Mel in Lagerfeld
Ten years ago, my sister and I were spurting off names for my blog. I wanted something unique, that was easy to remember and catchy, and finally she blurted out “Mel in Chanel!” I smacked the palm of my hand to my forehead - it was obvious. Chanel was my favorite designer, and I loved how it rhymed.
Since then, I’ve been honored to carry that name with me wherever I go. Although my blog has taken a backseat to my styling business, from time to time someone will call out: “Hey! It’s Mel in Chanel!” in recognition of my once widely recognized Raleigh fashion blog. The slight lilt and sing-song-y way it easily escapes people’s mouths still brings a smile to my face.
It’s true. Gabrielle Chanel was always my favorite. She was always my answer to the classic icebreaker: “Dead or alive, what famous person would you want to meet?” When I started educating myself about fashion in high school, I was always drawn to her. I read her biographies and looked at dozens of photographs. I would google looks from her early fashion shows. I loved her. Like a storybook heroine, I fell in love with her spunk, her beauty, her unapologetic attitude, her gumption, and her ferocity. Singlehandedly, she changed women’s fashion. She paved a way for a more modern woman and created what has become the most iconic fashion house in history. She was a total fashion badass, and one of the world’s first feminists. However, the more I learned about her, the more real it became that she was no longer with us. She died in 1971, leaving her legacy within her fashion house namesake, Chanel.
Enter Karl Lagerfeld.
Almost a decade after her death, Karl Lagerfeld was designing for Fendi and Chloé when he was offered the job of Chanel’s creative director/designer from Chanel’s chairman, Alain Wertheimer. Later, in an interview with The New York Times, Karl discussed that job offer: “Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge.” He took the job in 1983. Fast forward 10+ more years, I was born in 1992 and Karl Lagerfeld was 10 years into his legacy at the fashion house. For 36 years he has helmed the house, and season after season he respectively paid homage to Chanel herself, and reformed and resuscitated a name that was once written off as ‘dead’. His reign at Chanel is all I have ever known. His skillful design is what attracted me to the french house and made me fall in love with Madame Chanel in the first place. Much like Chanel, he too had gumption, wit, and an unapologetic attitude. He too, was a master designer.
Although my blog name has never been ‘Mel in Lagerfeld’, it might as well have been. Karl Lagerfeld is the one who captivated my young heart. He humbly took on the name of Chanel and gave her 36 more beautiful years. Being trained as a fashion designer, he was my constant source of inspiration - his designs were revolutionary, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring. His fashion shows were magical, a spectacle, and opulent. He was a creative genius, bringing his designs to life through film and imagery, acting also as photographer and creative director for all Chanel advertising. He was a true storyteller and magnificent designer. He was the Michael Jordan, the Michelangelo, the Prince, the Mozart of his craft.
I never met Karl Lagerfeld in person, however while I was studying abroad in Paris I kept searching for his contrasting white hair and black sunglasses. I peeked around corners at the Fendi atelier in Rome, hoping to catch even one second of a glimpse of this man I idolized. It’s crazy to think how a man I have never met has influenced my life so much. Without a great mind like his, I would have never named Mel in Chanel, I would have never studied fashion design, and I would have never become a personal and fashion stylist. What an amazing gift it was to watch this man share his God-given talent with the world. Like Mozart’s music and Michelangelo’s art, he has left his mark on the world for all of us to appreciate for centuries to come. I’ll continue to search for him.