Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born September 10, 1938 in Hamburg, Germany of a Scandinavian dairy magnate and his German wife.
He is widely recognized as one of the most influential fashion designers of the late twentieth century. He made his name as an independent creator who collaborated with a variety of different fashion labels, including Chloe, Fendi and Chanel.
In the early 1980s he set up his own label, called Lagerfeld, which launched perfumes and clothing lines. He has also played a role in equipping leading artists.
His father, Christian Lagerfeld, was a member of a Swedish merchant-banking family and made his fortune introducing powdered milk to Germany. His mother, Elizabeth, was German. Lagerfeld was their only child, born 10 years after the couple's marriage, when his mother was 42 and his father 60. He has several half-siblings from his parents' previous marriages. He afterwards said that when he was 12 years old, he spent 3 hours a day learning French. He said his mother told him that Hamburg was only a door for him.
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 50's and with such men as Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre. 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. In 1958 at the age of 20 Karl 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.
In 1963 Karl left Patou and started free-lance designing in Italy and France. 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.
Chloe was a house formed in 1952 which made very feminine garments. Karl joined them and within a short while gained a reputation for the house for lightness and youthfulness. His ensembles at Chloe are constructed of several light weight, airy layers, included 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, 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 women who were to play an enormous role in his life and his career, the 5 Roman women, Queens of top quality furs, the Fendi sisters. They asked him to take over the design of their collections and little by little, they became his second family. Several times a year, he comes to work with them in Rome. He has gradually expanded their product line to include dresses, handbags, luggage, belts, accessories and many other products.
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 inspiration.
In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was given the artistic direction 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, has from the very first collection, been a sensation. He has kept to the overall classic lines of Chanel yet updated the added a sparkle to the old house. He did show a lack of respect for Coco when he exposed the one part of the body she hated to reveal - the knee - but his new high hemlines were a smash hit.
In 1984 Karl Lagerfeld started his own label, and from then on presented 2 collections a year as solely Karl Lagerfeld creations. This has continued inspite of all the other collections he creates.
In the late 80's, 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. Karl Lagerfeld now designs more than 20 collections a year.
In 2001 we are seeing a new slimmer Karl, with an impressive weight loss. This slimline image is the inspiration for his new line of denim. Using his own label, he has collaborated with Diesel on a range of styles to flatter the fit physique.
He also has a hobby of buying and renovating old houses. He is a specialist of the 18th century and considered an expert by the most important antique dealers in the world. Although he is extremely busy, he always takes the time to see houses and give his opinion on antiques, or buy another of his masterpieces.
Among his many talents, Karl is a stamp designer. The French post office has issued two of his designs for 2004 featuring the square Channel No. 5 perfume bottle.
Recently, Lagerfeld collaborated with the international Swedish fashion brand H&M. On the 12 November 2004 H&M offered a limited range of different clothes in chosen outlets for both women and men. Only two days after having supplied their outlets, H&M announced that all clothes were almost sold out. Lagerfeld has expressed he does not fear working with lower-end brands will taint his image.
Lagerfeld is known for his versatility and for expertly juggling his roles in various labels. In 2000, his use of gold, animal skin, and fur had PETA up in armswhile first-class shoppers clawed for his latest flashy collection. These days, he's gone the Isaac Mizrahi route, striking a deal with trendy, budget-conscious H&M to design 30 pieces for the fall/winter 2004 collection.
Mischa Barton, Nicole Kidman, Vanessa Paradis, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, H&M shoppers