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Karl Lagerfeld’s Most Memorable Red Carpet Dresses Make Fashion History

At this year’s Met Gala, many of the celebrity guests will already have experience dressing for the theme. This year’s exhibition honors the long career of designer Karl Lagerfeld, who not only famously revived Chanel in the ’80s and steered the maison until his passing in 2019, but also designed for Fendi, Chloé, Patou, his own namesake labels, and several others throughout the years. In fact, Lagerfeld’s career stretches back long before celebrities started regularly wearing designer labels on the red carpet—yet his gowns were ever present in our modern age of designer celebrity dressing. Here, an expansive look back at some of Kaiser Karl’s biggest red carpet hits.

Lily-Rose Depp at the 2019 Met Gala

For the “Camp”-themed Met Gala, Rose wore a dress that’s older than she is. The simple black look, overlaid with opulent gold chains, came from Chanel’s spring 1992 haute couture collection. Originally worn on the runway by Christy Turlington, the dress may rank among one of Lagerfeld’s most memorable of all time. Penelope Cruz also wore it in Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, and its design has been referenced everywhere from the runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race to the pages of the Sailor Moon manga.

Chloë Sevigny at Barneys in 2013

Even if he had never been hired by Chanel, Lagerfeld would have gone down in the fashion history books. His two-decade run at Chloé helped burnish the legitimacy of ready-to-wear at a time when couture still dominated. This was also an era when high fashion brands had not completely taken over the red carpet (thus, there are few pictures of celebrities in his designs), but Chloë Sevigny—of course—managed to source Karl’s famous guitar-inspired dress from 1981 to wear to a Barneys event in 2013.

Jennifer Lopez at the 2001 Oscars

This metallic gray Chanel dress J.Lo wore to the 2001 Oscars helped cement her status as a high fashion doll, but also caused some controversy. The top was a bit translucent and considered scandalous at the time (of course it’s nothing compared to the current craze for sheer dresses). Still, it’s a reminder that Lagerfeld was never afraid of a bit of sartorial scandal.

Madonna at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival

Lagerfeld once said one of Madonna’s outfits looked like “a housewife” and that she had “no style.” Madonna once called Lagerfeld’s criticism of Adele “ridiculous.” Yet while they shared a reputation for loose tongues more than a friendship, there was still some admiration there. Madonna chose a Chanel gown to attend the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for one of her directorial debuts. Lagerfeld also opened a Chanel runway show in the ’80s with a Madonna look-alike.

Rihanna at a 2013 Chanel Show

The biggest question of every Met Gala is “Will Rihanna show up?” Well, she has a history of wearing Lagerfeld’s designs, including this boudoir spin she put on Chanel staples to attend the brand’s fall 2013 couture show.

Rihanna at a 2015 Fendi Boutique Opening

Rihanna was also a fan of Lagerfeld’s designs for Fendi, where he created coats and womenswear for five decades. In fact, in the lead-up to this Met Gala, she’s been on something a vintage Fendi spree.

Cat Power at the 2007 BRIT Awards

A keen music fanatic, Lagerfeld took a special interest in indie singer-songwriter Cat Power in the ’00s, transforming her into a Chanel muse with her rock and roll edge intact. Note the fingerless gloves.

Gwen Stefani at the 2007 Vanity Fair Oscars Party

Stefani traded in her normally SoCal punk-informed ’00s wardrobe for a Chanel haute couture gown.

Lady Gaga at Barneys

Lagerfeld was an expert at adapting Chanel’s iconic house codes to any situation. So when Lady Gaga came calling in 2011 in the midst of her most adventurous fashion era, Lagerfeld created a custom gown that was at once ladylike enough to carry the Chanel label, but sufficiently wild for Gaga.

Julianne Moore at the 2015 Oscars

Fun fact: Julianne Moore is still the only woman in history to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Chanel gown. She took it home in 2015 for Still Alice.

Willow Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith at a 2016 Chanel Show

Proving Lagerfeld’s cross-generational appeal, Willow Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith attended Chanel’s Metiers d’Art show in 2016 in coordinating black gowns.

Charlotte Casiraghi at the 2015 Rose Ball

Lagerfeld kept an apartment in Monaco, and struck up a long friendship with the royal family, including Princess Caroline (daughter of Princess Grace) and her own daughter, Charlotte Casiraghi. Here, Casiraghi wears a pink Chanel dress informed by Coco Chanel’s classic suiting.

Princess Caroline at the 2023 Rose Ball

A close friend of Lagerfeld’s, Princess Caroline still keeps dipping into his design archives. She wore Chanel haute couture from 2012 to this year’s Rose Ball in Monaco.

Kristen Stewart at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Kristen Stewart’s relationship with Chanel dates back nearly a decade now. In that time, she’s managed to put her own unique spin on the brand’s clothing, often lending them a punkier and more casual edge.

Chloë Sevigny at Target in 2004

This photo of Chloë Sevigny attending the opening of Target in Brooklyn is legendary among certain corners of Twitter, but you can’t deny that her casual cool-girl take on ’00s Chanel is a knockout.

Keira Knightley at the 2014 Serpentine Gallery Summer Party

Knightley, the longtime face of Coco Mademoiselle, rarely steps out to a major event in anything else but Chanel—and in Karl’s designs, who could blame her?

Anne Hathaway at the 2013 Golden Globes

Hathaway turned up at the 70th Anniversary Golden Globes in a deceptively simple white Chanel column gown to collect her award for Best Supporting Actress.

Uma Thurman at the 1999 Vanity Fair Oscars Party

Even into the late ’90s, it was still an exception for actresses to attend the Oscars in European designer gowns. Thurman’s 1999 Chanel dress is often credited with helping to change that.

Vanessa Paradis at the 2005 Met Gala

A classic Chanel muse (and mother to another: Lily-Rose Depp), Paradis wore a black and white Chanel gown to the 2005 Met Gala.

Brie Larson at the 2017 Met Gala

Larson went for the gold in Chanel haute couture. While some Met Gala outfits can accidentally come off gimmicky in their pursuit of meeting the theme, this proves a good Largerfeld-designed gown can stand the test of time.

Anna Wintour at the 2018 Met Gala

Just take it from Met Gala guru Anna Wintour, who made it a yearly custom to wear Chanel haute couture to the event. Even though Lagerfeld rarely attended himself, his designs were always present.

Diane Kruger at the 2015 Met Gala

Kruger was another frequent Chanel muse during Lagerfeld’s later tenure, and this 2015 Met Gala look proves that the designer could always balance risk-taking with classic beauty.

Diane Kruger at the 2009 Met Gala

The actress wore another standout Chanel frock to the 2009 Met Gala.

Kirsten Dunst at the 2007 Oscars

Kirsten Dunst showed up to the 2007 Oscars to present an award with her Spider-man co-star Tobey McGuire—and dare we say she looked better than several of the nominees in Chanel.

Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2003 Emmys

Sarah Jessica Parker wouldn’t win her first Emmy for playing Carrie Bradshaw until the following year. Which is a shame, because this dreamy Chanel couture gown deserved a trophy of its own.

Penelope Cruz at the 2008 Oscars

Similarly, Penelope Cruz would win her first Oscar the year after she wore this feather-trimmed Chanel gown to present an award. Apparently, wearing a Lagerfeld-designed gown is one way to leave an impression for next year.

Lisa Bonet at the 2019 Oscars

Lisa Bonet’s 2019 Oscars dress came from the final collection Lagerfeld designed for Fendi.

Blake Lively at the 2011 Met Gala

For a period of time, Lively wore almost nothing but Chanel, but this unique dress she donned to the 2011 Met Gala may be the best of that run.

Bella Hadid at a 2022 Gala in Cannes

Bella Hadid isn’t just a supermodel—she’s a true lover of fashion history. So it’s no wonder she managed to source herself this gown from one of Lagerfeld’s Chanel couture collections from the 1980s.

Yara Shahidi at the 2018 Met Gala

Shahidi’s uniquely skirted Chanel gown at the 2018 Met Gala was a quiet winner.

Jennifer Aniston at the 2004 Emmys

The 2004 Emmys was a big one for Aniston. The last season of Friends was over, and thus it was her last trip down the red carpet nominated for her iconic Rachel Green role. Naturally, she chose this romantically beaded Chanel gown.

Florence Welch at a 2011 Chanel Dinner

Welch is another musician who helped Lagerfeld bring out Chanel’s unexpected rock and roll side.

Milla Jovovich at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

Lagerfeld was known for his prints at Chloé (some of which he designed himself). Here, Jovovich shows off an equally graphic number from Chanel.

Nicole Kidman at the 2004 Oscars

If you’re of a certain age, you certainly remember watching Kidman’s iconic Chanel No. 5 commercial on television.

Celine Dion at the 1996 World Music Awards

Some people think Dion came to her love of high fashion late in life. No, she’s been living that life. Here she is in Monaco in 1996 wearing full Chanel.

Kate Middleton During a 2017 Trip to France

If you’re a Princess headed to France, of course you’re going to want to wear Chanel.

Princess Diana in 1997

Despite the rumor she disliked Chanel’s logo (the story goes the interlocking Cs reminded her of Charles and Camilla), Princess Diana still loved Lagerfeld’s designs for the house, and stepped out in them numerous times.

Virginia Madsen at a 1993 Chanel Boutique Opening

At a boutique opening in 1993, Madsen provided a rare celebrity look at early ’90s Chanel.

Mariah Carey at a Chanel Luncheon in 1996

Carey looked every bit the ’90s icon in a tweed mini-skirt.

Lily Collins at the 2015 Met Gala

Long before she was Emily in Paris, she was Lily in Chanel at the Met Gala.

Cate Blanchett at a 2016 BAFTAs Party

Cate Blanchett looked sleek in a hard-edged take on Chanel in 2016.

Tilda Swinton at a 2012 Chanel Show

Tilda wears the pants—the Karl-designed pants, that is. The actress was a frequent front row attendee of Lagerfeld’s shows.

Sofia Coppola at a 2017 Chanel Show

Before her directing career, Coppola famously interned at Chanel and maintained a relationship with the house ever since. Few can pull off the combination of jeans and a classic Chanel tweed jacket better than her.

Beth Ditto at a 2009 Chanel Show

Ditto wasn’t afraid to hit back at some of Karl’s more controversial comments, but he remained a fan of The Gossip’s powerhouse singer.

Winona Ryder at the 1997 Oscars

In the ’90s, there were few stars designers wanted to dress more than Ryder.

Margot Robbie at the 2018 Oscars

When Robbie in Chanel is right, it can be oh so right.

Tessa Thompson at the 2019 Oscars

Thompson wore Chanel haute couture to the Oscars in 2019 in tribute to Lagerfeld, who has passed just weeks before.

Naomi Watts at The Glass Castle Premiere in 2017

Watts wore one of Lagerfeld’s Fendi designs to her 2017 film premiere.

Dakota Johnson at the 2015 Golden Globes

Although she’s a Gucci girl these days, Johnson looked dazzling in Chanel at the 2015 Golden Globes.

Source: W Magazine

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