WOnce again in 1987, Karl Lagerfeld was dissatisfied with one of his employees. The photos for the look book were not all good, said the Chanel chief designer when he saw the photos of the new collection. Since Eric Pfrunder, as “Directeur de l ‘image” at chanels who was responsible for the photos had a good suggestion: “Do it yourself!”
Since then, Lagerfeld has photographed the fashion house’s lookbooks and campaigns himself – and in addition to his role as chief designer, he also developed a sideline that increasingly occupied him. Until the fashion designer died in February 2019, i.e. for more than 30 years, Pfrunder provided him with such good suggestions as a photo consultant and gray eminence. He died at the age of 74 after a long illness.
Even from afar, Pfrunder was recognizable as a member of “Karl’s family”, as Lagerfeld’s closest employees at Chanel, Fendi and his own brand called themselves. He was always tanned, wore skinny jeans, a black jacket and a white shirt with a high collar from Hilditch & Key – like his boss, who himself designed the tailor-made shirts for the menswear store from Rue de Rivoli in endless variations and Pfrunder every year gave me a whole pack of them for my birthday.
“Directeur de l’image” – that sounds like the job description for a breakfast manager. But Pfrunder, who was born in Algeria in 1948 and initially worked for the American swimwear designer Norma Kamali and the French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro, shaped the image of Chanel for decades. Like Lagerfeld, he began work on Rue Cambon in 1983. And with Lagerfeld and later the managing director Bruno Pavlovsky, he turned a rather sleepy fashion house into a billion-dollar luxury brand thanks to a high-gloss polish.
The fashion designer was the “homeworker”
The more Lagerfeld worked his way into photography, the more work Pfrunder had. No photo shoot, no exhibition, no fashion show without him – be it in Rome or Havana, in Tokyo or Dallas. Lagerfeld’s bookshop and photo studio at 7 rue de Lille (“7L”) became his second home. Pfrunder was “the foreman,” as Lagerfeld jokingly called the Frenchman in German. The fashion designer himself was the “homeworker” because he usually drew at home, and he called Gerhard Steidl, who made many illustrated books from all the projects in his publishing house in Göttingen, the “worker”.
After Lagerfeld’s death, Pfrunder soon ended at Chanel. In 2021 he retired. But he continued to work on the inheritance. All rights to the Lagerfeld photos are not owned by the alleged seven heirs, nor by the brands Karl Lagerfeld or Chanel, but with him. Therefore he was also curator of the special exhibition “Karl Lagerfeld. Photography. The Retrospective” in the Moritzburg Art Museum in Halle (Saale), which opened in March 2020 and then suffered from the closures of the corona pandemic.
It is now up to Pfrunder’s children, Candice, Tess and Jasper, to preserve Lagerfeld’s great photographic legacy. They are doing this together with the blockchain company Lukso. Some time ago, Jasper Pfrunder met Marjorie Hernández, who founded the company in Berlin in 2018 with Fabian Vogelsteller. The tens of thousands of images are securely stored in the blockchain as unique digital items.
Chanel President Bruno Pavlovsky commented on the news of Eric Pfrunder’s death with the words that he had “tirelessly used his sure and precise eye” for Chanel and had “generously shared his knowledge with the image team and the fashion department”. His contribution to the brand is “immense”.