Karl Lagerfeld: his contributions, originality and significance in contemporary fashion design

Pomazan, L 1998, Karl Lagerfeld: his contributions, originality and significance in contemporary fashion design, Masters by Research, Fashion and Textile Design, RMIT University.


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Collection: Theses

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Title Karl Lagerfeld: his contributions, originality and significance in contemporary fashion design
Author(s) Pomazan, L
Year 1998
Abstract Karl Lagerfeld's significance, contributions and original fashion designs are generated by several interrelated factors: perceptive use of historical antecedents, artistic background, love of art and design and the influence of artists and selected fashion designers. These factors had profound effects which provided a personal conceptual base for his own label, the House of Chanel, Chloe and the Fendi sisters. His various designs for these disparate labels reflect the complexity of Lagerfeld's character and display the adaptability of his individualistic talents. From the time of his 1954 International Wool Secretariat Prize Lagerfeld's life and work have described complementary arcs of remarkable and productive activity. This activity underscores an established interest in fashion, commitment to design, love of art and a discerning knowledge of history.

Lagerfeld's father was of Swedish extraction and his mother was born in the Westphalia region of Germany. Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg in 1938 and spent his childhood in a family castle. Little is known of Lagerfeld's early life but he probably inherited his aesthetic sensibility from his mother, whilst his business acumen seems to derive from his father, who founded the successful Glücksklee condensed milk company; later sold to the international Carnation corporation. The young Lagerfeld was fascinated by fashion and left Germany to be educated in Paris, the world's art and fashion centre.

Lagerfeld's later employment with Balmain was of considerable importance and he learnt much about the principles of fashion design. Despite his success, Lagerfeld felt stifled as the restrictive atmosphere was not conducive to his new aspirations. Soon after, Lagerfeld accepted the position of chief designer at the conservative House of Patou. This propelled Lagerfeld into a world of high fashion and inspirational examples. Lagerfeld's work at Patou forced him into close proximity with creative foment and enabled him to hone his natural predilections and gain further confidence.

Subsequently, Lagerfeld became aware of a new generation of women who seemed to feel that haute couture was, if not dead, at least ailing; they freed themselves from the constraints of formal clothing and purchased affordable and informally styled clothes. Lagerfeld, with his finely tuned sensibilities would have felt the pulses of this change. As Lagerfeld's discontent with contemporary fashion increased he left Paris in 1964 to study art history for a year in Italy, as if to re acquaint himself with earlier interest in aesthetic response and its historical applications. When he returned he designed free-lance for ready-to-wear fashion firms. Symptomatically this free-lance work was done in preference to employment in major couture houses and Lagerfeld's work developed in new directions that exhibited bold and lateral creative insights. His stylistical flourishes, suspicion of hidebound conventions and his anti-establishment leanings, stem from the perceived restrictions and false decorum of these formative years.

In 1964 Lagerfeld was one of four fashion designers in the Chloé company and by 1970 he was their sole designer. Lagerfeld remained creatively receptive and early successes with Chloé and Fendi developed an expanding confidence with designs, material and concepts. He seemed to seek out and embody a new desire to branch out beyond past restrictions. This search led to the development of new techniques, especially for the Fendi firm, which confirmed Lagerfeld's innovative skills and interests.

In 1983 Lagerfeld accepted an offer to act as Design Consultant in Charge of the Collections for the prestigious House of Chanel in Paris. He left Chloé in the same year and launched his own eponymous label: Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld's creations were instrumental in resurrecting the House of Chanel by redeveloping its designs into contemporary versions that were appropriate for a newly emerged and younger clientele. Simply, Lagerfeld's contemporary fashion design transformed Chanel' s work from historical Modernist clothing to ahistorical and Postmodernist clothing. It is this form and function based evolution that is one of Lagerfeld's most notable and under recognised achievements.

Through this evolution Lagerfeld's creations came to embody aspects of contemporary culture and thought. These advances, though historically based, have Lagerfeld's individual stamp: a taste for fun, wry wit, historical knowledge, a spirit of surprise and consistent adherence to high standards of fashion design.

Some of these advances result from Lagerfeld's appreciation of Surrealist art and André Breton's theories and principles. Like those of his predecessor Schiaparelli, Lagerfeld's clothes speak of wider artistic pursuits. Lagerfeld's clothes are often created within a Surrealist aesthetic; particularly Breton's concept of convulsive beauty, the quality of the marvellous and the aesthetic principles of the veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive and magic­circumstantial. Lagerfeld's Surrealist oeuvre consists of garments which are forceful in their shock value; a value that owes much to his tapping of Surrealist principles and aesthetics. Lagerfeld, in Surrealist form, has created several highly individualised fashion designs and his ensembles and accessories have turned the mundane into the marvellous.

Furthermore, Lagerfeld's various haute couture collections for the House of Chanel are based on a progressive visual deconstruction of the regressive canons of Chanel's Modernism. Postmodernism's flamboyant character, disregard for convention and new techniques seemed to suit Lagerfeld's trail blazing disposition. It also provided a context for his artistic leanings and made use of his love of history in ways that resonate throughout his creations. Chanel' s fashion style sprang forth, like Modernism itself, from a nineteenth century world changed by dramatic urbanisation and growing technological advances. Lagerfeld's fashion style sprang forth, like Postmodernism itself, from a twentieth century world changed by dramatic globalisation and growing electronic advances. The distinctions between their respective works, aims and artistic attitudes becomes more clear when we view it this way. In Lagerfeld's case this is an applied Postmodernism, one unencumbered by academic theory and limited by technical considerations. Several Postmodernist fundamental principles find a comfortable place in Lagerfeld's fashion creations: free floating signs, double-coding, eclecticism, ahistorical bricolage, fragmentation, pastiche, deconstruction and stylistic exaggeration. Lagerfeld' s Postmodernist designs are characterised by an air of anti­seriousness and ironic detachment; one might say that he paid tribute to Chanel's design aesthetics and later played tribute to them.

Degree Masters by Research
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Fashion and Textile Design
Subjects Textile and Fashion Design
Design Innovation
Keyword(s) Karl Lagerfeld
20th century fashion
fashion design
haute couture
Post Modernism
aesthetics
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