Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity

Karl Lagerfeld’s Legacy


Chic white hair pulled back in a ponytail, 4-inch high white shirt collar, fingerless gloves and ever present aviator sunglasses (“my burqa”). Why, it must be the indefatigable Karl Lagerfeld.

As everyone knows, he took over the House of Chanel in 1983, a little over a decade after Coco Chanel’s death. Since then, he has turned it into a multibillion dollar empire – possibly the most powerful brand in fashion today.

From the beginning, the fashion world wondered how Lagerfeld would manage the tricky task of respecting the legacy that is Chanel’s while keeping the house au courant.

“I play with Chanel’s elements like a musician plays with notes. You don’t have to make the same music if you are a decent musician.”

In this way he has recreated her signature jackets and suits in vibrant colors or by cropping the jacket midriff-revealing short or piling on chains and leather a dominatrix could be proud of. His clever mixture of respect and irreverence have insured that the House of Chanel remains a vibrant force in the fashion world.

But it’s the work he’s done behind the scenes for which all who respect haute couture should be grateful. In 1997 he began acquiring various ateliers specializing in creating the handcrafted elements that make haute couture unique. In 2002, he launched this subsidiary company called Paraffection – which translates as “for the love of” – to preserve and promote their heritage. In this way he’s helped keep alive skills that simply aren’t taught in mainstream fashion schools. Some of these ateliers were headed into bankruptcy, but now they’re thriving. The workshops remain independent, enabling them to continue to work with other fashion houses.

It was a move we would have to characterize as bold, audacious and unafraid. And smart – very, very smart.

The ateliers of Paraffection:

Desrues (est.1929) – creator of costume jewelry and buttons, including the iconic Chanel “double C” logo buttons

Michel (est. 1936) – Maison Michel is world famous for its hats and has helped make anything a model has worn on her head

Lemarié (est. 1880) – suppliers of feathers and fabric flowers

Lesage (est. 1868) – one of the world’s most famous houses of embroidery

Massaro (est. 1894) – custom shoemakers, and the company behind Chanel’s original two-tone black and beige pump.

Goossens (est.1950) – Chanel’s official goldsmith. It’s founder, Robert Goossens was commissioned by Coco Chanel to create Byzantine-inspired pieces to complement her outfits.

Guillet (est.1896) – maker of artificial flowers, employing traditional techniques in sewing, pressing and embossing fabrics to make decorative flowers, including Chanel’s signature camellia.

Montex (est. 1939) – another top embroidery house with a contemporary technique.

Causse (est.1892) – experts in glove making, based in Millau, France’s glove-making capital, employing 40 people and making over 25,000 gloves – including Karl Lagerfeld’s fingerless versions – a year.

Barrie (est. 1870’s) – Scottish knitwear company that’s produced Chanel’s cashmere cardigans for the last 25 years.


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