Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy for the Opera

The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who brought a flagging brand called Chanel back to life in the early 1980s and turned it into one of the most powerful luxury brands in the world, has died on February 19.

Famous for his dark sunglasses, snowy ponytail, and black suits, Lagerfeld was prolific, seemingly indefatigable. At the end of his career, he was simultaneously the creative head of Chanel, the Italian fashion house Fendi, and his own eponymous brand. In addition to producing multiple collections per year for each label, Lagerfeld was a photographer – shooting many of Chanel’s advertising campaigns himself – a book publisher and a costume designer for opera, ballet, theatre and film.

The collaboration between Kaiser Karl and the Italian director Luca Ronconi was very prolific: in 1980, Lagerfeld created the costumes for Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann at Teatro Comunale in Firenze while in 1982 the stylist was entrusted with the costumes for Berlioz’s Les  Troyens at Teatro alla Scala in Milano. “Here the references to the ancient world are obvious: in some elements of the scenography, especially in the costumes of Karl Lagerfeld, suggested by original Phoenicians and Cretans, who have to give body to the so cherished, almost revived antiquity, by Berlioz” – said Ronconi in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in 1982.

Les-Troyens, costume for Dido by Karl Lagerfeld, Teatro alla Scala 1982
Les-Troyens, costume for Dido by Karl Lagerfeld, Teatro alla Scala 1981

In 2009, Lagerfeld was the costumes designer for Bellini’s Norma at Opéra de Montecarlo with the direction of Jean-Christophe Maillot and Hasmik Papian as Norma, Béatrice Uria Monzon as Adalgisa.


The Metropolitan Opera opened its 125th anniversary season (in 2008) on a gala evening with a Renée Fleming showcase. For the first time in the evening, it was quite literally, for Ms. Fleming. She was featured in three favorite roles: Violetta in Act II of Verdi’s Traviata; Manon in Act III of Massenet’s Manon; and the Countess in the final scenes of Strauss’s Capriccio. To lend an extra touch of diva dazzle to the evening, the Met commissioned three renowned fashion designers to create Ms. Fleming’s costumes: Christian Lacroix for Traviata, Karl Lagerfeld for Manon and John Galliano for Capriccio.

Lagerfeld created a robe battante of silk faille and lace with a black cape fur-trimmed hood. Fabulous diamond earrings necklace and bracelets from Fred Leighton.

Renee Fleming as Manon, costume by Karl Lagerfeld, Metropolitan Opera 2008
Renee Fleming as Manon, costume by Karl Lagerfeld, Metropolitan Opera 2008





Photos: Francesco Maria Colombo, Alain Hanel, Ruby Washington/NY Times

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