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Karl Lagerfeld, Saint Tropez, 1970Via

Karl Lagerfeld's lesser-known style history

Before adopting his trademark look, the Chanel creative director tried out a monocle, heels and a Japanese fan to name a few

Although purveyor of high fashion Karl Lagerfeld’s personal style is, these days, distinguishable through a get-up of white shirt and black suit – accessorised with his infamous ponytail, leather gloves and heavy shades – there was a time when the designer was a strong fixture on Paris’s fashion-cum-party scene. In honour of his 81st birthday today, we look back on the patriarch’s pre-monochromatic wardrobe in all its glory. From strutting poolside in the 60s wearing high heels, to his early 70s monocle-sporting days at Paris’s Café de Flore, it was here, alongside artist Antonio Lopez, model Inès de La Fressange and dandy Jacques De Bascher, where Uncle Karl really (kind of) let his hair down. Let's hope he'll be donning his party hat (or shades) as the fashion world wishes him a very happy birthday.


The designer’s style was inevitably lightyears ahead of everyone around him including, at times, even his own self. A lifelong habit of impeccable dressing seemed almost ingrained, something tagged onto him from birth. At school, the young Lagerfeld was picked on by his classmates for his well turned-out uniform. Struggling to make friends and preferring to play with his dolls rather than a football, he is remembered as the only student who insisted on wearing a jacket, a tie and a pair of long-length shorts to school each day. 


During the Parisian summer, Lagerfeld would strut poolside, his muscular legs embellished with a pair of high heels and an all-in-one swimsuit fitting snugly to his body. Although he never gave up his penchant for a properly tailored suit, he often dabbled in prints and colours, especially when setting off for holidays in St. Tropez. His jet set look meant tying striking scarves around his neck and attaching a clutch bag to one hand and an overflowing suitcase full of Art Deco jewellery to the other. His travelling companions of the day were the equally outfitted Paris scenesters; Juan Ramos, Corey Tippin and Donna Jordan.


Back in 1970s Paris, Lagerfeld’s carefully crafted public image, and desire to be noticed, was channelled through a new accessory, his monocle. In true Karl style, he carried around several spares just in case one fell out, to save him picking it back up off the floor. It was also around this time that – after an encounter with Warhol, the ultimate master of image manipulation for whom Karl had a small role in film L’Amour – Lagerfeld took to carrying a Japanese fan for the next three decades, flaring it out in front of him as the photographers’ cameras flashed.


Karl’s style wasn’t solely based on what he choose to populate his wardrobe with. His incredible wealth of knowledge, one that he still builds on today, came through the books he bought on an almost daily basis from La Hune in Saint-Germain. Completely ahead of the curve, Lagerfeld spotted an Art Deco revival from a mile away – introduced to him by interior designer Andrée Putman – and set to scouring the shops of Paris for furniture and homewares to decorate his various homes and apartments with. The redesign was just in time for Lagerfeld’s role in Warhol’s L’Amour, with his apartment setting the backdrop for one of the experimental film’s scenes – a film which he was also captured kissing friend and model Donna Jordan.


Lagerfeld’s friendship with Jacques De Bascher will always be something of an enigma. Over the course of the 70s and 80s, the designer and Parisian eccentric were rarely not seen side-by-side. While De Bascher tragically passed away from AIDS in 1989, the pair’s antics peaked during the 70s, an era often signposted by their co-ordinating outfits – a set of white suits fitting for a sunshine-filled day or a pair of dark jackets, breast pockets fixed with diamond Art Deco brooches, Lagerfeld’s ongoing design obsession at the time.