10 times Karl Lagerfeld stunned the world with his spectacular fashion shows

The most memorable runway sets under the leadership of the fashion icon.

Karl Lagerfeld and model Cara Delevingne appeared at the end of his Autumn/Winter 2014 women's ready-to-wear collection show for Chanel (Photo: Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld received an outpouring of love from fellow designers, celebrities and fans after the news of his death broke in Paris. The German-born Lagerfeld, who passed away at the age of 85, was the creative director of Italian luxury label Fendi for over 50 years, but his name was most associated with French luxury house Chanel, where he served as its creative director for an era-defying 36 years.

'The Kaiser', as he was nicknamed, is known for turning out collections that were as elegant as they were inspiring. But he will be remembered most for bringing a new level of pageantry to every runway he has curated, from the reproduction of the Eiffel Tower to shipping an ice monolith from Scandinavia for his Autumn/Winter 2010 show.

In memory of his larger-than-life legacy, here’s a look back at his 10 most stunning sets that astounded onlookers and inspired many generations to come.


Fendi Autumn/Winter 2007
Location: Great Wall of China

Photo: Lucas Dawson/Getty Images

Lagerfeld was already ahead of the curve when Western brands looked to the east to court consumers. Nearly 10 years before Fendi showed at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Kaiser Karl brought the house to a place no one thought was possible – one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Costing more than US$10 million, and a year’s planning, the show featured 88 looks, an auspicious number associated with prosperity in the Chinese culture.


Chanel Cruise Collection 2008
Location: Santa Monica Airport, California

Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

The likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Diane Kruger and Lady Amanda Harlech flocked to the Santa Monica Airport to see the Chanel Cruise Collection on a literal runway. The Los Angeles airfield was decorated like an exclusive airport lounge, complete with three cocktail bars and personalised flight bags on each seat. Speaking of aviation chic, Lagerfeld brought his audience inside a (faux) plane for his Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2012 show five years later.


Chanel Autumn/Winter 2010
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Photo: Getty Images

To build a polar landscape, Chanel imported 265-tonne iceberg from Scandinavia, sending chills down the runway. Housed in a sealed ‘glacier’ box in sub-zero temperatures, the berg was constructed by 35 ice sculptors who hewed 240 tonnes of ‘snice’ (frozen snow-ice) into a dramatic icescape, reaching 8.5 metres at its highest point. Models paced around the iceberg in special transparent Chanel galoshes on the runway painted with a trompe l’oeil effect, giving the impression of deep ice underneath.


Chanel Spring/Summer 2012
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Photo: Getty Images

Adorned with giant pieces of coral, bubbles of crystal glass and shimmering shells, Chanel’s under-the-sea-themed show looked straight out of a fairytale. The set was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, which evoked an ethereal underwater abode fitting for the ancient goddess Venus. Bringing an iridescent mother-of-pearl shimmer, the all-white underwater odyssey also featured Florence Welch, who sang live during the show and accompanied Lagerfeld on his lap of honour.  


Chanel Autumn/Winter 2014
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

More jaw-dropping sets ensued when Chanel took the idea of experiential to the extreme. Dubbed by editors as the ‘supermarket chic’ parade, the show featured looks comprised of Chanel trainers, leggings and coats. Well-heeled ‘shoplifters’, including pop star Rihanna and model Cara Delevingne, pretended to pilfer household goods before models strutted down the aisles stocked with Chanel-branded goods such as rubber gloves and cornflakes on the shelves.


Chanel Spring/Summer 2016
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Photo: Victor Boyko/Getty Images

How does one make haute couture environmentally conscious? Construct a ‘doll house’ with lush green lawns and make dresses entirely from wild cotton. The nature theme was evident on embroidered dresses, eveningwear and shoes, all of which were paraded by models who walked down the grassy lawn with a relaxed, Zen attitude. Lagerfeld said, “This is high-fashion ecology… It must not look like some sloppy demonstration.”


Fendi Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2016
Location: Trevi Fountain, Rome

Photo: Getty Images

To put forth a fashion blockbuster, nothing commands as much attention as walking on water at Rome’s most historic landmark. And when better to do this than the year of the house’s 90th anniversary? Kendall Jenner opened the show titled Legends and Fairy Tales, a magical story of an enchanted forest populated by beautiful otherworldly creatures. Garments made of lace, organza, feather and intricate embroideries floated across the glass runway. Handmade luxury doesn’t get any more impressive than this. [Trivia: Fendi made a US$2.4 million investment in the restoration of the fountain, demonstrating their dedication of giving back to their home city).


Chanel Autumn/Winter 2017
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Photo: Reuters

For a brand that has travelled from China to Cuba, where else is there to go but up? A double C-embossed rocket (that took off post-finale) was erected in the middle of the room, which was surrounded by a raised silver runway and stadium seating. Models sashayed down the runway in mod ‘60s shift dresses, astronomical prints and glittery boots, all of which paid subtle nods to the great era of space exploration.


Chanel Couture Autumn/Winter 2017
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Photo: Getty Images

An apt homage to the City of Love, Lagerfeld recreated the iconic Eiffel Tower to scale for his couture show for Chanel. Paying tribute to where the luxury fashion label began, the brand dreamt up a range of similarly shaped dresses and coats that alluded to the Parisian landmark.


Chanel Spring/Summer 2019
Location: Grand Palais, Paris

Life truly is a beach, according to Lagerfeld, who turned the Palais into Chanel By The Sea, a getaway complete with a sandy runway, ocean waves, tiki huts and on-duty lifeguard. Models walked barefoot, totting shoes in hand as they sauntered across the beach in oversized straw hats, tweed blazers, print sweaters, vacation-ready swimsuits and elevated bathing suits.


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