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Karl Otto Lagerfeld

Karl Otto Lagerfeld (1933- 2019) On February 19, 2019, the media reported that Karl Lagerfeld had died at age 85. He was one of the world’s most recognized designers in output as well as in his personal appearance with his high starched collars, ponytailed white hair, and dark sunglasses. Lagerfeld’s name appears on many of his own ready-to-wear garments for Chanel that carry his trademark: ‘KL’ and ‘Karl Lagerfeld couture.’ He was a leader in pioneering and alternative movements in jewelry design.

Lagerfeld was born in 1933 in Hamburg, Germany and was the son of businessman Otto Lagerfeld (1881–1967) and his wife Elisabeth Bahlmann (1897–1978). Lagerfeld’s father owned a company that produced and imported evaporated milk, while Karl’s grandfather, Karl Bahlmann, was a local politician for the Catholic Centre Party. His family belonged to the Old Catholic Church.

When she met his father, Lagerfeld’s mother was a lingerie saleswoman from Berlin who married her husband in 1930. Karl’s mother was an aristocrat who knew her way in perfumery and fashion. She had a huge influence on him and his choice of profession.

According to Wikipedia, “Lagerfeld is known to misrepresent his birth year, claiming to be younger than his actual age and to misrepresent his parents’ background. For example, he has claimed that he was born in 1938 to “Elisabeth of Germany” and Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt from Sweden, although these claims have been conclusively proven … wrong”

His father spent his entire life in Germany with no Swedish connection. There is no evidence that his mother called herself, “Elisabeth of Germany.” Lagerfeld also insisted that no one knew his real birth date.

In April 2013, he declared that he was born in 1935. However, a birth announcement was published by his parents in 1933 and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him born in that year. Bild am Sonntag published Karl’s baptismal records in 2008 and interviewed a teacher and a classmate, who both confirmed that Karl was born in 1933. Despite that, Lagerfeld announced publicly that he was celebrating his “70th birthday” on 10 September 2008, despite actually turning 75.

Karl’s family name has been spelled both Lagerfeldt (with the “t”) and Lagerfeld. Like his father, he uses the spelling Lagerfeld, because he considers it “more commercial.” No matter the spelling, Karl’s family was mostly shielded from the deprivations of World War II. This was mostly due to his father’s business connections in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH.

When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, the Lagerfelds moved to a rural area of northern Germany, where, as Karl later recounted, he was cut off from any knowledge about the Nazis.

It wasn’t until his teen years, after his family had returned to Hamburg in 1947, that Lagerfeld immersed himself in the world of fashion. The 14-year-old Lagerfeld made the bold decision, with the blessing of his parents, to move to Paris. After attending private school, Karl finished secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne where he majored in drawing and history.

During this time, he submitted a series of sketches and fabric samples to a competition and, in 1954, his designs won The Wool Secretariat title; first place in the coat category. He also met another winner, Yves Saint Laurent, who would become a close friend.

Soon after winning the prize, Lagerfeld began full time work with French designer Pierre Balmain, first as a junior assistant, and later as an apprentice. It was a demanding position and Karl remained in it for three years.

In 1958, he became chief designer for the house of Jean Palou and was also, briefly, a freelance designer for several Paris companies before becoming a designer for Chloé with whom he was associated from 1959 to 1982.

While he worked with Chloé, he was also designing furs and other fashion accessories for the Fendi of Italy Collection of clothing, apparel, handbags, wallets, luggage, shoes and sunglasses. Many of these items were sold in Fendi Boutiques, Saks Fifth Ave., and Neiman Marcus.

It was not until 1961 that Karl made a move to strike out on his own while continuing to design for the firms with which he’d made his first connections.

His skirts for the 1960 spring season were the shortest in Paris and the collection was not well received. Carrie Donovan wrote that it, “looked like clever and immensely saleable ready-to-wear, [but] not couture.”

For his late 1960 collection, he designed little hats that were pancake shaped circles of satin that hung on the cheek. He called them “slaps in the face.” This collection was well received but not groundbreaking.

“I became bored there, too, and I quit and tried to go back to school, but that didn’t work, so I spent two years mostly on beaches—I guess I studied life,” he said.

In 1963, Karl began designing for Tiziani, a Roman couture house that was founded that year by Evan Richards of Jacksboro, Texas. It began as couture then branched out into ready-to-wear, bearing the label, Tiziani-Roma—Made in England. Lagerfeld and Richards jointly sketched the first collection.

“When they wound up with 90 outfits, Tiziani threw caution … to the winds, borrowed Catherine the Great’s jewels from Harry Winston, and opened [their] salon with a three-night wingding,” according to one report in 1969.

Lagerfeld designed for Tiziani until 1969. Elizabeth Taylor was a fan of the label and began wearing the outfits in 1966. Gina Lollobrigida, Doris Duke, and Princess Marcella Borghese were also customers while Lagerfeld designed for the line. When Lagerfeld left, he was replaced by Guy Douvier (1928–1993).

Early in his freelance association with French fashion house Chloé, Karl designed a few pieces each season. As more and more pieces were incorporated into Chloé’s lines, he was soon designing the entire collection.

In 1970, he also began a brief design collaboration with Roman haute-couture house Curiel whose founder was Gigliola Curiel and who had died in late 1969. Lagerfeld’s first collection for Curiel was described as having a, “drippy drapey elegance” [as if it were] designed for a 1930s cinema queen.” Curiel mannequins all wore identical short-cropped blonde wigs and were also dressed in black velvet shorts, worn under a black velvet ankle-length cape.

Since the 1970s, Lagerfeld occasionally worked as a costume designer for theatrical productions. He collaborated with stage directors and designed for theaters including Milan’s La Scala (“Les Troyens”), the Burgtheater in Vienna (“Komödie der Verführung” by Arthur Schnitzler), and the Salzburg Festival.

In 1975, Lagerfeld started his own company labeled Parfums Lagerfeld and, in 1984, started designing his own lines of fashion items and accessories.

In 1983, he became the head designer and artistic director for the house of Chanel where he revitalized the famous label. His own lines of fashion items included jewelry under the Karl Lagerfeld name with “KL” engraved in script and with some items having a fan design embedded on the back of earrings. There was also a “Karl Lagerfeld, Paris” identifier (a gold-tone metal tag that appeared on jewelry.) A relief of a head logo may also appear on some jewelry pieces.

In his early years in Paris and into 1980s and 1990s, Lagerfeld designed high end necklaces, chains, bracelets, pins/brooches, and earrings to complement his clothing designs. These consisted of embedded pearls and semi-precious stones in base metals of gold-tone, silver-tone, sterling silver and vermeil.

Lagerfeld’s authentic pieces of vintage jewelry, made in Paris in his early years have also surfaced recently along with the new items he produced until his passing.

Victoire de Castellane was Lagerfeld’s assistant for jewelry at Chanel. She came to her job through her uncle Gilles Dufour, who was Lagerfeld’s primary assistant at Chanel and who previously worked for Fendi.

Classical and elegant watches, designed by Lagerfeld also are part of the Lagerfeld image and worn by many women around the world.

Original watches are made of stainless steel. The dials are graced with very thin hands. Apertures for the date are placed at different hour marks with the Karl Lagerfeld logo prominently placed as part of the watches’ decoration.

Watch models are supplied with straps of different colors or stainless steel bracelets. There are also round-and square shaped cases in Lagerfeld’s collections.

There is a very unusual model whose case is squared with another case of a round shape placed inside the squared case. The dial of this watch is white, supplied with two hands, and hour marks are Roman at the “12”, “3”, “6” and “9” positions. There is an encrustation with precious gems at the other hour marks. The case is gilded.

Karl Lagerfeld timepieces are on the less expensive side, with current top prices at about $600. The most unique new watch is for women and is called the Karl Zip collection. These watches can have their width expanded using a zipper connected section. Pyramid-shaped studs are placed on the leather straps and, while the dial for time is small, it is there. Deemed a good fashion piece, it is not ideal for telling time although it is such a distinctive Lagerfeld design that it has proved popular.

Designs from Karlhaus appear to be heavily inspired by Dior and Calvin Klein timepieces. The Karl 7 is like a sort of baby Dior timepiece. Lagerfeld’s main timepieces are in the Karl 7, Karl Chain, and Karl Energy collections. Each has items for both men and women, with most being black or white with some hints of gold or red tones. There is a starkness to the design that appealed to Karl who was known to avoid color.

The Karl Chain collection has a design that has the case look as though a chain is going around it. Some of the Karl Chain watches even come on a chain that can be worn around a high-collared neck. Inside the watches are Japanese quartz movements, with the collection ranging from three-hands with subsidiary seconds dial, two hand, and chronograph models.

Through the 1970s and onward, Karl maintained a design contract with the Japanese firm, Isetan to create collections for both men and women through 30 licenses. He also had a lingerie line in the U.S. produced by Eve Stillmann, who was designing shoes for Charles Jourdan and sweaters for Ballantyne.

In 2002, Karl Lagerfeld asked Renzo Rosso, founder of Diesel, to collaborate with him on a special denim collection for the Lagerfeld Gallery. The collection, Lagerfeld Gallery by Diesel, was co-designed by Lagerfeld and then developed by Diesel’s creative team under Rosso’s supervision.

It consisted of five pieces that were presented at the designer’s catwalk shows during Paris Fashion Week then sold in highly limited editions at the Lagerfeld Galleries in Paris, Monaco, and at the Diesel Denim Galleries in New York and Tokyo.

During the first week of sales in New York, more than 90% of the trousers were sold even though prices ranged from $240 to $1,840. In a statement after the show in Paris, Rosso said: “I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear.”

In his later years, Lagerfeld, whose interests crossed over into film and photography, continued to maintain a busy schedule. In 2011 he designed a line of glassware for the Swedish company Orrefors. That same year, he signed on to create a new clothing collection for Macy’s. In 2015 he opened up his first Karl Lagerfeld store in Doha, Qatar.

In 2000 Lagerfeld opened his Gallery in Paris and his own publishing house called “7L”. In 2003 he wrote and published a book called “the Diet of Karl Lagerfeld” and began perfume production.

In 2007, at the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, a movie directed by Rodolphe Marconi called “Lagerfeld Confidential” was first seen.

In France, in 2010, Karl Lagerfeld was decorated with the “Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur” for his contribution to culture and art.

In 2016, Lagerfeld, the designer behind basically half of fashion for the last 30 years, joined forces with jewelry manufacturer Frederick Goldman Inc. to create the first ever Karl Lagerfeld bridal and fine jewelry line. The first collection of the line was focused on engagement and wedding rings and has been tailored to markets in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK.

In early 2017, Lagerfeld introduced his fashion jewelry tie-in with Swarovski. The collection, planned for an autumn release, split into three visual groups. The Ikonic line boasts an edgy, rock-influenced aesthetic. It includes a charm “program,” ear jackets, asymmetrical necklaces and pendants.

The Klassic Karl line used Lagerfeld’s signature as a design feature and also included odes to his famous pet cat, Choupette. The Essentials line included more classic designs with crystalized chains and celestial pieces.

The tie-in went on sale in September 2017 at Swarovski Crystal Worlds retail locations, Karl Lagerfeld stores,, and select retailers. Prices ranged from 50 euros, or about $54, to 250 euros, or about $270. The brand still plans to offer two main collections per year, featuring necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

Karl Lagerfeld’s expanding network included over 80 mono-brand points of sale worldwide, plus a premium wholesale presence in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The global women’s flagship store on reaches 96 countries and reflects Lagerfeld’s expertise in consumer engagement through digital innovation.

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