1. His treatment of the house's DNA
Taking on the helm of Chanel, Karl sought to redefine the fashion house’s time-tested DNA and found a way to present it in a fresh and modern way.
Whether it was reinventing the Little Black Dress, or using tweed and quilted leather in his design process, Karl always found a way to make it new and interesting.
This paid off with shoppers, who to this day will line up outside Chanel boutiques to buy a piece from Karl’s collections.
2. His larger-than-life show sets
Early on, Karl understood the power of social media and the idea that his fashion show had to grab our attention within seconds of it appearing on our news feed.
This is one of the reasons why the house of Chanel spares no expense in putting together the most magnificent and transportive shows each season. Thanks to his genius sets, the Chanel fashion show is one of the hottest shows (and not coincidentally, one of the hardest to get a ticket to) on the Paris Fashion Week calendar.
From an entire supermarket stocked with Chanel-branded groceries to an actual iceberg trucked in just before the models took to runway; from a larger-than-life rocket launching into the roof of the Grand Palais to a beach being built in the middle of a rainy Paris, Karl made sure that his show sets were to be talked about years after the collection sold out.
3. His love for the craft
Despite all the pageantry, Karl still understood the value of a well-made garment, which is why the savoir faire behind each collection is an artwork to behold.
For the uninitiated, fashion insiders use savoir faire to describe the artistry and flair behind the finished garment
Realising that these crafts are dying out, the house has been actively acquiring smaller artisanal companies since 1985, in a bid to keep these time-tested traditions and skills alive.
Whether it be an embroidery house (Lesage) or a millinery salon (Maison Michel), Karl dedicated much of his collections to showcasing the fine craftsmanship that these houses had. Each year, he would also stage a Metiers d’Arte show, which put the skills of these artists at the forefront of the collection’s designs.
In the recent Netflix documentary 7 Days Out, Karl and the house of Chanel invited cameras into his ateliers to present the world with a rare glimpse into the making of his fantastical creations.
4. His tongue-in-cheek humour
Where most designers take their jobs very seriously, Karl knew how to inject a certain sense of wit and self-deprecating humour into his collections. Whether he created bags so tiny that they looked like monitor bracelets worn around your ankle or clutches in the shapes of robots and milk cartons, you could always count on an LOL-moment at a Chanel show.
5. His Midas touch with accessories
In another display of skill and vision, Chanel’s accessories are a testament to Karl’s idea of breathing new life into the brand. You cannot think of pearls or chunky bracelets without thinking of Chanel.
And who could forget the two-tone slingback pumps from his FW’15 show that sold out and achieved cult-like status amongst fashion fans!
6. He knew how to create an 'It' bag
Of all the products Chanel makes each year, it is perhaps a Chanel bag that everyone woman aspires to own. Most women would say it’s the first bag they’d like to buy for themselves, and some women are resolute in their steadfast love for his bags.
Whether it’s the Boy, the Gabrielle, the 2.55 or the Classic, carrying a Chanel bag became something of a status symbol.
7. He embraced his image in pop culture
As it is with most big-name fashion designers, Karl embraced the idea of the “celebrity designer”. In fact, he often self-identified himself as a caricature of fashion’s larger-than-life personalities.
With his signature look that comprised of an austere black suit, fingerless gloves, dark oversized glasses and a powdered ponytail, his image has appeared everywhere from Coke bottles to a limited-edition Barbie doll, of which the latter sold out in less than an hour in 2014.
8. His embrace of accessible fashion
While Karl’s work at Chanel and Fendi often comes with a price tag that most would not be able to afford, he understood that fashion needed to appeal to a larger audience as well.
And while high fashion designers releasing capsule collections in partnership with high street brands are now a common sight, Karl’s H&M crossover collection was groundbreakingly fresh at that time. It offered entry to customers who would ordinarily never stroll into a Chanel or Fendi boutique.
9. His mark on Hollywood
While it’s not official, earning the role of an ambassador or a muse to Karl or Chanel was often considered a defining moment in a celebrity’s career. This is when people sit up and think of you as a fashion icon, and this is also when you become a household name. Having Karl’s endorsement would mean that a celebrity could now be considered part of the A-list.
Celebs who’ve enjoyed the Chanel spotlight include actresses Kristen Stewart (left), Penelope Cruz (right) and Margot Robbie; music artists Pharrell (centre), Janelle Monae and G-Dragon; and supermodels such as Soo Joo Park and Cara Delevingne.
10. His memorable and sometimes-controversial quotes
Known just as much for his designs, you can always count on Karl to give you an attention-grabbing quip. Choice sayings from Kaiser Karl include:
- “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.”
- “What I hate most in life is selfies.”
- “Luxury bags make your life more pleasant, make you dream, give you confidence, and show your neighbors you’re doing well.”
- “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.”
- “I’m very much down to earth, just not this earth.”