Fashion Entrepreneur Podcast

Fashion Originators



Welcome to Fashion Originators, a podcast hosted by me, Stephanie Irwin. Every other week, I interview game-changing fashion entrepreneurs. Each episode, THEY share their wins, losses and wisdom – all to inspire your career and personal goals.

#MondayMentors: Karl Lagerfeld

#MondayMentors: Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld with Kanye West

#mondaymentors: Karl Lagerfeld

Whether you’re a Chanel-lover, or fall asleep during most of their shows (erm.. me.. despite the grand backdrops, such as Chanel rocket ships and supermarket), one cannot deny that Karl Lagerfeld was an iconic industry fixture — particularly in a world where every house has a revolving door of ‘designers of the moment.’

After Karl’s death last week, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know that much about his history. Like most people I knew the obvious things — his white hair, his considerable weight-loss, an obsession with Diet coke (and his cat), the fact he designed for Chanel, Fendi and his own label. In tribute to his legacy, I decided that a bit of research was much-needed.

Karl Lagerfeld started his career as the assistant to Pierre Balmain in the 1950s, befriending Yves Saint Laurent early on. In the latter half of the decade, he took on his first ‘artistic director’ role at Jean Patou which lasted for six years. To deepen his knowledge, Karl studied art history in Rome, all while freelance designing for the likes of Chloe and Valentino. In the late 60s he was hired by Fendi, and in the 80s by Chanel (he was the genius behind the interlocking CC monogram that Chanel is known the world over for).

While Karl was always multi-tasking and iconic, he built up his personal brand through collaborating and embracing the caricature of his aesthetic. Karl collaborated with Diesel in 2001, a Swedish crystal manufacturer in 2010, started his brand K Karl Lagerfeld in 2006 and even starred in a ‘Lagerfeld Confidential’ documentary made by Vogue in 2007. I could go on for EONS about all the epic things he has done, but I think there’s enough to pull from here lesson-wise.

Top lessons from Karl’s career and life…

  1. Develop your own signature look (and embrace your eccentricities — even if it’s your obsessions with cats and diet coke). The things that make you weird will be the things they talk about when making documentaries about you. Haha.

  2. Befriend the people who will be your future peers — in addition to being talented, Karl also effectively installed himself into the right crowd (his family were German importers of evaporated milk — anything is possible ok)?

  3. A little mystery isn’t a bad thing — while we all know the caricature of Karl — literally being his profile, he keeps his personal life relatively quiet (with exception to his Choupette enthusiasm).

  4. You can do it all - if you’re feeling confused, or like you want to learn more, you don’t have to give up working. Karl freelanced a TON while studying — and you can too! Oddly, he’s more Gen X than people give him credit for being.

That’s it for this week! I’d love to know? What’s your favourite Karl Lagerfeld collaboration? Let’s chat on Instagram @fashionoriginatorspodcast. While you’re waiting for the next episode, be sure to check out my interview with another French icon — Marion Rabate — the founder of Ernest Leoty (the French yoga brand you need to know):

#40: What 'diversity' in fashion really means with fashion journalist and activist Lottie Jackson

#40: What 'diversity' in fashion really means with fashion journalist and activist Lottie Jackson

#39: Wearing corsets to the gym with Ernest Leoty founder Marion Rabate

#39: Wearing corsets to the gym with Ernest Leoty founder Marion Rabate