Karl Lagerfeld once told me a dirty joke (so dirty, in fact, that I can't repeat it). It happened the first time I ever stopped by the Chanel studio, a scene of breakneck-paced creativity and utter hilarity in the days before one of his elaborate runway shows. Even to be in his orbit for a moment in the most tangential way is to feel that you have arrived, or at least picked up something you didn't know before. And I have always suspected the same must be true for the celebrities who wear his clothes: Over the decades he has not only touched many people but somehow transformed them.
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So at the most recent cruise-collection show, a spectacle that re-created the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon within the galleries of the Grand Palais in Paris, I put the question to several of Lagerfeld's disciples, veterans and newcomers alike: What had they learned? One thing they all said was that Chanel encourages personalization as a way to project their individual identities. "He always allows me to mix it up, even if the results sometimes clash," says Nocturnal Animals actress Ellie Bamber. "I have become more playful with my style."
For a degree in style, there's no better teacher than the Chanel visionary. Here, five muses reflect on the lessons of Professor Lagerfeld.
While the 17-year-old Black-ish star officially begins her higher education at Harvard next year, she's already a fashion prodigy and self-proclaimed Chanel obsessive. "I love this outfit because it's as loud as I am," she says of her persimmon crêpe de chine blouse and tweed pants. "It's not even a warning sign but a reflection of my eternal joy." She's had an affinity for bold colors from early on, so Chanel's palette is perfect for her. "There are pictures of me in rainbow-colored outfits at age 5, so it's just a continuation of who Yara is. I haven't changed that much."
CAROLINE DE MAIGRET
"I have a tendency to be quite lazy, and Chanel has given me the efficiency to dress up in one piece," says de Maigret, a model, muse, and authority on French style. From Lagerfeld she adapts a fairly simple formula to create her own style equation: "I'm just wearing a black shirt, black pants, and black shoes," she says, "but I add this jacket, which makes it completely incredible and rock-and-roll chic." On de Maigret it looks so easy, yet even a master knows there's always more to learn. "Karl makes you change things all the time, because he's so up on everything in the arts—the latest novel from the latest brilliant writer, and the movies," she says. "He's so well-read, he pushes you to never fall asleep and to always be curious—to just keep on going. This is the best thing he could ever teach me."
After many years of modeling in Chanel shows, Liu attributes some of her success to Lagerfeld's early encouragement and to this takeaway: "At the end of the day, you have to be yourself," she says. "To be joyful, that's what makes people say you look confident." Another smart habit she's learned on set? Make friends with the photographers and assistants, since you never know with whom you'll be working on the next shoot. "When you're in front of the camera, you should act like the camera is a boyfriend."
Many designers gave the British actress a warm bienvenue when she moved to Paris last year, but only Chanel fêted her with a birthday cake in its historic salons. "There are worse things than blowing out the candles in Coco Chanel's apartment," says Brewster, who played superstylish mercenary Bazine Netal in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and appears as Madame de Montespan in the racy French period series Versailles. "Chanel is just timeless. It shows your personality and lets you put it together in a way that's your own."