Editor's Note: Long-time Chanel Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld died at age 85 on February 19, 2019 in Paris. The following is from Inc.'s archives, and showcases the fashion icon's unorthodox rules for success.
Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel, has something of a signature style: The 82-year-old German expat is known for his white ponytail, midnight black sunglasses, and starched collars. When he isn't maintaining the legacy built by Coco Chanel or leading the creative team at Fendi, the entrepreneur himself is designing for his own eponymous label.
Lagerfeld has always been known to set high, uncompromising standards for his fleet of designers. "If you are not a good bullfighter, don't enter the arena," the designer said in a recent interview with Racked.
Since Lagerfeld joined in 1983, Chanel has grown to become the No. 85 most valuable global brand, by Forbes' estimate, its name practically synonymous with high fashion. The powerhouse currently boasts a valuation of nearly $10 billion.
In his latest interview, with Vogue UK, the executive revealed some of his harsh, eclectic, and just straight up bizarre methods:
1. Set the bar as high as you can.
Chanel is a prolific design house, and the fashion shows are always expected to be grandiose. Lagerfeld has hosted shows on cruise ships, most recently the 2016 ready-to-wear collection in Seoul, South Korea, to parade the company's finest.
To keep up with demand, Lagerfeld sets high standards for every person on his design team. He is confident that it is the most effective way to bring the brand to the next level.
"If you [the designer] think it's too many, you don't take those contracts [with the company,]" he told Vogue in a recent interview.
2. Keep up with popular culture.
To his credit, the designer makes a point of iterating on popular trends in culture and technology.
For instance, at Chanel's casino-themed fashion show this year, Lagerfeld told Vogue he was especially excited about a 3D printed jacket -- complete with Chanel's signature quilting. "The idea is to take the most iconic jacket of the 20th century and make it in a way that couldn't have been made until the 21st," he said.
The best leaders are willing to step outside of their comfort zone, and take a risk that will turn heads and move the industry forward.
3. Invent over and over again.
Lagerfeld is always thinking of new, potential designs. "I have electronic flashes, it's true," he said in the interview.
Perhaps most significantly, the designer noted that he doesn't stop to question what other people will think, or even what he thinks. Being indecisive gets in the way of the creative process.
"I never ask myself questions. I try to find answers," he said.
4. Be your own teacher.
Lagerfeld admits that he hated being in school. He left at an early age, and went on to win the International Wool Secretariat prize for fashion at the age of 21.
"I like to teach myself. And I'm pretty cultivated," he told Vogue. Lagerfeld devoted himself entirely to the arts and language. Even today -- and despite working late hours -- he says that he starts his mornings early, but will often stay in bed to read or draw.
A creative director's process isn't easy, as evidenced by the fact that Lagerfeld claims he has no social life. Still, there's a method to the madness , and one that's evidently effective.