His dark glasses, silver ponytail and penchant for an acerbic comment made him instantly recognizable outside the fashion world, but Canadian fashion designers saw in Karl Lagerfeld a consummate professional who remained a dominant force in fashion well into his 80s.
As the tributes pour in for Chanel’s longtime creative director, Canadian designers reflected on the combination of work ethic, innovation and a disregard for fads that made Lagerfeld a singular figure in the fashion industry and influenced the way they approached the business.
Great style doesn’t go out of fashion
As the world woke up to the news of Lagerfeld’s death on Tuesday, the flagship store of Pink Tartan clothing in Toronto’s fashionable Yorkville neighbourhood quickly assembled a window display of classic red-and-black Chanel suits in homage to the designer.
“I’ve always been inspired by it,” said the brand’s creative director, Kimberley Newport Mimran. “I actually wore a Chanel suit for my wedding.”
Pink Tartan specializes in classically cut pieces for the working woman, including structured jackets and ladylike dresses— pieces that were also part and parcel of Lagerfeld’s fashion imprint at Chanel.
“It’s always been part of my design ethos because I love the whole idea of ‘Great style doesn’t go out of fashion,'” said Newport Mimran, a popular mantra in fashion that was a guiding principle behind Lagerfeld’s work.
“He had so many great sound bites, such as ‘Being trendy is one step away from being tacky.’ So I just loved his point of view on fashion.”
Taking fashion off the runway
If Lagerfeld’s ability to reinterpret classics without falling victim to fashion’s trends was the key to his success in Newport Mimran’s eyes, fellow Canadian designer Nikki Wirthensohn Yassemi was most impressed by his ability to constantly be inspired by different things.
“Looking ahead was really big for him,” says Wirthensohn Yassemi, who heads the upscale evening wear brand Narces.
“I read about him replacing some of his artwork around his house because he wanted a fresh view all the time.”
Wirthensohn Yassemi also appreciated the way Lagerfeld built his fashion shows around extravagant environments that resembled big-budget Hollywood film sets more than a traditional fashion runway.
For his most recent spring-summer 2019 collection for Chanel, Paris’s historic Grand Palais, built for the 1900 world expo, was transformed into a beach, with models walking down a sandy runway, shoes in hand, waves washing over their feet. There was also a show that took place in a supermarket setting and one in a forest facade.
“Every runway show he had — going from a beach scene, doing incredible flowers, incredible places — it blew everyone’s mind,” says Wirthensohn Yassemi, whose own evening wear and bridal wear shows are often elaborately staged affairs, like the one at WedLuxe earlier this year.
Newport Mimran says she was also inspired by Lagerfeld’s out-of-the-box approach to showing his collections. What she loved best is that the displays were not gimmicks but just extensions of his creative vision.
“He put on the best shows in the world that inspired everybody. But if you get down to the actual style and garments, he pushed it but always made an impeccable piece of clothing.”
Lagerfeld’s Canadian connection
Perhaps surprisingly, given the significant impact he’s had on the Canadian fashion world, Lagerfeld came to this country only once, in the spring of 2015, when he designed the lobbies at Toronto condo development Art Shoppe Lofts.
But, tellingly of his star power and ability to connect with the young, his visit set Instagram ablaze, with young party-goers vying to meet him and take photos with him.
Wirthensohn Yassemi says she hopes she can be as energetic and vibrant as Lagerfeld as she grows older.
“He kept himself active, creative, inspired — it’s so amazing to be that way.”
This story originally appeared on CBC