Take a look at the best of Karl Lagerfeld’s pioneering and irreverent campaigns for Chanel, as photographed by the designer himself.
Hired as Chanel’s Artistic Director for Fashion in 1983, Lagerfeld set about reviving the House with bold designs that drew, precisely, on the House’s lineage and the image and experiences of its eponymous founder. He also took a meticulous interest in how his designs were imaged and distributed. Dissatisfied with many of the results, he began to photograph the collections himself, issuing his first press kit in 1987.
From then until his passing in 2019, Lagerfeld the photographer and Lagerfeld the designer worked in unison in a strictly choreographed sequence of creation, image, and distribution. He worked with a large team, but the vision — the concept, composition and colouring — of each shoot was his. From Chanel: The Karl Lagerfeld Campaigns, we take a look at some of his best shots.
From the start of his photographic work for Chanel, Lagerfeld frequently reinterpreted elements of the Chanel “legend”, in particular locations dear to Gabrielle Chanel. This image of Helena Christensen is shot in Deauville, Normandy, the chic seaside town where Chanel opened a boutique in 1913. Boating jackets, sailor stripes, and the colour of Normandy’s impressionist skies were all formative influences on the Chanel style.
While Paris and the French coastal resorts were mainstay locations for Lagerfeld’s shoots, he also photographed in Berlin, his native Hamburg, and on the northern islands of Sylt and Rügen in Germany. Here, Claudia Schiffer poses in the heart of recently reunified Berlin in a collection defined by a Germanic palette, military-styled jackets, leather, and gold chains.
“It’s all about freedom and fun after gloomy years,”said Lagerfeld, debuting his futuristic ski-ready collection of neon colours, micro hemlines, and fake fur. The collection’s acid shades were matched by crisp photography, prioritizing the legibility of shape, texture, and the ever more present CHANEL brand name.
As digital hit the fashion photography mainstream, Lagerfeld was quick to embrace the new technology, while retaining a meticulous interest in the granular texture of his campaign images. Together with his assistant Eric Pfrunder, he explored a variety of traditional printing techniques to achieve a particular photographic quality, including vintage finishes. Spring / Summer 1998 saw Milla Jovovich in rich sepia tones, modelling a 1920s-inspired collection of richly-embroidered flapper dresses and tulle hairnets embellished with diamanté and crystals.
Another walk in Gabrielle Chanel’s footsteps as Stella Tenant models in Biarritz, the chic Atlantic coast resort where Coco spent time during the late 1910s and early 1920s, and opened her first couture house in 1915. Lagerfeld himself owned a 1920s villa in the town from the 1990s to early 2000s. Line, light, and dark, matte fabrics define the shoot, where Lagerfeld’s self-described “graphic attitude” adjoin his fascination for the alternating densities of a black-and-white palette.
Kinetic compositions and hyper saturation for the “Data Center” collection, the “intimate technology” line debuted at the Grand Palais in Paris. The event followed years of increasingly elaborate Chanel sets, where Lagerfeld’s photography was an integral part of a vast, multimedia communication system. Lagerfeld described the Data Center collection, with its boucle jackets like pixelated screens and an LED-illuminated Chanel bag, as testimony to the “timeless and immortal” fashion house.
A plain backdrop and laid-back styling foreground the extravagant and bejewelled textures of the ‘Paris Cosmopolite’ collection, showcasing the extraordinary work of Chanel’s craft ateliers. Once again, the line looked back to Gabrielle herself, who made the Ritz her home and died there in 1971. The collection featured luxurious embroideries inspired by the hotel décor and atmosphere. “For me, it’s a certain idea of Paris: Gabrielle Chanel, the Ritz, the Hemingway Bar. This is the kind of Paris everyone would like to bring back,” said Lagerfeld.
Words by Eliza Apperly.