Chanel's creative director Karl Lagerfeld poses on Nov. 8, 2012 before the opening of his photo exhibition entitled "Little Black Jacket" at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Patrik Kovarik—AFP/Getty Images

How Karl Lagerfeld Redefined Modern Fashion As We Knew It

February 19, 2019

It’s hard to find someone who defined the modern fashion zeitgeist more than Karl Lagerfeld. The legendary Hamburg, Germany-born designer, who died in Paris on Tuesday at the age of 85, was readily recognized for not only his fantastical designs and extravagant fashion shows for the French luxury house Chanel (where he held court as the brand’s creative director for nearly four decades) but also for his larger-than-life persona, demonstrated most obviously by the highly-stylized, grandiose figure he cut in both the industry and the world. Lagerfeld, known for his personal uniform of dark glasses, powdered and pompadoured ponytail and fingerless gloves, is credited with transforming Chanel from a legacy brand into one of the most influential fashion powers in the world using not only his exemplary skill as a designer, but his sharp (and at times, controversial) wit and his inherent understanding of both high and low culture.

Lagerfeld, who began his career at 18 by winning an award for coat design at a fashion competition, went on to work for Pierre Balmain, Jean Patou and Chloé, before becoming the creative director at Italian luxury house, Fendi, in 1965. In 1983, he took the helm at Chanel and a year later, started his own eponymous label, all while engaging in various passion projects, from art photography to pop culture collaborations with the likes of Coca-Cola and Mattel’s Barbie. Lagerfeld’s iconic legacy will not be measured simply in his prolific influence as a designer in the fashion industry, but as a creative soul in the world. He will be missed.

Karl Lagerfeld after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in Paris on Dec. 14, 1954. With him is a model wearing his design.
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Karl Lagerfeld draws designs for textile manufacturer Klaus Steilmann, during a presentation at the Congress Center in Dusseldorf, West Germany on Sept. 4, 1987.
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Karl Lagerfeld, Creative Director for Fur and Women Ready-to-Wear, surrounded by the five Fendi sisters, heads of the Fendi Italian luxury fashion house.
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Karl Lagerfeld at work at Chloe's Paris studio circa 1983.
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German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld with two models, circa 1984.
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Stylist Karl Lagerfeld, director of Chanel creative studio Virginie Viard and models pose at the end of the Chanel Cruise 2018/2019 Collection at Le Grand Palais on May 3, 2018 in Paris, France.
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Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour circa 1993.
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Designer Karl Lagerfeld walks on the runway during the Chanel 2012 Spring/Summer Haute Couture Collection Show at Shinjuku Gyoen Park on March 22, 2012 in Tokyo, Japan.
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German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (C) acknowledges the public as Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen (back-C) speaks through a megaphone as she and other models fake a demonstration as they present creations for Chanel's 2015 Spring/Summer fashion show, on Sept. 30, 2014 at the Grand Palais in Paris.
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Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Summer 1997 Collection fashion show.
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Karl Lagerfeld walks the runway during the Chanel fashion show, as part of Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2014, at the Grand Palais.
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In this July 3, 2012 photo, Karl Lagerfeld acknowledges the applause of the audience at the end of his Women's Fall Winter 2013 haute couture fashion collection in Paris.
Francois Mori—AP

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com and Maïa Booker at maia.booker@time.com.