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Moment 51: Lagerfeld Rocks Chanel

Starting in 1983, Karl Lagerfeld redefined all notions of the role of the employee designer, clocking 16-hour days and reinvigorating the classic brand.

Karl Lagerfeld on the fall 󈨛 Chanel runway

Karl Lagerfeld on the fall ’87 Chanel runway.

Photo By Philippe Costes/WWD Archive

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

By 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was an established fashion star and a notorious workaholic with gigs at Fendi, Chloé and the Italian mass-market firm Alma. By accepting Alain Wertheimer’s offer of the creative helm at the then-dusty Chanel, he embarked on an unparalleled and ongoing run that would redefine all notions of the role of the employee designer, working “16 hours a day and delighted to do it,” he told WWD. Along the way, Lagerfeld restored, perhaps even surpassed, the legend that was Coco’s. His approach was to commingle, in whatever proportions suited his mood at the moment, all the classic Chanel tenets with brazen iconoclasm. Early on, he faced challenges. “Under Lagerfeld’s weighty and controversial baton, the Rue Cambon is humming with excitement—and tension,” the paper reported as he readied his debut haute couture collection. “[There is] a sort of palpable ‘them-against-us’ friction between the Chanel regulars and the Lagerfeld camp.”

 

Needless to say, Karl’s camp won, on the force of his talent and a rock-solid set of beliefs from which he’s never wavered. “Fashion is a trade, not an art,” he said in 1982, and in 2000, “the people who buy it don’t buy it for your beautiful eyes. You have to be prepared to do business.” Nor has Lagerfeld ever entertained even a modest retreat from those 16-hour days. In New York this past September for the reopening of Chanel’s SoHo boutique and to receive an honor from FIT, he noted, “I don’t like the word ‘honored.’ I did a job all my life, and I’m happy they like it.”