I admit: I never entirely drank the Karl Lagerfeld Kool-Aid. I was not one of those critics (and there were some) who would clutch their breast, shriek “genius!” and swoon after every show.
I often felt that for every extraordinary piece the designer created for Chanel or Fendi — by the time I started in fashion, his career at Chloé was at an end — there would be another clunker of a dress or a suit: unflattering, frumpy, kind of awkward. I found the set-building he did for his Chanel shows in the latter years (the supermarkets, rocket ships and icebergs in the Grand Palais) not just a smart social media move (which it was) but too often an egregious display of a bottomless budget and sleight of hand to distract from what was on the runway. Sure, that tweed sweatsuit made that model look like a Real Housewife — but everyone was looking at the double-C branded pasta on the faux megamart shelf instead!
Once I got spoken to by the Chanel press office for not fully “understanding” Lagerfeld’s vision. But as I wrote in the designer’s obituary (he died in 2019), while he unquestionably changed the business of the industry — its marketing, its branding, its very structure — thanks to his ability to take on a heritage house like Chanel and reinvent it with the detritus of its own codes, I didn’t think he really changed wardrobes. He didn’t give the world a new silhouette, or an expression of identity, the way Coco Chanel herself did, with the bouclé suit, or Christian Dior, with the New Look, or Saint Laurent, with Le Smoking, the tuxedo suit for women.