Karl Lagerfeld’s Genius

The worlds of fashion and culture lost a giant with the passing of Karl Lagerfeld this week.  I was struck by this passage in his New York Times Obituary:

His contribution to fashion was not in creating a new silhouette, as designers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel herself did.

Rather, he created a new kind of designer: the shape-shifter.

That is to say, he was the creative force who lands at the top of a heritage brand and reinvents it by identifying its sartorial semiology and then pulls it into the present with a healthy dose of disrespect and a dollop of pop culture.

This seems to describe any great marketer. The process is never easy, but I would argue that it’s more difficult for legacy brands than new ones. The former are saddled with baggage that will always get in the way as they try to evolve. It was Lagerfeld’s genius to understand and retain a brand’s foundational equities while adapting to new users and new times.

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