Karl Otto Lagerfeld and Fendi: A 50-year Love Story
Few designers have created an enigma quite like Karl Lagerfeld. From his attempts to hide his birthdate and heritage (1933, Germany) to his signature look of sunglasses and high-collar shirts, and losing ninety-two pounds in a year then publishing his own diet book—Lagerfeld is truly unlike any other designer.
His career began slowly, in 1955, as assistant to Pierre Balmain after winning a competition. He moved to Jean Patou, where his early collections were booed, and then Tizani. After being replaced, he started freelancing for Chloé in 1964, and finally gained note for his 1973 collection. Despite this rocky start, he joined Chanel in 1983 and turned it from burnt out into one of the world’s most profitable brands. He has become not only head designer and creative director of Chanel, but also Fendi and his own fashion label.
Refusing to slow down with age, Lagerfeld is a machine, churning out eight Chanel collections a year and five Fendi collections, as well as his own. He doesn’t stop at clothes either, designing everything from teddies to crystal art, limited edition homes on a fashion island to costumes. He’s a renowned photographer and director, has illustrated and published books, and speaks four languages. He translates his endless curiosity and passion for knowledge into inspired fashion.
Lagerfeld is also well-known for his collaborations, such as his 2004 H&M line, which sold out in 2 days flat. While always embracing new possibilities, Lagerfeld also appreciates the old, and is a big collector of Art Deco. In this regard, he is the perfect designer for Fendi, who are renowned for their unique combination of historical yet innovative fashion. A brand merely 8 years older than Lagerfeld, in September 2016, Fendi celebrated their 90th Anniversary, “The Artisans of Dreams” in Fendi Roma.
The exhibition was held at their new HQ, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, and included a fashion show at the much-loved 18th Century Trevi Fountain, which Fendi have invested 2 million euros into restoring. A transparent runway across the fountain created a vision of models walking on water. The exhibition showcased nine decades of Fendi’s signature craftsmanship and creative fashion, with a tour inviting visitors to experience Fendi’s story through a multi-sensory approach.
Like Lagerfeld himself, Fendi started small, a family-run fur shop in Rome opened by couple Edoardo and Adele Fendi. Their five daughters joined the business and brought Lagerfeld on as designer in the 60s. The collaboration between Fendi and Lagerfeld is the longest in fashion history, with them both achieving incredible success since then. While many fashion houses dispense with their designers after a few years, Fendi have demonstrated their commitment to Lagerfeld.
The luxury fashion house now specialises in detailed fur designs, ready-to-wear clothing, and some very famous leather handbags—such as the Spy and the Baguette. Together, Lagerfeld and Fendi have revolutionized the fur industry, taking it from heavy, dusty coats to intricate, ground-breaking designs and techniques, some even involving knitting. Lagerfeld designed the brand’s double “F” logo signifying “fun furs” and has defended the brand when it has come under criticism for its use of fur.
With over 70,000 Lagerfeld sketches in Fendi’s archives, Lagerfeld and Fendi have become synonymous. The brand’s second “haute fourrure” collection designed by Lagerfeld was on display in “The Artisans of Dreams”, confirming the fact that despite both Fendi and Lagerfeld’s ages, and this blooming relationship shows no signs of slowing down.