Éric Pfrunder, Karl Lagerfeld’s closest creative associate for his varied photography projects, died Monday in a Paris hospital at age 74 after a long illness, his son Jasper confirmed to WWD.
Services are scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Pfrunder was Chanel’s director of image for three decades, and remained as artistic director of fashion image for a brief period following Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019.
“A man of conviction and loyalty, a passionate worker, ‘vorarbeiter’ as Karl Lagerfeld affectionately called him, Eric tirelessly devoted his exceptional eye and vision to the excellence of Chanel, generously sharing his knowledge and insights with the image team and more broadly, the fashion division,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, said in a statement shared with WWD, using the German word for foreman. “His contribution to Chanel is immense. We offer our most sincere condolences to his family and friends.”
Lagerfeld frequently said he had three key accomplices at the Chanel fashion house: Pfrunder, Pavlovsky and Virginie Viard, his longtime studio director, who would succeed the designer as creative director.
Indeed, it was Pfrunder who first suggested that Lagerfeld try his hand at photography.
Back in 1987, Lagerfeld expressed frustration with the images done for press kits at Chanel and so Pfrunder, flummoxed, suggested that Lagerfeld do them himself. It wasn’t long before Lagerfeld was shooting fashion spreads for French Vogue, and later campaigns for all the brands he touched, including Chanel, Fendi and the Karl Lagerfeld house.
Silvia Venturini Fendi, now Fendi’s artistic director for accessories and menswear, said the Roman house worked with Pfrunder for more than 30 years on all the Fendi women’s campaigns.
“He was the perfect creative match with Karl Lagerfeld bringing great value to our collaborations,” she said. “He was brilliant, eclectic, visionary and restless.
“His talent and great personality will be never forgotten.”
Pier Paolo Righi, chief executive officer of Karl Lagerfled, said Pfrunder was “Karl’s eye for photography and there were no limits for him when it came to Karl. Eric was a precious member of the Karl Lagerfeld family, he will be sorely missed and will always be remembered as a crucial part of Karl’s history.”
Sébastien Jondeau, a Karl Lagerfeld brand ambassador and product consultant, said with “anything involving image, Eric was there. He and Karl were very close, he was not only a work colleague, even if he was a workaholic for Karl.”
Jondeau and Pfrunder often vacationed with Lagerfeld, who treated all members of his entourage like family members.
Pfrunder worked at Chanel’s fashion division from 1983 until 2019 on image creation. On Tuesday, Pavlovsky described him as “an essential and active part of the creative trio” he formed with Lagerfeld and Viard, thereby “establishing Chanel as the ultimate luxury fashion house.”
Indeed, Pfrunder was forever at Lagerfeld’s elbow as the indefatigable German designer produced numerous books, catalogues and advertising campaigns, in addition to couture and ready-to-wear collections.
Outside advertising clients included Dior Homme, Dom Pérignon, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Pirelli, while the duo produced editorial shoots for scores of fashion magazines, including English and American Vogues, Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, V Magazine and Numéro.
The studio welcomed a host of models, Hollywood stars and European royalty, and Lagerfeld and Pfrunder would often set up impromptu photo studios at Chanel’s roving fashion events.
Inès de la Fressange, the face of Chanel in the ’80s, recalled how Lagerfeld ended up behind the camera. “We used to take Polaroids of each look for the fashion show,” she recalled, and the ones the designer snapped of her were strong. “I said, ‘Next time you should do the press kit.’ Karl said, ‘Oh I would love to but I don’t know the techniques.’”
Enter Pfrunder, who, knowing Lagerfeld’s deep admiration for German photographer Helmut Newton, wound up engaging one of Newton’s assistants to help the designer hone his craft, perfectly setting up the conditions for Lagerfeld to succeed.
“Suddenly, it was a new hobby for Karl and Eric was very happy,” de la Fressange recalled in an interview. “And with all these photo sessions, Karl had organized a new family.”
She said Lagerfeld had a lot of respect for the tailors, seamstresses and embroiderers that turned his sketches into sumptuous garments — and equally for all the contributors to a high-quality image.
Ultimately, Pfrunder would also help Lagerfeld organize exhibitions of his photography, and discover new ways of printing images, which excited the designer immensely, de la Fressange added.
“I spent a huge amount of my fashion career with Eric, who was in charge of everything to do with Karl Lagerfeld when he wore his photographer’s hat,” said Claudia Schiffer. “Eric was Karl’s ‘Monsieur Image,’ aka Chanel fashion director of image. I worked with the dynamic duo around the world – from New York City to Hamburg, Berlin, Nice, Buenos Aires and many more, which was so exciting. And of course, in Karl’s photo studio in Paris which is where our projects always started. Eric was the one who first encouraged Karl to pick up a camera and he was also a wonderful curator.
“Eric was both a family man and a gentleman with the finest manners, and a professional through and through,” she added. “He was so very knowledgeable and one would find him working away quietly in the background. I often think of him and Karl was very lucky to have found him. Eric admired Karl and was the most loyal, calm, and stable influence in the midst of fashion craziness. He gave up a part of himself to support Karl and I always felt in awe of him. There are not nor likely to be, many people like him in fashion. He was one of a kind and will be greatly missed.”
Born in Constantine, Algeria, Pfrunder moved to France at age 13. Like Lagerfeld, he was a self-taught photographer and also ran a communications and advertising agency whose clients included Norma Kamali, Emanuel Ungaro and Blackglama.
A tall, elegant man who shared Lagerfeld’s penchant for sharply tailored jackets, heeled boots and high-collared shirts, which he wore unbuttoned, Pfrunder largely flew under the media radar, and was in his element at the designer’s photo studio behind the 7L bookstore on the Rue de Lille.
Jondeau said Lagerfeld designed a special white shirt for Pfrunde, and had his go-to Paris maker Hilditch & Key deliver him a steady supply.
Among his projects after leaving Chanel, delayed by illness, were to digitize Lagerfeld’s vast photo archive, and publish a book, his son Jasper said.