PARIS — Karl Lagerfeld can now add newspaper publisher to his long list of media accomplishments.
Starting later this month, look out for distribution of 150,000 copies of The Karl Daily in Europe, China — and beyond.
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The “satirical” broadsheet showcases the designer’s talents for sketching, wordplay, photography and winking humor — along with the latest product volleys from his signature brand.
It comes at a time of strong momentum for his signature fashion house, fueled by healthy investment from parent Apax Partners — and the format Lagerfeld chose offers a wry commentary on the state of the media business.
While native advertising, social media and tech gadgets are today’s buzzwords, Lagerfeld is an unabashed fan of print — a sketchbook always under his elbow, his desk stacked with magazines and the floor littered with shopping bags bulging with books.
“I’m a paper freak,” he says gleefully.
He has less-kind things to say about social media, nonplussed by blogs and confessing an aversion to selfies.
An accomplished photographer, book publisher and seller, Lagerfeld is a voracious consumer of magazines and books, and an in-demand media personality. In an interview, he lamented the dearth of writers with sufficient technical knowledge and fashion culture, arguing there’s no quick fix for the ailing print industry other than hard work and sharper products.
He sat down with WWD to riff on everything from fashion tomes and advertising to his own megastardom:
WWD: Why did you decide to do a newspaper for your brand?
K.L.: Because I hadn’t seen anybody else doing it in that way. And I think it’s fun, it’s modern, it’s not pretentious. It’s like a private joke.
It’s something that’s at the same time ironic and yet covers the promotion part of it. It doesn’t want to be taken seriously, but in fact it’s very serious.
WWD: How many newspapers do you read a day?
K.L.: If I had more hours, I would read more. Somebody in the 18th century once said, “I’m reading because I don’t want to think.” That’s not true. I read because I like to read, not because I don’t want to think. I read whenever I can, but you know, between the collections, the photos, and all the other things I do, interviews included, there is not so much time left, huh?
WWD: What do you like about newspapers and magazines?
K.L.: I love paper. I’m a paper freak. Paper is the material I use for sketching. I always need to have paper under my fingers in order to express myself. I like newspapers. Maybe the iPad is very modern and everything, and I’m not against it, but I like the physical contact. And the physical contact of metal and glass is not as sensuous as paper.
WWD: Could you ever see print publications disappearing entirely?
K.L.: You know, theater didn’t disappear because of TV. And opera didn’t disappear because of records. But if publishing companies don’t want paper to disappear, they have to make an effort to be good — and well written. Because nothing is worse than a poorly written magazine. There are some people — I don’t even look at their articles because I don’t care about what they think, what they write and so on. I won’t give you names because I am a very nice person.
WWD: Do you see the quality of journalism increasing or decreasing?
K.L.: There are not so many who know how to write decently about fashion and who have the technical knowledge and culture. The others are very basic: They want to be trendy. They think trendiness is more important than knowledge.
Blogs are a little overrated. But in a way, it also changes something because the established writers have to make an effort. Because today people go on the Internet, on the blogs, so don’t be too much like a fashion teacher, no? Don’t be heavy, huh?
WWD: You’ve been critical of establishment fashion magazines. What could or should they do differently?
K.L.: Don’t be overestablished because then you can become a bore, or you just become something to put ads in.
The editor in chief of a magazine has to be a battlefield person: to get it first, to get it better. They have to fight for it. The biggest danger in those things is comfort. Too much elegant traveling, palace hotels, and perhaps not enough work.
It depends: Some magazines do well. And the ones who are not doing well, maybe they should look at their magazines, and find something to improve. When I go to Colette, I see all those new magazines with the most improbable names. How do they get the money? How do they manage it? They don’t have so much advertising. It’s often on beautiful paper. It’s beautifully printed very often. They have good photographers, good stylists, so maybe it’s something that the very established titles should consider and look at.
WWD: Has shooting campaigns yourself changed the way you look at advertising?
K.L.: Yes. I think so, but I never told myself. It was never formulated. It’s inside evolution. I love to shoot campaigns. It’s apparently pretty well received. I think my Chanel campaigns and Fendi campaigns are not too bad.
I love advertising. Anyway, today, if you really want to see fashion, you learn through advertising as it’s very often not the exaggerated styling in fashion spreads when you see 20 labels on one page. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good thing to be creative, because designers who say, “My clothes have to be shown like this,” I think it’s very pretentious. I like the idea that people play with the things I do and put them in other contexts, like women do in life, but it has to be done well. It’s OK when it’s done by Carine Roitfeld or Charlotte Stockdale, but sometimes by others, it’s just confusion.
WWD: As a photographer, you seem to thrive on new technologies in cameras and printing.
K.L.: Because it’s the newest things of our times, so why should we think things were better before? It was just different, as things didn’t exist. Do you remember life before the iPhone? Do you remember life without the iPad? No, and I don’t want to remember. Now we overreact, because it’s new. I can’t wait for the iPhone 6. It’s my only ambition in life to have it quickly. They almost stopped New York Fashion Week for that.
WWD: You make a lot of movies, especially for Chanel. Is the future of fashion also about moving images, in your view?
K.L.: We live in the world of images, but we also live in the world of the Internet, of zapping and where people move. You can make little videos on your phone. I love very composed images, but the idea of moving pictures with a story, with a plot is quite interesting, too. It captures the attention a few seconds longer.
WWD: You are well represented in social media professionally, but don’t participate personally. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out in any way?
K.L.: I don’t do it for personal reasons because I don’t want anybody to get inside my private life. I have no desire to share anything with unknown persons.
Those social networks, there’s something sad about them. Is it because they don’t have enough knowledge about friends and people? I don’t understand it. It’s like a talkative mirror where people talk to themselves. And what I hate most in life is selfies.
WWD: You’re extremely at ease in front of the TV camera. Did you ever take any training or did it all come naturally?
K.L.: I was trained by my mother. She taught how to behave or not to behave. Compared with her, I am very shy.
To me, a TV camera is a piece of metal with electricity and glass. I don’t see the difference in talking to you or to millions. I like to be on TV when interviewers are good. I like it especially when it’s live. When they can cut things, I don’t like it as much. Sometimes they cut something and say, “Well, you would get in trouble, you would get a lawsuit.” I tell them, “Well, I don’t want my lawyers to be unemployed.”
WWD: You seem to be of the school that there’s no such thing as too much publicity. Do you ever feel overexposed.
K.L.: I do nothing. It comes to me; I’m not running after it. I still don’t understand why I can’t cross the street anymore.
But you know, the whole thing about me could not have existed 15 or 20 years ago. I am kind of virtual myself. Look, I go nowhere and yet people know me. Who tells you that I am real? I don’t go to parties; you don’t see me on the red carpet very often. I only go to things related to my business.
WWD: Do you read and watch all the press about yourself?
K.L.: No, never. You know why? For a very simple reason: You lose your spontaneity if you look at it. I don’t want to see me.
WWD: Can you talk a little bit about your love of books?
K.L.: It’s not difficult for me to buy books. And I pay for books in my own bookshop. I get only a 5 percent discount. I am very much against the idea that you get it for free because it’s your bookshop.
WWD: How do you account for the glut of fashion books, especially large-format ones?
K.L.: I must say, some are not very beautifully made. They’re coffee-table books for people who drink alcohol. I have nothing against coffee-table books as long as they are well done. They must not look like gravestones on a table. Sometimes they are too big, they come in boxes and things like this. No, a book has to be easy to open and you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to lift it. I like books I can read in bed. Those big tombstones would kill me.