5 career learnings from Karl Lagerfeld

In the Netflix documentary, 7 Days Out, Karl Lagerfeld said, “when I first joined Chanel in 1982 people said to me ‘don’t touch it, it’s dead’ and it was, but when I start a line, everything is completely new. I have a tight, precise concept, I stick to it and I stay with it”. His tight, precise concept turned Chanel into a multi-billion-pound luxury brand, and there are undoubtedly some things to be learnt from his legendary career.

Passion is Everything
As we look to his final Fendi AW19 collection showing today at Milan Fashion Week and his Chanel AW19 collection next week in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld literally designed until the end. He famously once said, “I design like I breathe. You don’t ask to breathe. It just happens” and happened it did; retirement was not an option for Karl and his passion was prodigious; excluding his side projects (photography, books etc), KL churned out a total of 15 collections a year for Chanel, Fendi and his own brand.
Learning Lesson: Make sure you’re doing something you’re passionate about. Succeeding in an area or skill-set you’re truly passionate about is a feeling of utmost satisfaction and Karl is the ultimate success story of doing what you love.

Speak Languages
As an international designer communicating with employees, press and industry professionals across Europe, Karl conversed in English, French, German and Italian.
Learning Lesson: If you’re looking to expand your career horizons or work for an international company, then learning an extra language is highly advised if you do not already know one.

Be Tactical
No doubt about it, Karl Lagerfeld was a visionary with a sharp-tongue. His controversial remarks on body image, immigration and the #metoo movement bought him as much attention as his illustrious catwalk shows. However, even the man at the top of the fashion food chain couldn’t evade criticism and negativity.
Learning Lesson: Be aware of political, cultural and social issues that might seem trivial to you but could be deemed inappropriate to other people. In the work place where such sensitive topics might arise, remember to state your view in a way that won’t offend others.

Personal Branding
He was wearing sunglasses since the 80’s and his personal branding only grew stronger. From his black and white attire, pristine white haired pony tail to his beloved cat, Choupette, he portrayed to the world a persona which was unique and instantly recognisable. He said of his image "I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long”.
Learning Lesson: In a professional world, personal branding is everything and you should market your professional self the way you wish your peers to perceive you.

Night-time thoughts
Karl said that he would often dream of his collections and would wake up the next morning and begin sketching his designs. Never switching off, he truly was a master to his own work.
Learning Lesson: It’s known people often have their best ideas when they are falling asleep; keep a pen and paper by your bedside so you don’t forget your night-time thoughts.