Karl Lagerfeld once worked with H&M to make fashion more approachable, but he said he was ultimately let down by the giant retailer

  • Iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died aged 85 early Tuesday morning.
  • Lagerfeld was best known for being the creative director of Chanel. He also designed for Fendi and his own namesake brand.
  • In 2004, he launched a collection with H&M to make his designs more accessible. It sold out almost instantly.

Karl Lagerfeld was widely considered one of the most, if not the most, iconic fashion designers of our time.

On Tuesday, Paolo Righi, the CEO of Karl Lagerfeld, mourned the loss of the brand’s former leader, who died earlier that day in Paris.

“The world has lost an icon,” he said in a statement. “Karl Lagerfeld was a creative genius; he was influential, curious, powerful, and passionate. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the greatest designers of our time.”

Lagerfeld’s career in the fashion industry spanned seven decades; he will be best known for designing for some of the most exclusive brands on the market including Chanel, Fendi, and his own namesake brand. What is lesser known, however, is that Lagerfeld also made a brief foray into the fast-fashion world as he attempted to make his work more accessible to the mass market.

In November 2004, Lagerfeld launched a collection with fast-fashion retailer H&M. These items, which included T-shirts with Lagerfeld’s face cartooned onto them ($US19.90) and a sleek sequin jacket ($US129), cost a fraction of the price of his previous designs and were sold at stores across Europe and the US.

It sold out almost instantly.

“We’ve been operating this business for some 60 years and we’ve never seen anything like it,” Jörgen Andersson, who was H&M’s marketing director at the time, told WWD in 2004. “We are as surprised as the customer.”

A month later, H&M announced that worldwide sales were up by 24%; a spokesperson told The Guardian the chain was “very pleased” with demand for these designs.

The same could not be said for Lagerfeld, however. In an interview with German magazine Stern, as referenced by Vogue, he accused the retailer of “snobbery.”

“It was great to work with the people at H&M as we all helped each other to make it a success,” he said. “But the incomprehensible decisions of the management in Stockholm have taken away any desire to do it again. They did not make the clothes in sufficient quantities.”

He continued: “I find it embarrassing that H&M let down so many people… I don’t think that is very kind, especially for people in small towns and countries in eastern Europe. It is snobbery created by anti-snobbery.”

But H&M stands by its decision to keep it relatively exclusive with less inventory. In a statement emailed to Business Insider on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the brand said: “Our designer collaborations are always meant to surprise our customers. They are meant to be unique and limited collections. We always want to keep up the momentum and surprise factor of the collaborations which is why we partner with a new designer every year.”

Since its first designer collaboration with Lagerfeld, H&M has partnered with a host of high-end labels including Versace, Balmain, and Stella McCartney.

On Tuesday, H&M’s creative advisor, Margareta van den Bosch, released a statement that reflected on her time working with Lagerfeld.

“It saddens me to hear that Karl has passed away, he will be greatly missed,” she said. “He remains an icon and his contribution to fashion cannot be underestimated. I fondly remember the first meetings we had when discussing the collaboration H&M did with him in 2004.”

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