Karl Lagerfeld is one of the world’s most renowned fashion designers and widely celebrated as an icon of the zeitgeist. “Karl Lagerfeld. Modemethode” at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, is the first comprehensive exhibition to explore the fashion cosmos of this exceptional designer and, with it, to present an important chapter of the fashion history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Karl Lagerfeld is a multi-talented designer, known for injecting classic shapes with new life and for taking fashion into new directions. For the past 60 years(!) – from 1955 to today – Lagerfeld’s creations have consistently demonstrated his extraordinary feel for the ‘now’. Right from the start of his career, the designer has worked for luxury houses such as Balmain, Patou, Fendi, Chloé, Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel.
The exhibition Karl Lagerfeld. Modemethode shines a light on his most important fields of work, starting with the coat for which he received the International Woolmark Prize in 1954 and which led to his first employment with Balmain. From that moment on, the fashion world never let him go: in 1958 he moved on to become the art director at Jean Patou.
In 1965 Karl Lagerfeld was employed by the five Fendi sisters as head designer of the prêt-à-porter collection of the Roman fashion house Fendi, which is famous for its furs. Thanks to Karl Lagerfeld’s interest in the texture of the raw material, furs that up until the 60s had still been heavy and stiff became light and flexible. Moreover, he took the same playful approach to fur as to fabric: he dyed it, cut it apart, and sewed it back together again. Under his touch the former status symbol became modern and wearable, and not only stylish but also enjoyable. Karl Lagerfeld called his fur models ‘fun furs’.
Karl Lagerfeld worked for the Paris fashion house Chloé for two periods, from 1964 to 1984, and from 1992 to 1997. The models he designed gave shape to both Chloé’s identity and to Lagerfeld’s infallible feel for the zeitgeist: fleeting, flowing, light as a feather, an expression of the freedom and imagination of a generation. In the late 1960s and 1970s that were defined by student protests, sexual liberation, and feminism, Karl Lagerfeld’s collections reflected the changing awareness of the times. Sometimes dreamlike and escapist, sometimes sensuous and frilly, his designs express a lot of empathy for the mood of a generation. The flamboyant patterns, which he consciously contrasted with the simple crêpe de chine forms, were often inspired by art.
In 1984 Karl Lagerfeld founded his own label: Karl Lagerfeld. To this day, he designs the collections himself. The style of the fashion house is defined by the clear contours that are also reflected in his personal dress style. Simple elegance and androgynous cuts govern his designs, striking patterns are a rarity, and the materials of choice are mostly either entirely black or white. Often both the waistline and the shoulders are sharply accentuated. These designs show Karl Lagerfeld’s passion for interacting contrasts: men’s blazers are combined with miniskirts, thus opposing both feminine and masculine stereotypes.
Karl Lagerfeld’s first haut couture collection as the new head designer at the Chanel fashion house was presented in January 1983. To this day, he has been able to successfully maintain the famous Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s legacy by linking the spirit of Chanel to the present and the future. He re-contextualised characteristic Chanel elements such as the camellia or the pearl jewellery and brought the classic Chanel suit up to date without depriving it of its exemplary elegance. His feel for materiality is exemplified in his handling of traditional tweed: interwoven with ribbons, imprinted, embroidered and sometimes frayed it loses its heaviness and gains playful lightness.
As far as the processing and production of his fashion is concerned, Karl Lagerfeld can be described as both a perfectionist and a traditionalist. He sets great store by craftsmanship and has very high quality standards regarding the manufacturing process. Every detail reflected in the materiality and production of a dress is the result of meticulous consideration. Coincidences are sought in vain as his production sites of choice are highly specialised. Some of these traditional handicraft businesses such as hatters, shoemakers, goldsmiths, specialists for embroidery or feather and flower ornaments work exclusively for Karl Lagerfeld.
‘Modemethode’, Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘fashion method’, is his ambitious, allencompassing approach: from the initial sketch to the finished garment, from the accessories, the architectural setting and music of the fashion shows, to the photographs and graphic design of press material, advertising, catalogues and window displays – every last little detail is devised by the designer himself.
The exhibition has: 62 looks by Chanel, 30 looks by Fendi, 20 looks by Chloé, 13 looks by Karl Lagerfeld, plus accessories.
My only hope is that this exhibition will go travelling to London and other capitals to reach more people in person.
The exhibition in Bonn runs till 13th September 2015.