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28 Dec

Éric Pfrunder, Karl Lagerfeld’s Photography Wingman, Dies at 74

Éric Pfrunder

Éric Pfrunder, Karl Lagerfeld’s closest creative associate for his varied photography projects, died Monday in a Paris hospital at age 74 after an extended illness, his son Jasper confirmed to WWD.

Services are scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m. on the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Pfrunder was Chanel’s director of image for 3 many years, and remained as artistic director of fashion image for a transient period following Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019.

“A person of conviction and loyalty, a passionate employee, ‘vorarbeiter’ as Karl Lagerfeld affectionately called him, Eric tirelessly devoted his exceptional eye and vision to the excellence of Chanel, generously sharing his knowledge and insights with the image team and more broadly, the style division,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, said in a press release shared with WWD, using the German word for foreman. “His contribution to Chanel is immense. We provide our most sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Lagerfeld ceaselessly said he had three key accomplices on the Chanel fashion house: Pfrunder, Pavlovsky and Virginie Viard, his longtime studio director, who would succeed the designer as creative director.

Indeed, it was Pfrunder who first suggested that Lagerfeld try his hand at photography.


Back in 1987, Lagerfeld expressed frustration with the photographs done for press kits at Chanel and so Pfrunder, flummoxed, suggested that Lagerfeld do them himself. It wasn’t long before Lagerfeld was shooting fashion spreads for French Vogue, and later campaigns for all of the brands he touched, including Chanel, Fendi and the Karl Lagerfeld house.

Silvia Venturini Fendi, now Fendi’s artistic director for accessories and menswear, said the Roman house worked with Pfrunder for greater than 30 years on all of the Fendi women’s campaigns.

“He was the proper creative match with Karl Lagerfeld bringing great value to our collaborations,” she said. “He was sensible, eclectic, visionary and restless.

“His talent and great personality will probably be never forgotten.”

Pier Paolo Righi, chief executive officer of Karl Lagerfled, said Pfrunder was “Karl’s eye for photography and there have been no limits for him when it got here to Karl. Eric was a precious member of the Karl Lagerfeld family, he will probably be sorely missed and can at all times be remembered as a vital a part of Karl’s history.”

Sébastien Jondeau, a Karl Lagerfeld brand ambassador and product consultant, said with “anything involving image, Eric was there. He and Karl were very close, he was not only a piece colleague, even when he was a workaholic for Karl.”

Jondeau and Pfrunder often vacationed with Lagerfeld, who treated all members of his entourage like members of the family.

Pfrunder worked at Chanel’s fashion division from 1983 until 2019 on image creation. On Tuesday, Pavlovsky described him as “a necessary and energetic a part of the creative trio” he formed with Lagerfeld and Viard, thereby “establishing Chanel as the final word luxury fashion house.”

Olivier Saillant

Indeed, Pfrunder was ceaselessly at Lagerfeld’s elbow because the indefatigable German designer produced quite a few books, catalogues and promoting campaigns, along with couture and ready-to-wear collections.

Outside promoting clients included Dior Homme, Dom Pérignon, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Pirelli, while the duo produced editorial shoots for scores of fashion magazines, including English and American Vogues, Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, V Magazine and Numéro.

The studio welcomed a bunch of models, Hollywood stars and European royalty, and Lagerfeld and Pfrunder would often arrange impromptu photo studios at Chanel’s roving fashion events.

Inès de la Fressange, the face of Chanel within the ’80s, recalled how Lagerfeld ended up behind the camera. “We used to take Polaroids of every search for the style show,” she recalled, and those the designer snapped of her were strong. “I said, ‘Next time you must do the press kit.’ Karl said, ‘Oh I might like to but I don’t know the techniques.’”

Enter Pfrunder, who, knowing Lagerfeld’s deep admiration for German photographer Helmut Newton, wound up engaging considered one of Newton’s assistants to assist the designer hone his craft, perfectly organising the conditions for Lagerfeld to succeed.

“Suddenly, it was a latest hobby for Karl and Eric was very joyful,” de la Fressange recalled in an interview. “And with all these photo sessions, Karl had organized a latest family.”

She said Lagerfeld had loads of respect for the tailors, seamstresses and embroiderers that turned his sketches into sumptuous garments — and equally for all of the contributors to a high-quality image.

Ultimately, Pfrunder would also help Lagerfeld organize exhibitions of his photography, and discover latest ways of printing images, which excited the designer immensely, de la Fressange added.

“I spent an enormous amount of my fashion profession with Eric, who was accountable for every little thing to do with Karl Lagerfeld when he wore his photographer’s hat,” said Claudia Schiffer. “Eric was Karl’s ‘Monsieur Image,’ aka Chanel fashion director of image. I worked with the dynamic duo all over the world – from Latest York City to Hamburg, Berlin, Nice, Buenos Aires and lots of more, which was so exciting. And after all, in Karl’s photo studio in Paris which is where our projects at all times began. Eric was the one who first encouraged Karl to select up a camera and he was also a beautiful curator.

“Eric was each a family man and a gentleman with the best manners, and knowledgeable through and thru,” she added. “He was so very knowledgeable and one would find him working away quietly within the background. I often consider him and Karl was very lucky to have found him. Eric admired Karl and was probably the most loyal, calm, and stable influence within the midst of fashion craziness. He gave up a component of himself to support Karl and I at all times felt in awe of him. There aren’t nor prone to be, many individuals like him in fashion. He was considered one of a form and will probably be greatly missed.”

Born in Constantine, Algeria, Pfrunder moved to France at age 13. Like Lagerfeld, he was a self-taught photographer and in addition ran a communications and promoting agency whose clients included Norma Kamali, Emanuel Ungaro and Blackglama.

A tall, elegant man who shared Lagerfeld’s penchant for sharply tailored jackets, heeled boots and high-collared shirts, which he wore unbuttoned, Pfrunder largely flew under the media radar, and was in his element on the designer’s photo studio behind the 7L bookstore on the Rue de Lille.

Jondeau said Lagerfeld designed a special white shirt for Pfrunde, and had his go-to Paris maker Hilditch & Key deliver him a gentle supply.

Amongst his projects after leaving Chanel, delayed by illness, were to digitize Lagerfeld’s vast photo archive, and publish a book, his son Jasper said.

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