December 20, 2017 by Chris Kilkus
When Karl Came to Chanel
Karl Lagerfeld is almost as synonymous with Chanel as Coco Chanel herself at this point, but there was a time when the now legendary designer was nervously working on his first Chanel collection, Couture for fall 1983. This being the notoriously work-centric Lagerfeld, he was toiling simultaneously for Chloé and Fendi and “myriad other clients,” and told WWD’s then staffer Christopher Petkanas that he was “delighted” to be working 16 hours a day. Not much has changed on that front as the infamously productive designer still heads up multiple houses, including Fendi and his namesake line, but when he first joined Chanel, only part time initially, he wasn’t met with particularly open arms.
Petkanas alludes to a Cold War with a “smiling surface” between Chanel staffers and Lagerfeld’s implants, like his former assistant Hervé Leger, who was tapped to help design ready-to-wear, and former model Mercedes Robirosa, who was brought in to “jazz up” the house’s press office.
Lagerfeld made it through any tensions — and overcame his frustrations with the slow production pace of couture — and yanked Chanel into the Eighties with his first designs pulling inspiration from the Twenties and Thirties, while decidedly ignoring Chanel’s “comeback” era of the