Karl Lagerfeld Remembered: What Becomes a Legend Most?

I absolutely love this drawing from Chilean artist, Manuel Santelices. It perfectly captures Karl’s obsession with overseeing every last detail. And most of all, I adore the homage to Karl’s beloved cat, Choupette!

Karl Lagerfeld was best known as the creative director for Chanel, but he truly was an artist in all senses of the word. Meriam-Webster defines “art” as skill acquired by experience, study, or observation, a branch of learning, an occupation requiring knowledge or skill, the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.

There are very few artists who can achieve the ideals of this definition. It takes a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and most importantly, curiosity. Moreover, there are very few who are able to synthesize inspiration from a multitude of sources into work that transcends time. Karl Lagerfeld was indeed one of these artists. 

Karl Lagerfeld for Numéro, 2016
Karl Lagerfeld for Numéro, 2016

One of my most cherished possessions is a signed copy of The Emperor’s New Clothes, a 1992 version sumptuously illustrated by Lagerfeld. This book pretty much encapsulates Lagerfeld’s ethos: how history plays a vital role in what we see (and create) now, how luxury and opulence defined empires, and how simply being able to sketch out your ideas on paper can open a world of boundless creativity.

As a young artist, seeing this book changed how I would approach my own art-making as I matured. I began to understand that being a visual artist is not just about making a painting, editing a video or taking a photograph. Being an artist means immersing oneself in the pantheon of culture. As an artist, you must be open to other forms of artistic expression, music, film, architecture and fashion…yes, fashion.

We live in a dark and romantic and quite tragic world.

Karl Lagerfeld

Whenever I am asked to talk about my work, I have a presentation that touches on all the different artists and media that have inspired me over the years. Besides clips of my own work, it includes snippets from some of my favorite video artists, like Matthew Barney and Isaac Julien, as well as clips of some of the movies that have inspired me, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s, Veronika Voss. I have a short clip of Joy Division’s video for Love Will Tear Us Apart. Not only for the timeless track itself but also for the stripped-down, minimal video.

Karl Lagerfeld for Numéro, 2016
Karl Lagerfeld for Numéro, 2016

The last thing I show in my presentation is a section from one of Lagerfeld’s Chanel Couture shows. And of course, I always get asked, why Chanel? Why fashion? My answer is always the same: if you want to call yourself an artist, then just look at any Lagerfeld Chanel show. If you want to learn how to be a perfectionist, look at any Chanel show really. Lagerfeld was a master of details, not one of them overlooked. From the clothes, accessories and of course the now-legendary runway sets, Lagerfeld translated his deep knowledge and appreciation for history and culture and his eccentric personal style into pretty much everything he did. 

Books are a hard-bound drug with no danger of an overdose. I am the happy victim of books.

Karl Lagerfeld

That eccentricity came from the fact that Lagerfeld was an insatiable reader. He was also a voracious draftsman, he sketched all day every day. He sketched everything, the clothes in a collection, what the set should look like, what a shoe should look like. He also loved music. It was once reported that he had someone on staff whose only job was to curate the music on a couple of hundred iPods. Every detail of his life and his work was carefully thought out and curated. As we approach the one year anniversary of his death, I think it’s worth looking back at some of Lagerfeld’s most iconic work. We’re also looking at some artists whose work evokes some of Lagerfeld’s sensibilities. 

What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.

Karl Lagerfeld

Mixing fine-art and fashion photography, Miss Aniela creates a fine balance of contemporary creativity. Her work is a fusion of traditional imagery and digitally enhanced motifs, interweaving a surreal composition. Miss Aniela’s Surreal Fashion collection is where beauty meets absurdity and couture meets chaos, in a series of fine-art/fashion-fused photographic tapestries. Miss Aniela’s image reminds me of Karl’s appreciation for the past, it’s opulence and absurdity.

UK-based artist, Bridget Davies‘ gorgeous painting (above) evokes the style and sophistication of Coco Chanel herself. Fun, Flirtation and ageless beauty, is how she describes her work. “I approach my work from many different angles. On one level it’s light and fun, recalling the glamour of the Forties and Fifties, intentionally paying homage to the amazing illustrators of the age. That classic ageless beauty expressed by the fashions of the time holds a fascination for me, managing to be refined and elegant but with its own uniquely flirtatious undercurrent.

Dana and Stephane Maitec are a Parisian-based duo whose chic photography reminds me of the French “Nouvelle Vague” which was also an enormous influence on Lagerfeld’s fashion. “We don’t just take pictures. We tell stories. For over 20 years, we have been capturing the human nature at its best, whether through black & white or color photography, in-studio or location.”

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