By 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was an established fashion star and a notorious workaholic with gigs at Fendi, Chloé and the Italian mass-market firm Alma. By accepting Alain Wertheimer’s offer of the creative helm at the then-dusty Chanel, he embarked on an unparalleled and ongoing run that would redefine all notions of the role of the employee designer, working “16 hours a day and delighted to do it,” he told WWD. Along the way, Lagerfeld restored, perhaps even surpassed, the legend that was Coco’s. His approach was to commingle, in whatever proportions suited his mood at the moment, all the classic Chanel tenets with brazen iconoclasm. Early on, he faced challenges. “Under Lagerfeld’s weighty and controversial baton, the Rue Cambon is humming with excitement—and tension,” the paper reported as he readied his debut haute couture collection. “[There is] a sort of palpable ‘them-against-us’ friction between the Chanel regulars and the Lagerfeld camp.”
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Needless to say, Karl’s camp won, on the force of his talent and a rock-solid set of beliefs from which he’s never wavered. “Fashion is a trade, not an art,” he said in 1982, and in 2000, “the people who buy it don’t buy it for your beautiful eyes. You have to be prepared to do business.” Nor has Lagerfeld ever entertained even a modest retreat from those 16-hour days. In New York this past September for the reopening of Chanel’s SoHo boutique and to receive an honor from FIT, he noted, “I don’t like the word ‘honored.’ I did a job all my life, and I’m happy they like it.”