Ten models, ten looks, one famous cat. At Paris’s Grand Palais, ten designers cast Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy into the future.
Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino
Karl and I met in the early ’90s at Fendi—it was like a star coming to the office. In a way, he brought the news from the world—talking to us about things like how the new beauty is ugliness. These manifestos were absolutely sharp, and delivered without any doubts. I also learned from Karl not to take anything for granted. You can work with everything. You can create with everything. I was always very impressed by Karl’s research into modernity. He was obsessed with modernity—this idea of depicting what was contemporary. He was never nostalgic. The look I created is a melting pot of his words, the modernity, and the sharpness of his look.—P.P.
Karl loved [the iconic Paris boutique] Colette, and my label was sold there. He bought a gray suit, crystal briefcase, blanket, and shirt and tie, and he took a picture of himself in them and sent it to me. I have it in my office—it’s very special to me. Over the years Karl became a personality, but it’s because of the work he did, the decades of creating. His work was the perfect combination of beautiful design and beautiful craftsmanship; the quality matched the conceptual ideas. His genius came from knowing who he was designing for. I loved his use of shape: molded shoulders, and proportions that were unique, maybe avant-garde for a lot of people—so I wanted to play with that idea, and with the fabrications of the house of Chanel.—T.B.
Karl was a very good friend of Gianni’s—they really liked each other, and respected each other. Gianni wasn’t the kind of person with many friends, and Karl not so much either, but they connected. I kept saying to Gianni, “Please—I want to meet him.” So he took me to Karl’s house one night, and I was mesmerized. He means a lot to designers today—especially me. We like his rebellious spirit. He would put things together that really didn’t make sense, just to show you they could make sense. He didn’t take himself so seriously, but then geniuses never do. It was like every show he did was his first. He also liked to have women around him, to give him strength. Their presence was very important—he wanted to know what women thought of what he was doing.—D.V.
Jun Takahashi, Undercover
It’s wonderful how Karl managed to achieve so much for so long. When he started reworking Chanel, changing the look bit by bit over the years, it was really fresh—he captured the atmosphere of each passing era and wove it into Chanel’s designs, making them evolve. I’ve tried to reinterpret what Karl did around the time he took charge of Chanel—I wondered what would happen if I attempted what both Karl and Coco had been doing. It’s a quintessential Chanel suit, but there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on—dark pop and punk accents, with the seams exposed or cut into tatters.—J.T.
Christopher John Rogers
I looked at his work for Fendi, which, although very expansive, was always about technique—and I thought about all of the behind-the-scenes construction that went into the house’s couture pieces. That’s at the forefront of what I designed here. It was labor-intensive: There are over 250 pieces of organza, there’s silk faille, there’s an underskirt, a boned corset. One of my favorite collections of Karl’s is Chanel’s fall 2006 haute couture. There was denim, and thigh-high boots, and I think at the time a lot of people were wondering, What is this?! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated his work in the way that it feels like even if it’s not for everyone, it’s always for the customer, and for him. He stands for longevity, authenticity, craft—and having a sense of humor in fashion, regardless of whatever else is going on in the world. He really crafted his own language.—C.J.R.
John Galliano, Maison Margiela
[My first] Chanel show was overwhelming—the adventure, the mischief, the encyclopedic knowledge about fashion of any period, any century. Karl was like an oak tree, by which I mean there was enormous wisdom. And I loved the way he ended each statement with a “non?”—as a question mark, to engage you, to see what your point of view was. You had to be ready for that “non?”! I focused on his obsession with the line during his tenure at Patou. The polka dots are cutouts, ellipses—we projected them onto the look, and they ended up [cut out] wherever the projection hit the surface of the dress. The sequins were a new way of doing embroidery: cutting them out, then dipping them in hot water to make them pliable, then into freezing water so they held their shape. They’re really fun but with—I hope—all the rigors of couture.—J.G.
Olivier Rousteing, Balmain
I first met Karl in 2011. “You’re the new Balmain boy?” he asked me. I said yes. “I used to be the Balmain boy—welcome to fashion.” A couple of months later, we sat together at a dinner and chatted. I didn’t want to speak with him about his job, so I asked, “How is life outside work, Karl—you know, outside of Chanel?” And he said: “We don’t ask that question, because work is my life, work is my love.” He has always been my biggest inspiration in life. He didn’t follow fashion—he created fashion, and connected fashion to pop culture. Karl was the pioneer—the king—of all that we’re trying to do today. And he never stopped being curious about life. The look I’ve created is a tribute to him—I looked at what he was doing at Balmain: emphasizing a tiny waist, bigger shoulders, playing with the buttons.—O.R.
Chitose Abe, Sacai
Karl used to say, “Fashion isn’t art—it’s business.” I’ve always thought about that as I’ve run Sacai. These days a designer’s job isn’t just about designing clothes, and that’s something Karl saw way back when—he was like a fashion cyborg. He was a great designer from the start, but he was also good at fashioning his own image. When you think about Karl, it’s the white shirt, a tie sometimes, and some hard-edged jewelry. I’ve tried to capture that—not to reproduce it, but to hybridize it in the Sacai style and turn it into an elegant dress.—C.A.
“My first Chanel show was the women’s march show,” says Gigi Hadid, seen here in Gucci’s tweed jacket embroidered with pearls, jet, and crystals, and a very Karl white collar and black gloves. “The streets of Paris had been built in the Grand Palais, and I was just wide-eyed at the spectacle, the magnitude of the production—I’d never seen anything like that in my life before. Later, I loved the rocket ship show and the Titanic show—the audience saw the runway and the façade of the boat, but not that the entire inside of the boat was set for a party. Karl inspired me by his storytelling—his ability to communicate worlds and bring them to life. He was an icon because he had this genius focus on what was important to him and what he was interested in, and his uniform was part of that intent. It was his armor, his way of becoming Karl Lagerfeld. Even 10 feet away, he looked like how Karl Lagerfeld was meant to look. He was awesome.”
He was the first designer to do an H&M collaboration. For me, as a teenager atthat time, that was so iconic. For someone from luxury to be working with thehigh street—that was taboo. But Karl was always unapologetic, and that’s quiterare. He stood behind every decision he made; there was no self-doubt as to whether he was right or wrong. My starting point was to look at his Chloé era, which I was really interested in, because it is a house very known for flou, for being very female-forward. A few pieces in the archive jumped out at me: One was a washed silk dress, very fluid, with lace. I was thinking, How can I bring lace into my world? I brought in some harnessing, a bit of hardness, for some juxtaposition, because that runs through Karl’s work in general. The harness is a bit twisted, but it brings what he did to today.—S.R.