From transforming the Grand Palais to conceptual wonderlands to bringing the runway to iconic landmarks, Karl Lagerfeld’s shows have all been spectacular and worth remembering.
Runway shows are always either one of two things: straightforward or straight-up spectacular. Both options have already been explored by Karl Lagerfeld himself with shows for brands whose creatives he had led—Chanel and Fendi. Among all those he has exhibited, the most unforgettable ones are those with set designs that will be a little too hard for us to forget. Hard as it may seem, we have compiled 11 of the greatest Karl Lagerfeld shows ever. From transforming spaces to powerful messages behind it, Kaiser Karl has definitely changed runway presentations for the better forever.
Fendi Great Wall of China Show Fall/Winter 2007
While you may think that most of Karl’s shows happen at the Grand Palais, modifying it to whichever concept he deems appropriate for the collection, he once held a show at a 2,000-year-old world heritage site: The Great Wall of China. The iconic landmark stretches 4,500 miles long and is visible from space, a whole different scale even for the expanse the brand’s reach.
Never mind the year-long preparation and delays from getting a permit to hold the show, the production (worth over $10M) still pushed through. Held during the sunset at the Juyongguan Pass, the elevated runway overlooked the Guangou Valley, 88 looks walked down for Fendi’s FW07 runway presentation. But the spectacle doesn’t end at that. After the last look, Lagerfeld switched the lights and revealed a gigantic double-F Fendi logo projected onto the mountains.
Chanel Fall/Winter 2010
One would think, a designer may have sat in his office wondering if he can hold a fashion show in the arctics. With the idea a little too wild even for one Karl Lagerfeld, this was a concept that didn’t seem to slip off of his creative mind. He must have thought, “if I can’t bring the show to the arctic, then I will bring the arctic to my show.” What do we know? Real-life Scandinavian icebergs flourished the Grand Palais in Paris for Chanel’s FW10 show.
The show featured faux fur coats, jumpsuits, chunky knitted sweaters, and shaggy snowboots fitting for the show’s set. Models Freja Beha Erichsen, Coco Rocha, and Lara Stone also walked in the show making it even more iconic than it already is.
Chanel Spring/Summer 2012
Where did Lagerfeld’s mind take him when brainstorming for a concept? For Chanel’s SS12 collection, it took him under the sea, complete with gigantic corals and seashells spread around the cleanest ocean you’ll ever be in. Transparent bubbles lined the walls to complete the underwater feel for the show. But what’s a concept if the models are not one with it? The models walks down the CC bed with wet buns embellished with mermaid-like pearls around it.
The show ended with Florence + The Machine’s vocalist Florence Welch emerging from a giant seashell, singing a harp arrangement of their 2011 single “What The Water Gave Me”. We’ve completely forgotten about Atlantis with this show in existence.
Chanel Spring/Summer 2013
“The wind and the sun are free,” Karl Lagerfeld told Vogue Runway when asked about that night’s runway concept. The runway, made out of solar panels with 50-feet tall wind turbines in the middle, stretches long enough for us to say that it’s probably the longest runway we’ve seen a model walked so far. That set, though, was more than just Karl’s admiration for architectural modernism. It was a good sweep of the wind to tell the viewers about renewable energy.
“Energy is the most important thing in life,” Lagerfeld later adds. “The rest comes later.” Coming from a man whose visions transcend to the future, the message is a lot more powerful than we think. How he sees the future goes beyond the realm of fashion but through the means of how his creations are brought to actuality.
Chanel Fall 2013 Haute Couture
A bombed out theater with the curtains of its seared proscenium arch revealing the post-modernistic architecture—this show hit hard not only with its appearance but also with the message crumbled with it. Chanel’s FW13 couture show was more than just a dusty aftermath of what seemed to be a step towards civilization. Once again, Lagerfeld has looked into what the future may look like, displaying his visions in ways we’ll discern ourselves.
The audience once again gave in to the illusion of what Lagerfeld compelled them to be in. Glittering sequins contrasted the eerie feel of the show yet reflected the skyscrapers far beyond the stretch. The ruins was the first to witness traditional elegance with post-apocalyptic unease.
Chanel Fall/Winter 2014
The world is a supermarket—or maybe it’s a lot deeper than that. Consumerism? We’ve finally seen Karl Lagerfeld command the Grand Palais to believe they’re in the world’s chicest supermarket. Shelves stacked with all the basics of what any supermarket would contain—fresh produce, toiletries, canned and processed goods, not to mention half-empty shopping baskets—models walked the runway (or shall we say aisles) in a variety of silhouettes, much like what we see in any grocery aisle.
With the double-C plastered in each and every product, these goods are definite must-haves. Hoarders would definitely flock this store and sweep the shelves clean. We didn’t need to imagine this as the attendees did take on the products displayed and cleaned the shelves empty like their lives depend on it.
Chanel Spring/Summer 2015
In the time of social awakening, a lot of brands have taken their own steps in assuring consumers that they are one with the revolution. One of those brands is Chanel. For their SS15 show, Karl Lagerfeld organized an enormous feminist march for women’s rights. Of course, it wasn’t only the march that set the show’s mood. Lagerfeld, with his attention to detail, made sure the set was realistic enough and included little puddles on the detailed concrete ground.
The march ended with Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen leading the women, complete with megaphones on their hands. Placards like “History is Her Story”, “Ladies First”, and “Women’s Rights Are More Than Alright” are held by models as they take the final walk with Lagerfeld himself. The show sparked interest with the media (I mean, when do they never).
Fendi Roma 90th Anniversary
Fendi’s 90th anniversary called for a grand celebration and with Karl on the lead for creatives, he found it rightful to hold the anniversary show at the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome. Standing 26.3 meters high and 49.15 meters wide, the fountain bore witness to the grand spectacle. Being the biggest Baroque fountain in the city, it was a little hard for the team to secure a permit to hold the show on it. Just 24 hours before the show did they get the actual papers to proceed. Come to think of it, if they were successful enough to hold a show at the Great Wall, presenting a collection at the Trevi Fountain shouldn’t be that impossible.
Of course, Fendi took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and did the show on the fountain itself. No near it, not around it. It wasn’t just a background—it was, in fact, the stage for the runway presentation. Everyone was given coins to make a wish at the fountain (including Karl who threw his coin for his final bow) and a Fendi fan (the temperature around that time hit 38°C).
Chanel Spring/Summer 2016
There must be something about Karl Lagerfeld and flying. It can be remembered that he once held a show at a Santa Monica plane hangar with two Chanel branded jets to complete the set and another one that’s held at a perfect Airbus A380 replica for the brand’s Spring 2012 Couture show. For Chanel’s SS16 show, as if to complete the list of what it needs to fly out, Chanel Airlines was revealed. We’ve had a hangar, a plane, and then a full-functioning airport complete with ticketing agents and check-in counters.
Chanel branded luggage carts can also be seen around the set. Guests also had to sit at the world’s most uncomfortable seats—boarding gate seats—all due to Lagerfeld’s attention to detail. The chicest airport anyone have seen—anyone could label the show as such. If only it was real…
Chanel Fall/Winter 2017
“Is Lagerfeld flying us to the moon?” WWD Executive Editor Booth Moore tweeted, showing the invitation to Chanel’s FW17 show in Paris. Much as we’ve expected an actual moon transportation to happen, the show was (of course) held at the Space Station en Grand Palais. Maybe even a moon landing is a little too extravagant for Kaiser Karl so he worked on what he had—he literally launched a rocket albeit rising only a few meters up.
From a plane hangar, an actual plane, a fully functional airport—Lagerfeld takes “flying out” to a whole new level. The collection stayed true to the concept with silver glittery moon boots and, yes, space blankets. Together with his godson Hudson Kroenig, Lagerfeld pushed the blast off button signaling the launch of the Chanel-branded rocket with Elton John’s Rocketman on the background.
Chanel Spring/Summer 2019
Picking 10 shows was tough and we simply had to add this in the list. Aside from the fact that this was Lagerfeld’s last show appearance (at which he took the final walk with his successor, Virginie Viard), the show was also just one of the many stunts we thought was impossible. But if Chanel was able to launch a rocket, bring real-life icebergs, and turn Grand Palais to a supermarket, what’s turning the venue to a beach? Sandy shores and real water (waves and all) turned the show to a beach-side runway presentation. The tropical skies only added to the feel of the concept, forcing guests like Simon Porte Jacquemus and Pamela Anderson to dip their bare toes on the sand and water. Now that’s one hell of a throwback for Pam’s Baywatch days.
Lagerfeld emerges from a tiki hut with Viard as the models walked by the shore. The blissful show was like a mini vacation for everyone at the show (including the models). The carefree feel of the whole show was indeed a memorable one and deserves a rightful recognition.