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PARIS — A moment’s silence for Karl Lagerfeld at his final Chanel show on March 5 marked the death of the designer on February 19, and the close of Paris Fashion Week for the Fall/Winter 2019 ready-to-wear season.
The nine-day fashion extravaganza showcases some of the world’s finest fashion houses to an audience of industry insiders and stars.
From the smallest to the most famous of designers, herewith some of the most memorable looks of the season.
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Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died at the age of 85 on Tuesday in Paris, leaving behind a larger-than-life legacy. Although the German-born Lagerfeld had his own eponymous line and was the creative director of Italian luxury label Fendi for over five decades, the name he’s most associated with is the French luxury house Chanel, where he served as their high-profile creative director since 1983.
During his time at Chanel, “the Kaiser” as he was nicknamed, helped transform the fashion and luxury industry as we know it, turning out collections that were as witty as they were elegant, a shining example of what it means to breathe new life into a legacy brand. To that end, Lagerfeld could draw as much inspiration from the life and times of Coco Chanel as he might from campy, colorful aspects of pop culture, as evidenced by his fantastical themes from Chanel shows that ranged from a full replica of the Eiffel Tower in the Grand Palais to a fully Chanel-branded grocery store, complete with shopping carts that show-goers stormed after the show.
In memory of Lagerfeld’s immense creative legacy, here’s a look back at his 20 most memorable Chanel shows of all time.
Fall/Winter RTW 2008: Chanel Carousel
For Chanel’s Fall/Winter RTW 2008 show, Lagerfeld constructed a full working carousel in the center of the Chanel runway, where models rode on larger-than-life replicas of the house’s famous quilted accessories after they took their turn on the runway. At the end of the show, Lagerfeld exited the rotating carousel to take his final bow.
Chanel Spring/Summer RTW 2009: 31 Rue Cambon
For Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2009 show, Lagerfeld recreated the iconic Chanel flagship store, 31 Rue Cambon, to-scale in the brand’s usual choice of venue, the Grand Palais. Lagerfeld’s wry sense of humor was on full display with the show’s soundtrack, a mix of Madness’ “Our House.”
Chanel Resort 2009: Synchronized Swimmers in Miami
Lagerfeld turned up the heat when he showed Chanel’s 2009 resort collection poolside at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach, Miami. While the collection was beautiful, Karl might have upstaged his own designs by asking the U.S. synchronized swimming team to do a fantastic closing performance.
Chanel Spring/Summer RTW 2010: Bucolic Beauty
Lagerfeld once again held court at the stately Grand Palais, this time to transform it into a bucolic barnyard paradise, resplendent with a Chanel-themed barn, hay bales, rockabilly high fashion, and a surprise Lily Allen performance.
Chanel Fall/Winter RTW 2010: Iceberg, But Make It Fashion
What’s cooler than cool? How about an actual iceberg, the ultimate accessory for a Winter Wonderland set that matched the shaggy, fur-embellished designs that Lagerfeld sent down the runway.
Resort 2010: Chanel Takes the Venice Lido
Lagerfeld paid homage to Chanel’s namesake designer, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel when he staged his 2010 Resort show on a boardwalk runway along the romantic Venice Lido, an enviable destination fashion show.
Chanel Pre-Fall 2013: Linlithgow Palace
Scotland served as both the locale and the muse for Lagerfeld’s Pre-Fall collection, which he showed at the darkly beautiful Linlithgow Palace. The palace, which was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, housed models who stomped down a blazing brazier-lit runway in tweeds and tartans, that honored the late monarch as much as they cheekily referenced Coco Chanel’s time spent in Scotland, with her lover, the Duke of Westminster.
CHanel Fall 2013 Couture: Post-Apocalypse Now
Science fiction took center stage at Lagerfeld’s post-apocalyptic theater for the 2013 Chanel couture show. Models walked out from a deconstructed center stage to walk between aisles of viewers who sat in theater seats in the Grand Palais.
Chanel Pre-Fall 2014: Everything’s Bigger in Texas
Full-fledged Americana might not seem like a fit for a French fashion house, but under Lagerfeld’s direction, Chanel’s annual Métiers d’Art show was one wild ride. Beginning with a drive-in movie before the show and ending with a mechanical bull at the after-party hosted at the Chanel saloon, Lagerfeld’s take on Texas was fit for a spaghetti Western, down to an unfortunate Native American headdress that drew wide criticism.
Chanel Fall/Winter RTW 2014: Grocery Shopping with Karl Lagerfeld
Going to the supermarket was no chore at the Fall/Winter 2014 Chanel show, where Karl Lagerfeld painstakingly recreated a fully-stocked grocery store with all Chanel-branded wares, ranging from household cleaning items to pasta. Following the presentation, during which models walked down “aisles” with Chanel shopping carts, attendees stormed the set to loot the grocery store’s Chanel offerings.
Spring/Summer RTW 2015: Vive la Chanel!
Lagerfeld took inspiration from protest culture with his showing for the Spring/Summer 2015 show. Models took to the Parisian “streets” of the Grand Palais for a final walk that manifested in a pseudo-protest (complete with signs that read: “He for She” and “Ladies First” as well as Jamie Bouchert leading chants with a megaphone) that brought to mind women’s liberation.
Fall 2015 Couture: Casino Chanel
Casino Royale? So last season. Welcome to Casino Chanel, where Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, and mother-daughter duo Lily-Rose Depp and Vanessa Paradis all took to the roulette tables as models slinked around them. Lagerfeld’s trademark humor was at play, with the Chanel bride resembling a very chic Elvis Presley impersonator.
Spring/Summer RTW 2016: Fly Chanel Airlines
Attendees were invited to fly high — well, high fashion, that is — with Chanel airlines at the brand’s Spring/Summer 2016 show, where the Grand Palais became an airline terminal for the world’s most stylish jet setters (traveling, of course, with some seriously enviable Chanel luggage).
Fall/Winter RTW 2017: Chanel Conquers the Last Frontier
Leave it to the Kaiser to cap off a space-themed collection with the launch of custom Chanel rocket in the Grand Palais — all set to the dulcet tones of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” of course.
Resort 2017: Chanel in Havana, Cuba
While Chanel was critiqued for the decision to show luxury fashion (including some questionable references, like military fatigues and Che Guevara-esque berets) in the political climate, the show coincided with doors being opened to the U.S. under the Obama administration after nearly five decades.
Chanel Fall 2017 Couture: Eiffel Tower
Lagerfeld recreated the Eiffel Tower to scale for his Fall 2017 couture show for Chanel, in what might be the most on-the-nose homage to the City of Love.
Chanel Fall/Winter RTW 2018: Into the Woods
Chanel’s Fall/Winter 2018 show was a return to nature — or rather, the idea of nature, as Lagerfeld recreated a lush autumnal forest within the confines of the Grand Palais for models to show off his fall collection.
Chanel Spring/Summer RTW 2019: His Beach Is Better
Life’s a beach — at least, according to Karl Lagerfeld, who brought the beach to Paris Fashion Week by recreating a tropical escape, complete with a sandy runway, real ocean waves and an on-duty lifeguard. Models even walked barefoot and carried their Chanel shoes, natch.
Chanel Spring 2019 Couture: Villa Chanel
For Chanel’s most recent show, they created a villa that would look completely at home in the Italian countryside, a lovely complement to the show’s Rococo influences. Models strutted down the park-inspired runways with David Bowie-esque pompadours, but it was Lagerfeld’s absence at the show due to tiredness that people latched onto most about this couture collection.
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The passing of Karl Lagerfeld presents Chanel with its biggest creative challenge since the death of its iconic founder almost half a century ago.
Since 1983, Lagerfeld reigned over Chanel with indisputable authority, helping turn a storied haute-couture fashion house into a global megabrand with $ 9.6 billion in annual sales. His death, at the age of 85, has left long-time creative deputy Virginie Viard in charge of the collections.
Crucial to the future of the closely held brand is whether Viard can emerge from Lagerfeld’s shadow and impose a convincing vision, or whether Chanel will seek an established outsider such as Phoebe Philo, who left LVMH’s Celine last year after a decade, or Alber Elbaz, formerly of Lanvin.
“They will look for a high-profile chief creative officer, and in the meantime they have got incredibly capable people in their team,” said Mario Ortelli, who runs a London-based advisory firm on luxury strategy. “Any designer in the world would be more than delighted to work with Chanel.”
Lagerfeld oversaw as many as eight Chanel collections a year: spring, fall, skiwear, haute couture, and more. One of fashion’s most prolific couturiers, he also produced outfits for Italy’s Fendi SpA and his own label. Recognizable for his high-collared shirts, white ponytail, dark sunglasses and black fingerless gloves, Lagerfeld had a client list that featured stars of the stage and screen, including actress Cate Blanchett and singer Pharrell Williams.
“We have lost a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world,” Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive officer of luxury giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said in a statement.
When Chanel last month said the designer was too tired to appear at his spring-summer haute couture show in Paris, his absence made more news than the hand-stitched floral gowns, sequined tweed suits, and feather capes on the catwalk. Conversation quickly turned to what Chanel planned to do next.
The fashion house said that Viard, his “closest collaborator for more than 30 years,” has been entrusted with the creative work on the collections, “so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on.”
Fashion house Fendi said it’s too soon to discuss Lagerfeld’s succession. “We intend to take the time to honor his life and pay him the tribute he deserves,” the Italian firm said in a statement. Fendi will present the latest collection designed by Lagerfeld on Thursday, as scheduled.
‘Sign of Defeat’
The sharp-tongued Lagerfeld — known for lines such as “wearing sweatpants is a sign of defeat” — was brought in to revamp the brand in 1983. Founder Coco Chanel had died 12 years earlier, and in the interim the company had muddled through, propped up by apparel licenses and sales of its No. 5 perfume.
Seeking to rejuvenate Chanel, its owners, the brothers Alain and G?rard Wertheimer, turned to Lagerfeld, a Hamburg native who’d won the prestigious Woolmark Prize for design at age 21 and by 1965 had become creative director of both Parisian fashion house Chlo? and Roman furmaker Fendi.
At Chanel, Lagerfeld quickly sexed up the brand’s iconic tweed skirt suits with more feminine tailoring and boosted use of pearls, chains, and the double “C” logo. While Chanel fiercely guards its image by crafting $ 15,000 gowns and $ 5,000 quilted-leather handbags, it’s managed to maintain a broader appeal with lipstick that can come in below $ 30 and perfumes for less than $ 100 a bottle.
Lagerfeld was “a marketing genius,” Elodie Nowinski, a professor of fashion studies at EM Lyon Business School, said before his death. “He knows how to take this elite vocabulary from haute couture and make it desirable to the masses.”
The combination of mass-market appeal and high-end exclusivity helped Chanel grow into a colossus with beauty counters and boutiques worldwide, 20,000 employees, and operating profit of $ 2.7 billion in 2017.
BNP Paribas estimated the brand’s value at more than $ 50 billion, making the Wertheimers among France’s wealthiest citizens. With other holdings such as Bordeaux vineyards, a thoroughbred horse stable, and paintings by 20th century masters, each brother has a net worth of almost $ 21 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Lagerfeld himself amassed a personal fortune of about 400 million euros ($ 453 million), according to the latest annual rich-list compiled by Germany’s Manager Magazin.
While the Wertheimers, both around 70, haven’t revealed any succession plan, they’re clearly thinking of the future. They’ve named independent board members and regrouped Chanel and dozens of subsidiaries — including suppliers of embroidery, feathers, leather gloves, and watch components acquired over the years — in a single holding company registered in London.
Long an e-commerce holdout, the company revamped its website last summer, adding sunglasses to offerings of makeup and perfume, and finally started publishing prices for its fashions and accessories online. A year ago, Chanel took a stake in the e-commerce platform Farfetch, which is helping develop digital tools for the brand’s stores.
Chanel has denied it’s planning for an initial public offering or sale, but speculation has grown as the Wertheimers have reshaped the company’s structure.
Luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Gucci-owner Kering SA are seeking to consolidate the industry while American challengers like Coach-owner Tapestry and Michael Kors Plc, private equity funds, and Chinese groups Fosun and Shandong Ruyi are also looking for increased exposure to the luxury market. But targets are few: family shareholders have continued to keep the likes of Chanel, Prada, Ferragamo, and Chopard off the market, while high valuations have deterred would-be suitors of Burberry Plc.
Chanel is “definitely a very desirable asset that is so far not open for sale,” Morningstar analyst Jelena Sokolova wrote in response to a Bloomberg query. Lagerfeld’s passing is unlikely to change the status quo for now, she said.
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