5 Fragrance Moments from Karl Lagerfeld

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Lagerfeld in 1985, with a bottle of KL fragrance.

Karl Lagerfeld died last week, on February 19, 2019, at the age of 85. Lagerfeld was probably one of the first fashion designers I knew by name, thanks to the prominent ads for Chloé that appeared in my mother’s copies of W magazine—favorite reading material for pre-teen me.

There are plenty of obituaries and features that give a comprehensive overview of his life and work. This post, however, is just a look at five perfume-related moments of his career…

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Under Lagerfeld’s creative direction from 1964 to 1983 and then again from 1992 to 1997, Chloé became known for—in the words of Vogue UK—“bold prints on flowing dresses that were confident, fun and liberating.”

In 1975, after working with with the global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to establish Parfums Lagerfeld, Lagerfeld launched his first perfume—Chloé. The perfumer behind this fragrance was Betty Busse.

Chloé was a lush, head-turning bouquet of white florals and woodsy musk. Just like Lagerfeld’s designs for the house of Chloé, it was romantic but certainly not shy—perfect for the age of second-wave feminism.

The bottle, with its cap of frosted-glass calla lilies, was designed by Joe Messina. It was a perfect match for the décor of many late-70s and 80s dressing tables and bedrooms.

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An advertisement for Sun Moon Stars featuring actress Darryl Hannah (1995)

Sun Moon Stars

For the 1990s, on the other hand, Parfums Lagerfeld offered a fragrance more in tune with the decade’s interest in New Age spirituality.

Master perfumer Sophia Grojsman created Sun Moon Stars, launched by Lagerfeld in 1994; it was a fruity-floral oriental composition presented in a spherical, cobalt blue bottle embossed with stars, a radiant sun, and a crescent moon. Lagerfeld designed the bottle in collaboration with Susan Wick.

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A vintage Dans La Nuit ad with the blue Lalique bottle, via Cleopatra’s Boudoir

The bottle has long reminded me of the classic Lalique flacon for Worth’s Dans La Nuit (circa 1924). I’ve often wondered whether Lagerfeld, with his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and visual culture, took that bottle as his inspiration.

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Here’s a press shot of Lagerfeld signing autographs at a 1994 promotional event for Sun Moon Stars at Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Lagerfeld Photo

Lagerfeld also released a number of masculine fragrances, beginning with Lagerfeld in 1978.

The flanker Lagerfeld Photo, released in 1990, interests me less for its scent (a conventional but solid fougère, by most accounts) than for its concept. Photo’s ads (featuring a young Claudia Schiffer!) played with scenarios of impromptu photo shoots and images compiled like contact sheets or strips of film.

A fragrance named for technology, not to mention the font inspired by LED lettering (still a relatively “modern” feature in 1990!), was a contrast to all the outdoorsy, rugged men’s colognes like Old Spice, Brut, and Polo that had dominated the market in the 1970s and 1980s.

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In this later repackaging, the LED lettering is emphasized even more, and tiny red and white numerals have been added to box’s camera lens or “zoom ring” design.

Lagerfeld was known for being an early adopter and enthusiastic devotee of new electronic gadgets (he reportedly owned 300 iPods). Even though most of us have shifted from film to digital photography, technology as a tool of seduction is a more timely idea than ever.

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via eBay

Liquid Karl

In 2004, when “masstige” was still a new idea, Lagerfeld collaborated with the retailer giant H&M on a collection of affordable women’s and men’s clothing. It sold out in the blink of an eye.

That collection even included a gender-neutral fragrance titled Liquid Karl (perfumers: Pascal Gaurin and Bruno Jovanovic). Some of giggled at the name when we heard or read it, but looking back, I now realize how aptly Lagerfeld was playing on the then-prevalent obsession with celebrity fragrances—the idea of your favorite singer/athlete/tv star, bottled.


Kapsule (Woody, Floriental, Light)

Another look back at the golden age of perfume bottle design, another envelope-pushing concept: Karl’s Kapsule fragrance collection, launched in 2007. Koty—sorry, Coty—teamed up with Coty to develop a trio of gender-neutral scents simply named for their categories: Woody (created by Olivier Cresp), Floriental (Emilie Coppermann), and Light (Mark Buxton).

Their square bottles were designed by Lutz Herrmann.

Capsule wardrobes? Unisex perfumes? Fragrance layering? Once again, Lagerfeld was ahead of the curve. Again, it can be hard to remember in our era of Le Labo, Glossier, and Jo Malone how forward-thinking Kapsule really was for a mass-market fragrance.

Ybry bottle design and Femme de Paris, via BoxVox

Oh, and those corner-tipped square bottles with the little cube-shaped caps? I can’t help but think that they were a nod to Ybry’s packaging from the 1920s.


There’s more to say, of course, but I’ll stop here and bid farewell to Monsieur Lagerfeld and his far-reaching influence not just on fashion but on fragrance—its concepts, its visual presentations, its ability to evoke past and present moments simultaneously.  Thank you, KL!



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