| P E O P L E |
Fashion Designer | Paris
Chief arbiter of style, one-of-a-kind fashion phenomenon & French Renaissance Man, Karl Lagerfeld shares why Paris is his favourite city in the world.
Karl Lagerfeld is one of the most celebrated and recognisable icons in the world. He has the ability to transcend the spirit of his time. To impress with his high, rigid white collar shirts, signature black stained sunglasses, powdered white ponytail, and punkish studded fingerless gloves. He stands like no other, instantly identifiable yet with an enigmatic image of a utopian Paris. A chic ‘n roll Paris, of course, freed from the burdens of constrictions. Timeless yet always at the center of the Nowness, across all of his work – past, present and future.
Whether designing elaborate Haute Couture collections or hip Prêt-à-Porter, creating under his own flagship or pushing the boundaries of Chanel’s heritage, Lagerfeld embodies the ‘unclassical’ posture of an ever-changing French Renaissance Man. Eclectic and unpredictable, he is capable of mixing the high and the low, the expensive and the inexpensive. And therefore blurring the limits, aristocratically excelling at being a creative cumulard.
“I started trying to be an illustrator, a portraitist, a caricaturist, but never studied to follow this path. So I started taking pictures instead. And, for 27 years, this has become much more than a passion, almost a profession. A parallel activity. I now direct all of my ad campaigns, collaborate with many, many magazines. And I also run a publishing company in Germany, in addition to my photo gallery and bookstore in Paris”.
Although he was born in Hamburg, Karl Lagerfeld has always maintained a close affinity with Paris, and is now a symbol of the city he calls “home”. Insisting that no one actually knows his real birth date, he claims, “I arrived in Paris a century ago, it seems … in fact, around 60 years ago”. Yet upon meeting Karl Lagerfeld, it’s clear that he has the vivacious energy, the curiosity and the cutting-edge sense of what is “Now” and what is “Next” that has kept him at the forefront of the international fashion and design industry throughout his prolific career.
“As a child, I taught myself everything, but my parents weren’t too worried about this, because at six years old, I already spoke three languages”, he says, as he moved to Paris as a child to study at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris.
After finishing school, he pursued a career in design by accepting a position as Pierre Balmain’s assistant, after winning the International Wool Secretariat design competition in 1955. Following three years at Balmain, he designed haute couture collections at Jean Patou, then freelanced at French fashion house, Chloé in 1964; soon after, he was appointed head designer of their entire collection until 1983. He has also collaborated with Italian fashion house Fendi in the design of clothing, accessories and furs since 1972, a partnership that continues to this day. However, it’s his current, game-changing role as head designer and creative director of Chanel, a position he’s held since 1983, which has transcended Lagerfeld to fashion luminary status, where he has transformed Coco Chanel’s fashion house into one of the most powerful and profitable brands in the world.
“My core business is fashion. I mean couture, ready-to-wear, inexpensive items and very expensive items”, he states.
He has also collaborated with the crème de la crème of the design, music, film and cultural worlds; designing everything from elaborate costumes for Madonna, to creative production designs for the historic Teatro alla Scala in Milan. In 2006, Karl Lagerfeld also launched his own brand, Karl Lagerfeld, a prêt-à-porter collection for men and women of cool jeans, fitted t-shirts and accessories. His energy is insatiable, claiming, “I’m campaigning for 48 hours per day, as 24 hours per day is simply not enough. I want to know everything, read everything, which takes a certain amount of energy, mind you.” With a passionate hunger for cultural knowledge, he owns an eye-popping collection of over 230,000 books, which suffocates every inch of the walls at his magnificent Paris photo studio.
When asked to describe Paris, he claims, “There aren’t enough words to describe Paris. In only a few words, it’s impossible. I’ve been walking so much in Paris, that I know it by heart. I close my eyes, and I can see everything. I love the Seine valley, from Notre Dame to beyond the Grand Palais and the Trocadero. The scenery is unique, and also the light: at certain moments of the day, the light looks like a Demachy painting”. When asked which are his favourite buildings, he replies without hesitation, “Institut de France. I love the Institut de France. I am also crazy about the Eiffel Tower. There are two buildings which are masterpieces: the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais”. He states, “There is nowhere better than the Louvre Museum. It’s the largest and most beautiful museum in the world, with extraordinary exhibitions. I also love the Musée d’Orsay”.
When speaking about where he chooses to live in Paris, he claims, “I’m very Rive Gauche (Left Bank). Rive Droite (Right Bank) is fine, I like it. But only for working. I couldn’t imagine living there myself. I’ve spent all of my life living across the river in the Left Bank”, reveals the aesthete who knows virtually every corner of his eternal city. Even the less classically accomplished or once controversial buildings, such as the Centre Georges Pompidou, are some of his favourites. He muses, “I find Paris very beautiful at night, I don’t mean Paris nightlife—that’s something else entirely - I mean the city, the lights ... Paris truly is the City of Lights”.
Interview: Enrique Nalda & Kimberley McLoughlin
Photography: Karl Lagerfeld
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue One - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .