The Emperor of Fashion’s New Starts: Creativity and Meaning in Life in Karl Lagerfeld


  • Claude-Hélène Mayer Orcid
  • James L. Kelley


During his lifetime, Karl Otto Lagerfeld (1933–2018) attained such industry renown that he became widely known as the Emperor of Fashion. Lagerfeld ran several fashion houses, such as Chanel and Fendi, leading them to unprecedented profits. He also created his own fashion label. Owing to his unremitting pursuit of excellence through creative expression, Lagerfeld’s creativity, energy and intuition for fashion trends seemed only to expand throughout his long career. The authors suggest that, through his creative approach to fashion, architecture, and publishing, Lagerfeld articulated and refined a core set of values-such as “Bildung,” “lightness” and “the unexpected”—that served as a Diltheyan “nexus” linking the Prussian-born designer with the global consumer. The authors apply two specific creativity theories to Lagerfeld’s life and work, namely the mini-c, little-c, Pro-c and Big-C creativity theory and Sternberg’s WICS-model (wisdom, intelligence and creativity). The article uses a psychobiographical case study design formulated according to a research paradigm of modern hermeneutics. First- and third-person data on Lagerfeld were collected and evaluated through a hermeneutically-informed syntho-analysis. Research ethics were followed. The findings demonstrate the interplay of mini-c, little-c, Pro-c and Big-C creativity throughout the subject’s lifetime, as well as the subject’s application of WICS, both of which led to the subject’s worldwide success. Conclusions are drawn and recommendations for future research and practice are provided.