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Tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, an outstanding artist and a marketing genius

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Karl Lagerfeld is no longer with us. A fashion genius, he was also an extraordinary multi-talented and accomplished artist whose many facets were reflected in his artistic practices. The first paradox for this man who did not claim to be an artist for Chanel and who reiterated that the preservation of the “artistic” director in his role depended on the number of bags sold. A way of reminding us that it is above all business that takes precedence over Art.

Karl Lagerfeld has therefore devoted a lifetime of work to continue renewing the ultimate of the ephemeral: fashion. He declared, in a final step to this world of appearances, that he wanted to leave his fortune to his cat. Do you see, as I do, in this single statement an iconoclastic and mocking gesture towards those who, inflated by success and by the world of fashion, had come to forget its light character by its very essence and the futility of the privileges – monetary – from which they sometimes benefited?

If Lagerfeld’s creative heritage at the helm of Chanel is immense (who would dare to doubt it?), it is not the Karl, a creator of garments that I would like to shed light on today (I would be incapable of doing so); it is the Karl, a marketing genius. In this article, I will come back to the warholisation of fashion, on the masstige and I am sure you will appreciate the infographics we have created on the Chanel fashion Shows.

Lagerfeld marketing genius

As Benoît Heilbrunn, Professor of Marketing at ESCP, has brilliantly shown, marketing is not about logic. Marketing incorporates a dose of contradictions. Marketing is contractions. Karl Lagerfeld, by essence a man of contradictions, of oppositions, therefore had in him the DNA of a Genius Marketeer. How could it be otherwise from the person who had become a brand?

Let us focus in particular on his ability to take the Chanel label out of the (tight) segment in which he had found it when he joined the fashion house almost 30 years ago.

Before any other, Lagerfeld had understood the role of fashion and luxury brands in society. No doubt Lagerfeld’s proximity to Warhol 40 years ago (Lagerfeld even played a small part in Warhol’s film “L’Amour” in 1973) inspired what could be called the warholisation of fashion, that is to say, the extension of fashion to categories that go beyond the clothing segment and the multiplication of the brand’s variations in different product categories. This warholisation was undoubtedly not unrelated to the marketing trend called “Masstige” (or mass prestige) to which Lagerfeld had contributed, in particular through its collaboration with Macy’s. As Jean-Noël Kapferer writes:

“Karl Lagerfeld has understood that today’s luxury brand must express itself well beyond its sole speciality (here clothing, accessories, perfume or jewellery)”.

Chameleon, the luxury brand retains its DNA but is presented in several variations in a continually changing society of which the fashion parades were a reflection.

High-profile fashion shows

If I were to retain only one thing about the work of Karl Lagerfeld, it would undoubtedly be his fashion shows. Just as much as his clothes they helped me to forge Chanel’s image and the myth of Lagerfeld’s creative genius. With the latter, the fashion parade has entered a new era. A stereotypical exercise from the outset, Lagerfeld has been able to renew its expression. From a neutral setting to highlight the brand’s creations, the show has become both a showcase for magnifying the creations and (and perhaps most importantly) a context that allowed them to be interpreted. Fabric creations and parade decorations were in resonance.

By choosing the Grand Palais as the theatre for his creations (the word “theatre” is deliberately chosen here), Lagerfeld was able to bring the outside world inside. The context in which the brand was expressed was therefore presented, thus constituting a framework for the Kaiser’s creations. Of all the shows, the one that comes to mind first is undoubtedly the Chanel Shopping Centre in 2014.

Few analyses of this show go beyond the superficial. Because rather than trying to get away with it, we have to ask ourselves questions. How to describe and analyse the Chanel Shopping Centre? Was it yet another mockery, by the genius of Lagerfeld, who thus evoked in a roundabout way the masstige and the trend towards it as a mass product? Or an illustration of the ” popartisation ” of culture? Or, more prosaically, an example of the permeability of luxury in all contexts, even the most common ones, as proposed in this article?

Year after year Chanel has raised the bar, offering fashionistas ever more grand fashion parades. We give you a glimpse of it in the infographic below, a modest tribute to the one who has been able to imprint his label on an entire sector and who has saved a label that we thought had been erased.

The most remarkable Chanel fashion shows

2008 Autumn-Winter Fashion Show

More than 10 years ago, Karl Lagerfeld created a giant carousel for the presentation of the 2008 autumn-winter collection. This was the beginning of the ever more spectacular Made in Karl Lagerfeld fashion shows, which immersed the attendees into an enchanting and fairylike setting and ambience.

2010 Spring-Summer Fashion Show

The 2010 spring-summer collection, which was presented during the show under a very rustic theme, transformed the Grand Palais in Paris into a haystack filled with luminous needles, his models.

2010 Autumn-Winter Fashion Show

It is notably from this year that the creativity and originality of Chanel fashion shows began to become a trademark. Karl Lagerfeld, therefore, seeks to go even further, creating more stunning and fastidious settings ever. For the 2010 autumn-winter collection, the Arctic ice-cap is highlighted. The decor and the outfits presented seem to come straight from the North pole.

2012 Spring-Summer Fashion Show

The 2012 spring-summer collection is under the sign of the underwater world, a new scuba diving experience. The moving decor unveils participants unexpectedly and reflects a real purity dressed in white.

Anniversary Fashion Show in 2013

In 2013, on the occasion of the 90th-anniversary fashion show of Fendi, a famous Italian fashion designer, the newly renovated Trevi Fountain in Rome hosted a most impressive display, with the models standing with their feet in the water.

2013 Pre-Autumn Fashion Show

Gradually, trends are accelerating. While two collections were presented each year, it is now necessary to increase to four or even eight. On the occasion of the presentation of the 2013 pre-autumn collection, the show took place in the famous Linlithgow Palace in Scotland. An all-new atmosphere in the world of haute couture.

2013 Autumn Fashion Show

In continuity, the autumn 2013 collection is then presented to the privileged few in a post-apocalyptic setting. The Grand Palais in Paris was utterly transformed for the occasion and seemed to have suffered a most terrible earthquake.

2014 Pre-Autumn Fashion Show

Karl Lagerfeld is a lover of novelty and never stops discovering and introducing people to new worlds. Thus, the 2014 pre-autumn show is placed under the theme of the West, Westerns, Texas.

2014 Autumn-Winter Fashion Show

The 2014 autumn-winter collection parade marks a turning point for the world of haute couture, as Karl Lagerfeld no longer only shows his collections in original settings, but also integrates them into entire concepts: here, a 100% Chanel shopping centre, featuring many items derived from the brand.

2015 Spring-summer fashion show

Following the popular movements of the moment, Karl Lagerfeld proposes the 2015 spring-summer fashion show in the ” streets ” of the Grand Palais in Paris, breaking once again the ancestral codes of haute couture.

Fall-of-2015 Fashion Show

Whether with models or celebrities, the concept of a fashion show is taken to the extreme. This is the case during the presentation of the fall 2015 collection, which seems to take place in the middle of a famous casino.

2016 Spring-Summer Fashion Show

The parade for the 2016 spring-summer collection announces the discovery of a new horizon. After the exploration of the seabed in 2012, Karl Lagerfeld took his guests into the air, or almost, with a show near the check-in kiosks that can be found in the airports.

2017 Autumn Fashion Show

German and in love with France, and more particularly with Paris, Karl Lagerfeld pays a beautiful tribute to the French capital for the presentation of the 2017 autumn collection by bringing the Eiffel Tower to the Grand Palais in Paris.

2017 Autumn-Winter Fashion Show

A year later, Chanel went even further, to conquer space, with a show under the theme of space discovery, represented by a giant rocket in the middle of the Grand Palais in Paris. This is how the 2017 autumn-winter collection was presented.

2018 Autumn-Winter Fashion Show

Very attached to authenticity and nature, Karl Lagerfeld is putting the 2018 autumn-winter fashion show under the theme of a walk in the forest. The Grand Palais in Paris, as always metamorphosed, was invaded by the fallen leaves and the spirit of the forest.

2019 Spring-Summer Fashion Show

One of his last and always memorable fashion shows was for the 2019 spring-summer collection. For the occasion, the Grand Palais was transformed into a paradisiacal island, Karl Lagerfeld’s childhood island, Sylt’s island. A decoration representing all the beauty of this wild nature: the white, fine sand, the turquoise sea, almost transparent, and the rustic wooden pontoon.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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