Karl Lagerfeld’s Style Evolution

On February 19, 2019, the world of fashion suffered a significant loss when Karl Lagerfeld passed away in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France—known for his work of revitalizing and maintaining Chanel as its creative director, his eponymous brand and Fendi’s. His talents were not only limited to designing. Lagerfeld was also a formidable photographer through his undeniably creative campaigns and shoots. His contributions to fashion are often the subject of discussion, but, like Anna Wintour, how he dressed also created ripples throughout the fashion community. To pay homage to the legend, we will be taking a short journey through the evolution of his trademark looks. 

Gone with the Wind, 1996, Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska

The 50s

Beginning with his outfit at his first award reception for coat design in 1954 at competition for the International Wool Secretariat:

Courtesy of Getty Images

At age 21, we can see that Karl Lagerfeld clearly had a great handle on rocking a bespoke suit. While there isn’t much extravagance to report, his suit is very much on point with the standard silhouette of the 50s. So there is something to be said for him staying within current trends.

The 60s to 70s

Courtesy of REX
Courtesy of REX

The Late 60s and early 70s see Karl in more flamboyant clothing, and slowly making his way to the signature looks that we know and love. Again, a testament to his ability to keep with trends of the time, his suits evolve to fit with the decade he’s in. Major observable elements here are the change in collar and neck adornments. Specifically the exaggerated volume of the collars and the boldness of his neck accessories.

The 70s to 90s

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Pierre Vauthey/Getty Images

The late 70s to 90s see the designer continuing to gravitate toward more bold and colored pieces, as well as retaining his uniquely shaped collars. Another development is the occasional substitution of colored tops in his outfits. As seen in the second picture, Lagerfeld has forgone his normal all white or all black base, in favor of a rainbow striped addition to his top. 

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Getty Images

The 2000s

Which brings us to the 2000s. In the early 2000s Karl Lagerfeld displayed new growth by extending his flamboyant accessory choices to his blazers. What once was only solid colors, then became a tapestry of bling and unique choices, tailored to the event he was attending. Furthermore, we see an emergence of his staple fingerless gloves during this time, and they remained in the limelight ever since then.

Courtesy of George Pimentel/Getty Images

Here is quintessential Karl. With his solid black outfit, bold accessory choice, signature sunglasses, and ponytail. This is the image that appears in the minds of most when they hear his name. However, what we can’t forget is that, like all signature looks, the creation of his image took time, experimentation, and personal growth. The world lost a fashion legend, but his contributions can never be erased. Fashion will never forget the name Karl Lagerfeld. 

Cover photo courtesy of Getty Images

About author


Elijah Oshinnaiye is a freshman at NYU studying for a BFA drama. Elijah is also an activist, an actor, and a fashion journalist.
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