Karl Lagerfeld's legacy: 'If I hadn't been in fashion, I would have been in advertising'


By John McCarthy | Media editor

February 19, 2019 | 7 min read

Designer and decades-long Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld has died at the age of 85. On Tuesday 19 February the man at the helm of the iconic fashion house passed away in Paris, leading to an outpouring of tributes from prominent creatives.

Although he primarily shaped the fashion industry over his 35 year career with Chanel, he did on occasion lend his sensibilities to brands like Chloe, H&M, Coca-Cola and Magnum and more - when he wasn't getting caught in racist scandals, like condemning Muslims or Eastern Europeans.

The man, who admitted he was a larger-than-life parody of himself, developed bold and surreal work and famously said he may even have worked in advertising if the world of fashion hadn't opened up to him in the way it did.


Karl Lagerfeld dies: 'If I hadn't been in fashion, I would have been in advertising'

The Drum looks back at some of his most memorable collaborations.

H&M: 2004

In 2004, he worked with retailer H&M. In a dramatic film, he challenged fashion snobbery and the outraged aristocracy to promote his affordable fashion line.

It was a bold move from the luxury designer but the partnership ended in a scuffle when he accused the retailer of producing minimal numbers of his designs, a contradiction of his intention to get his designs into the hands of people who may never shop at Lagerfeld Gallery, Chanel or Fendi.

Chanel: 2004

To add an air of exclusivity to its perfume range, Chanel No5 secured the acting talents of Academy Award-winning Nicole Kidman. This love story ad cost at least £18m, and Kidman reportedly pocket a ninth of that. The budget for the four-minute film cost the same as the entire movie Trainspotting. It is to this day, reportedly the most expensive ad ever produced.

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Lagerfeld designed the costumes used in the spot but Baz Luhrmann directed, recycling much of his aesthetic sensibilities in 2001 hit Moulin Rouge.

Luhrmann told The Telegraph he also noticed the similarities: “I can see why they thought that. I'd been working on 'Moulin Rouge!' so long, it was in my bloodstream."

Although not officially led by Lagerfeld, his extravagant sensibilities likely upped that budget to create a film that launched the fashion house's content house long before social video.

Audi: 2007

In 2007, Lagerfeld captured the Audi R8 like he would one of his models. He developed an art calendar entitled 'Kaleidoscopic Vision of a Car' which was shot in the south of France, capturing the car in an unusual manner, using reflections and abstract images.

Volkswagen Golf: 2010

In 2010, he looked to talk up the style of the Volkswagen Golf. This ad laments the lack of German fashion houses as the designer is reminded he is not in Paris anymore. He joked the French cars are "very elegant" before being reminded they are actually German.

Magnum: 2011

He then worked with ice cream giant Magnum, directing a number of short films for the Unilever-owned brand.

It was here he had the notion to create a full-on chocolate hotel suite replete with a chocolate man, perched on the bed.

"It has been an absolute pleasure to design the Magnum Chocolate Suite. My idea was to flirt with a mix of modern and traditional French influences to create something remarkable," he said.

As per the Telegraph, this was "an edible incarnation of Baptiste Giabiconi, the multi-tasking model and pop star who also happens to be Lagerfeld's muse".


He helped launch the Ecuador and Ghana Magnum ice creams, the first to be made with cocoa beans sourced from Rainforest Alliance farms.

The most remarkable aspect of this story is that Lagerfeld told reporters he does not actually eat chocolate.

"My doctor told me that sugar wasn't needed for me so I haven't touched it in ten years. I like chocolate. I don't eat it, but I like the smell of it. People can drink with their eyes; I can eat with my nose. I would love to have a perfume based on chocolate."

Diet Coke: 2011

While he avoided chocolate he reportedly drank a lot of Coke, and noted weight loss after switched for the diet variant.

The brand asked him to design a new line of special edition Diet Coke bottles, a process which led to him saying: "If I hadn't been in fashion, I would have been in advertising."

The bottles adopted his stylings with, as the Independent put it at the time, "motifs of silver polka dots, black diamonds and bold fuchsia swirls drape the bottles and are topped off with hot pink caps".

Chanel: 2014

In 2014, Lagerfeld summoned Pharrell Williams, Cara Delevingne and Géraldine Chaplin for an eight-minute film with an original song composed by Williams called 'CC The World'.

The grand ballroom dance launched the Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 Métiers d'art collection.

Amnesty International: 2014

And finally, a cheeky ad from Amnesty International was given the Lagerfeld approval when the charity used his likeness to raise awareness of torture. It showed a battered Lagerfeld confessing that flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt are the height of fashion. Dalai Lama and Iggy Pop also featured.


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