Two weeks ago, fashion lost one of its greatest icons: Karl Lagerfeld. And though his personal legacy can be debated, Lagerfeld was a potent force in the fashion community for over 60 years. He bore a natural talent for design, beginning his work and receiving his first accolade at the age of twenty-one. Over the course of his colorful career, Lagerfeld’s work was both beloved and controversial. He wasn’t afraid to share his perspective or take an avant-garde approach. As a creator and connoisseur of design, it comes as no surprise that Lagerfeld had an appreciation for timepieces. The models in his watch collection perfectly illustrate the way he lived his life and conducted his work. Here, we celebrate one of the most influential members of the fashion community and the watches he wore.
The Early Years
Lagerfeld showed interest in fashion at an early age. As a child, he’d analyze people’s outfits and read fashion magazines in his spare time. In 1954, at age twenty-one, he submitted his sketches and fabric samples to a competition and took first place. Soon after, he landed his first job as a junior assistant and later apprentice for Pierre Balmain. In 1957, Lagerfeld scored his first job as an artistic director for Jean Patou. He also became one of the first freelancers in the fashion industry, designing collections for brands like Chloe, Fendi, and Valentino.
Lagerfeld ultimately built his career working as a designer for hire, never committing to a single brand. His work as the artistic director for Chanel in the 1980s was pivotal for both Lagerfeld and the brand. The Chanel brand was suffering after the passing of their founder, Coco Chanel, in 1971. Lagerfeld breathed life into the company. He revamped their ready-to-wear line and turned their interlocking “CC” initials into one of the most famous brand logos.
His success with Chanel inspired him to launch his own namesake brand in 1984. Shortly after, he expanded his work into the field of photography and began shooting his own campaigns. In the decades to follow, Lagerfeld continued to broaden the scope of his work to include a number of projects. He illustrated a version of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. He launched his own publishing company and bookshop specializing in publications about visual art and photography. In addition, he broke into costume and interior design as well as watch design in collaboration with Fossil. However, Lagerfeld’s own watch collection consisted of a few more luxury pieces.
Karl Lagerfeld was famous for wearing one watch: an all-black Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The story of the Royal Oak and its designer, Gerald Genta, so closely aligns with Lagerfeld’s. The model is totally one-of-a-kind and cutting-edge. Its design has been polarizing yet garnered a cult following. The Royal Oak is one of the most instantly recognizable watches, much like Lagerfeld’s signature black sunglasses and contrasting white hair. Like Lagerfeld, Genta was one of the first designers for hire in the watch industry. Similarly, he never settled with a particular brand but instead went where the work was interesting.
Lagerfeld’s unique variation of the model is a customized version of the highly coveted A-Series Royal Oaks. It features a PVD-treated black case and bracelet. The method to create this look is becoming commonplace today. However, it was one of the first watches to display the all-black technique and design when it debuted in the 1970s. There’s one other thing about Lagerfled and his Royal Oak that’s interesting to note. All photo evidence of him wearing the watch shows him sporting it on the outside of his sleeve or cuff.
In 2015, Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive, famously gifted Lagerfeld a custom 18-karat yellow gold Apple watch. However, rumor has it that Lagerfeld never set the watch up. Instead, he wore it simply as a bracelet. Soon after, the term “Lagerfelding” emerged to describe a person wearing a dead Apple watch. We like to think of Lagerfeld’s quirky use of the Apple watch as glowing endorsement to the watch industry. Any watch guy is our guy, and Lagerfeld is one we’re certainly going to miss.