. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Donning sunglasses and gloves, he evolved into “Kaiser Karl” _ a nickname that referred to his demanding character, put-downs and uncompromising standards.

“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants,” he once declared. Another time, he dismissed Saint Laurent as “provincial.”

The sheer ambition of his fashion shows was legendary, and they became especially influential in an age in which images are beamed around the world at the click of a button.

His Chanel collections were invariably the biggest on the Paris Fashion Week calendar. Chanel, it was said, put the “show” in “fashion show.”

Karl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer for Chanel, holds his fan as he enters the main auditorium at the Sorbonne, the oldest and most famous university in France, Oct. 18, 1994. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Lagerfeld was also an anachronism, dressing in a punk, baroque style and defying political correctness _ almost proudly.

He got into hot water for calling singer Adele “a little too fat” and said he didn't like the face of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge's sister.

“She should only show her back,” he advised.

In another interview, he created a furor by criticizing Kim Kardashian as being too flashy with her money in Paris following her 2016 robbery.

Despite the sharp remarks, Lagerfeld remained surprisingly warm in person and always kept a sparkle in his eye. Jokes were delivered with a warmth and smile, even when they were clearly derogatory.

Evidence of his generous spirit could be seen in his relationships with reporters. Well into his 80s, he was unique in Paris for holding interviews for over an hour following each Chanel show. He would flit seamlessly between English, French, Italian and his native German.

Of his feelings following a collection, he once said: "I’m a kind of fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm."

Karl Lagerfeld, second from left, and his creative director Melanie Ward, left, watch a rehearsal before the presentation of his fall 2006 collection on the last day of Fashion Week in New York, Feb. 10, 2006, (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)

The love of his life, his cat Choupette, was also testament to his kind, if eccentric, heart. He wore her likeness as a pendant at one show and acknowledged that she has at least two maids.

“She is spoilt, much more than a child could be,” he said in 2013, revealing that he took her to the vet nearly every 10 days.

Like a doting parent, Lagerfeld encouraged the cat’s entrepreneurial spirit and told a magazine that Choupette earned over $3 million in 2014 for advertising campaigns.

In recent seasons, Lagerfeld looked increasingly frail. When he failed to take his usual bow at the house's January couture collection, sadness filled the faces of guests, some of whom had grown gray covering his long career.

A model presents a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, July 6, 2006. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

A model presents a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, July 6, 2006. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Close up on model's shoes backstage before Chanel's spring-summer 2005 haute couture fashion collection designed by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, presented in Paris, Jan. 25, 2005 in Paris. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

For a 2012 couture display, Lagerfeld built a futuristic jetliner, with the aisle serving as the runway for models and guests gathered in “Star Trek”-style seating.

Lagerfeld was supposed to be in the vessel’s cockpit giving interviews. But he was nowhere to be found. His staff panicked that their chief had somehow slipped away just when he was needed most. They began a frantic search.

“Karl’s moved to the south part,” crackled their radios on a loop as they dashed around the elaborate set.

Then, as quickly as he vanished, Lagerfeld reappeared near the jetliner’s entry hub.

Amid the spectacle, Lagerfeld was an island of calm, sipping Diet Coke from a silver platter.

Models wear creations by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel's fall-winter 2008-2009 ready to wear collection presented in Paris, Feb. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Model Stella Tennant presents a creation by Karl Lagerfeld in Paris, Dec. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

A model presents a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, Dec. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

A model wears a creation of Chanel by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld during his Women's Fall Winter 2013 haute couture fashion collection in Paris, France, July 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Models present creations for Chanel's fall-winter 2005-2006 haute-couture collection designed by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and presented in Paris, July 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld acknowledges applause from the public during the presentation of his Spring/Summer ready to wear 2006 collection for Chanel, in Paris, Oct. 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Karl Lagerfeld arrives for the Bambi 2013 media awards in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Lagerfeld's hand is seen backstage Jan. 25, 2005 in Paris. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Lagerfeld's arrives to promote a commercial April, 28, 2011 in Paris. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Models stage a fake demonstration, with German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, center right, as part of Chanel's Spring/Summer 2015 ready-to-wear fashion collection presented in Paris, France, Sept. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

A model wears a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, March, 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

A model wears a creation byLagerfeld in Paris, Oct. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, center, joins his models on the catwalk after the presentation of the Spring-Summer 2003 ready-to-wear collection he designed for Chanel, Oct. 8, 2002 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

A model waits backstage before modeling for Chanel's spring-summer 2005 haute couture fashion collection designed by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, presented in Paris, Jan. 25, 2005 in Paris. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A model wears a creation by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel's Fall/Winter 2013-2014 ready to wear collection, in Paris, March, 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

A model presents a creation by Lagerfeld in Paris, Oct. 3, 2008. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Models wear creations by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel's Fall/Winter 2013-2014 ready to wear collection, in Paris, March, 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Models wear creations by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel's Fall/Winter 2013-2014 ready to wear collection, in Paris, March, 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, foreground left, stands with models on stage as he acknowledges applause following the presentation of the Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2013-2014 collection he designed for Chanel, July 2, 2013 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)


Text from the AP news story, Lagerfeld’s legacy: Youthful designs, elaborate showmanship, by Thomas Adamson.