By Selina Dufner
I remember vividly how full of excitement I was when my best friend and I booked a trip to Paris in February 2019. We wanted to be there around the same time as the fashion week was being held. Little did we know that a mournful incident would overshadow our great anticipation: the passing of the legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld on the 19th of February. Two weeks later, his last collection for Chanel was shown on the runway in the Grand Palais and we found ourselves in front of the magnificent building amidst photographers, models, influencers and socialites. While we, of course, didn’t have the opportunity to actually watch the show, we didn’t want to pass on the chance to breathe a little Chanel air and experience the ambience of an haute-couture fashion show. The very next day, we went to the Chanel store on 31 Rue Cambon and, even though I was barely able to afford it, I couldn’t resist treating myself to a pair of espadrilles.
Karl Lagerfeld presented his first collection in that very location on the 25th of January 1983 at 3pm. The audience was most likely completely unaware of the fact that they were witnesses of a monumental event, and probably asked themselves what Lagerfeld could possibly do for Chanel since the brand was considered to be dead:
“When I took over Chanel in ’82, everybody said to me: “Don’t touch it, it’s dead,” and then, in fact, it was dead. But when I start a line, everything is completely new,” revealed Lagerfeld for the Netflix documentary 7 Days Out: World’s Biggest Events.
Although Coco Chanel’s store was very successful, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the start of World War II left her no choice but to shut its doors in 1939. Chanel tried a comeback in the ‘50s, but she felt that she couldn’t keep up with the competition anymore, especially with Christian Dior.
As it turned out, Lagerfeld managed to do a lot for Chanel and actually revived it. He modernised, revolutionised and expanded the brand while staying true to what it stands for, and keeping in mind what kind of a woman Coco was. Lagerfeld constantly reinterpreted classics such as the iconic tweed suit and gave them a modern touch. He always moved with
the times and understood Coco as a revolutionary woman who wasn’t stuck in the past but rather looked to the future. He also understood the importance of logos, as they are a universal language everybody understands. Thus, he loved using the now world-known CC logo. You don’t have to speak a certain language to know what CC stands for and that’s the beauty of logos.
For a long time, Chanel was mostly known for its perfumes and accessories, but Lagerfeld also focused on the clothes themselves and made sure that they were worn by stars on the red carpet of important events such as the Academy Awards. By doing this, he strengthened Chanel’s image as a high-end fashion label. He also carefully chose the models he used in his fashion shows or campaigns and was always on the lookout for the most promising new faces. As to the fashion shows, they were always a spectacle. Lagerfeld preferred to use eye-catching and extraordinary settings which were visually appealing to the audience – for instance, a rocket or a supermarket.
Also visually appealing are the short films he created to advertise his collections and to bring them to a broader range of potential customers. An example of that is the short film “The Tale of a Fairy” for the 2011/12 Cruise collection.
All of this contributed to the popularity of the brand.