The answer is – you do not. There are so many famous and successful people in the world, you cannot know all of them. Moreover, Karl Lagerfeld died three years ago in February 2019 aged 85. So, why on earth would you be interested in this “fashion dinosaur”?
The real trigger of this subject was my recent conversation with one of my best friends who honestly asked me who Karl Lagerfeld was. I could not believe she did not know him and confidently sent her a picture of him on WhatsUp in the full confidence that she would recognise him. Still no recognition, even worse – she found his image quite scary.
So where is the middle ground between these two opposite views – my admiration of Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy and my friend’s unawareness and even a little resistance to learn more about him. The happy-medium for me is the belief that the creative people who have influenced the world in some way can give us daily inspiration and motivation. We may discover something of us in them or we may want to try to adopt some of their ideas or practices. Curiosity can lead to miracles.
Karl Lagerfeld and success
Karl Lagerfeld was a creative director of the fashion house Chanel for more than 35 years – from 1983 till his death in 2019. The Chanel label is unique. It is a symbol of France, of French style, vitality and elegance. It was established by Coco Chanel in 1910 when she opened her first shop in Paris selling hats. Coco Chanel revolutionised women’s fashion by giving women freedom to wear what they wanted. Probably you have heard of the perfume Chanel No5, the skirt-suits, the little black dress, black-toe-capped ballerina flats and introducing pants to women’s outfits – all these were inventions of Coco Chanel.
However, when Chanel recruited Karl Lagerfeld as a creative director in the early 80s it was very far from its days of glory. Coco Chanel died a decade before and the label had lost its charm and sexy allure. It was thought as “a nearly dead brand”. Karl Lagerfeld recounted in his witty way: “When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty. Not even a beautiful one. She snored. So I was to revive a dead woman”.
He not only resuscitated Chanel but recreated its image of a highly recognisable brand but a younger and happier brand with modern aura. Karl Lagerfeld’s tenure in Chanel was the longest and the most successful in the history of the fashion house. Chanel earned much more money during Karl Lagerfeld’s reign than under Coco Chanel’s leadership.
How did he do that? He never invented any new style like his colleagues in Dior. He was not a Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk of the fashion industry. Here is my explanation of his success and my inspiration:
1. Courage to disturb the status-quo
When Karl Lagerfeld took on Chanel, there was so much admiration of the heritage of Chanel that the brand had become stuck in the past. Only mature ladies were seeking to buy skirt-suits. Karl Lagerfeld was appreciative of the Coco Chanel’s legacy but at the same time “irreverent”. He took on the challenge to “turn Coco Chanel in her grave” in order to rejuvenate her brand. He cleaned the cobwebs off the fashion house and transformed it into the symbol of elegance and class in the modern world. In his own worlds “ Chanel is an institution and you have to treat an institution like a whore – and then you get something out of her”.
I have learnt from Karl Lagerfeld that if my projects and ideas challenge some of the established views not to be afraid to find a way to implement or achieve them.
2. “Reinvent new combinations of what you already own. Be creative”
As I mentioned above Karl Lagerfeld did not invent anything new but his great talent was in creating something by regenerating, remodelling what already existed. He said: “For me, Chanel is like music. There are certain notes and you have to make another tune with them”. He mixed up the prominent Chanel ribbons, pearls, suits and bows in his new, creative way. For example, in the 80s he used the logo of the fashion house CC to create the famous CC interlocked monogram that we all are familiar with.
For him modern was “everyone to wear what they want and mix it in their own way”. He was probably the first fashion designer to create a branded fashion line for millennials. In 2004 he collaborated with H&M and produced a collection of 30 pieces that was immediately sold out. Karl represented creativity – tradition and challenge. His fashion style involved regularly updating his fashion laptop – with a newer and better version. His credo was if you are in fashion you have to be up to date with what is going in the world.
I like watching the livestreams and videos of Trinny Woodall. In her unique style she teaches her audience how to use/combine the existing clothes in their wardrobe to create a modern, updated outfit. Inspiration and excitement can come from a new way of using or mixing things.
3. Magic follows hard work
Karl Lagerfeld continued working into his 80s, designing an average of 14 collections per year. He said: ”I like the idea of craziness with discipline”. The success of Karl Lagerfeld was not a good luck or a stroke of fate. It was underpinned by hard work. He worked diligently for his success. Karl Lagerfeld was a creative director of Chanel and the Italian brand Fendi, he worked with Diesel, Chloe, Valentino, H&M and Tommy Hilfiger. He was a skilled photographer and caricaturist. He wrote books and was the owner of a bookshop, Studio 7L. He was a costume designer for opera, theatre, ballet, including the La Scala in Milano and the Monte Carlo Ballet. In 1984 he established his own brand Karl Lagerfeld which was described as “intellectual sexiness”.
If you want to have something from his eponymous brand why not try his eau de perfume, “Flour de Murier”. It is a great example of the “intellectually sexy scent” and interestingly, my friend who has never heard of Karl Lagerfeld loves the perfume.
4. Be aware of your main purpose – why you do what you do
During Karl Lagerfeld’s era many fashion designers preferred to be seen as artists as that helped to increase their sense of importance. The emblematic fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld responded: “They are there to sell handbags and their contracts would be torn up if sales failed to satisfy the shareholders. Luxury is first and foremost a business.” And further : ”I am very much down to earth.”
For me, Karl Lagerfeld confirmed one of the main requisites for success – clear knowledge of the purpose of your actions. If you go to a job interview – know your purpose, know why you are there – to get the job, to gain an experience, to learn more about the company, etc, and act in line with your purpose. If you organise a meeting – be clear about what you want to achieve at the end of the meeting. If you give a presentation – what message do you want to convey to your audience. It still surprises me how many people execute important actions without any idea or a very vague idea of what they want to get from them. As Karl Lagerfeld used to say: “I only go to places if I have a professional reason. I am not a tourist.”