As the fashion world mourns the passing of one of its greatest designers, Susanna Nicoletti takes a look back at his influence and the legacy he left behind.

Karl Lagerfeld is a legend.

He lived across two centuries with such strength, self-consciousness and style. He was a leader in every decade of his life. He created his own personal brand long before anyone thought to do so, and he has always been a maverick.

While his peers focused on the creation of their own fashion companies, he secured two of the most sought after work agreements in the world – with Fendi before in 1965 then with Chanel in 1983. Both tenures lasted till the end of his life.

Everlasting creative direction, endless creativity and unlimited passion. He had a great curiosity in him, with the spirit of a pioneer and an explorer. No wall was high enough to stop him. Not even the Great Wall of China, where he showed an amazing Fendi collection in 2007.

 

As Suzy Menkes wrote, "Karl is dead. But his work will live forever".

During my years at Fendi, I had the chance to get to know Karl Lagerfeld and his audacious way of working, his open mind, and his fearless curiosity. Ever since the launch of the first iPod, he was smitten by Apple products and zealously collected them in his place in Rome. He loved to be up to date with the latest trends, and embraced each trend with a very democratic spirit. His desk was heaven for stationery fans – markers and crayons in all imaginable colours littered its surface. Papers were strewn all over and cool music was always playing. The colour that I associate with him most is white: White spaces; white papers; white canvases. The sum of all colours. The light.

His endless energy had us shooting in his studio in Chelsea, New York, for nearly 24 hours straight. Having only stopped for a brief sushi dinner together, the night eventually concluded in the freezing cold, on the streets near the Hudson river. The result was an amazingly modern Madame Butterfly story for Vogue Japan. It was an unforgettable experience.

He was kind and extremely professional. Everything in his workday was perfectly scheduled to flow smoothly – including the atmosphere. Diptyque candles of a specific scent were always lit up shortly before his arrival at the Palazzo Fendi, and we could constantly smell his arrival along the stairs of the Palazzo in the heart of the Eternal city. His muse, Lady Amanda Harlech, was always with him, serving as living inspiration.

 

Karl's passion for art

A word that comes to my mind thinking about Karl is Family. He invented the double FF logo from the idea of "Fendi Fun" but he solidly developed it into "Fendi Family" as the sixth (honorary) member of the founding family. Having joined the five Fendi sisters more than 50 years ago, he helped grow the brand vision by taking a very cultivated approach. The Fendi advertising campaign he shot in the '90s at Casa Malaparte in Capri is testament to that – and one of the many masterpieces of his illustrious career.

His passion for art once had me traipsing through Milan, raiding bookstores in the late afternoon ahead of a Fendi show. My task? To hunt down books on the Macchiaioli artistic movement to feed his creativity and fuel ideas for the upcoming presentation. The following day, he showcased an amazing collection influenced by the earthy colours which echoed the aesthetic of this movement.

Tirelessly curious, Karl Lagerfeld was inspired by everything from art and books, to music. It would not be that much of a stretch to call him the Leonardo Da Vinci of fashion and luxury: A learned man who was democratic and exclusive at the same time. He drew inspiration from a wide range of subjects, from street style – before anyone else (Chanel surf board, anyone?), I might add – to the most exclusive art collection housed within a private chateau in Austria.

Thanks to Hedi Slimane he developed his most famous aesthetic: A unique black and get-up. Accessories from Chrome Hearts adorned his hands. But somewhere underneath that tough exterior was a certain sweetness, thanks to the love he had for his cat, a Birman named Choupette.

He was a sincere book lover, a bookshop founder and a warm supporter of a dear friend, German publisher Steidl. His eclectic talent allowed him to create dreams and emotions. He told amazing stories through clothes, pictures and his signature writing and sketching.

 

He took Chanel and turned it into a luxury Maison

He left behind a stable of celebrities who sincerely loved working with him and his family of collaborators – a result of his intense but tasteful focus on the key icons of the Maison:

-    the Camellia flower

-    the world of fragrances and Chanel No. 5

-    the Muse: Including Coco Chanel, Inès de la Fressange, Claudia Schiffer, Cara Delevigne, and more recently, Pharell Williams

-    the Tweed

-    the Quilted Bag

-    the double C

He made of Fendi one of the most powerful and iconic fashion houses.

He founded Karl Lagerfeld and created a main street label full of fun and wit.

Karl Lagerfeld has been the greatest marketing mind in the whole luxury and fashion system and also the most sensitive and capable leader. He selected only the best people to work with ­– not only were they aligned with his vision, they were also able to contribute to it.

He was also one of the smartest businessmen in the industry. It appears that it was thanks to him that the Fendi sisters sold their brand to LVMH instead of rival Kering (then Pinault-Printemps-Redoute). When Richemont decided to get rid of his eponymous label, he apparently bought it back for 1 Swiss franc, and then sold it to PVH Group, later developing the brand into something more accessible and catered to a younger audience.

Karl Lagerfeld embodied the power of imagination. He transformed his passion for photography into a precious skill in terms of precise and impactful brand storytelling. His work ethic, grit and humility (despite having reached the heights of Olympus), will continue to inspire many even with his passing. This is the legacy he is leaving behind.

His star will always shine.


About the author

Susanna Nicoletti

Brand Catalyst and Founder of LuxFashion

Susanna Nicoletti is a Marketing, Digital and Communication Senior Executive in the fashion and luxury industry with a track record in top global groups and brands.

A Brand Catalyst helping fashion and luxury brands building authentic leadership thanks to long lasting, strong Brand Equity and successful Business Growth Management.

A Business and Strategy Writer. Explorer of new luxury and fashion marketing frontiers.