TEMPLE OF FASHION: If fashion is akin to religion, then Karl Lagerfeld — forever in a starched white collar — could be its pope. That’s the premise of a four-hour documentary slated to air Sept. 7 on Vox, part of the RTL Group, in Germany. The brainchild of Cologne-based television journalist Martina Neuen, it likens fashion magazines to the Bible, models to angels and consumers to followers. “It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek,” allowed Neuen, who notes that fashion involves powerful symbols, a tight-knit community, age-old rituals and a system of beliefs — mechanism that can drive the industry as surely as they compel churchgoers.
“It cannot offer you redemption or anything eternal,” she confessed. Indeed, as Lagerfeld frequently says, collections only last six months, maximum.
This story first appeared in the July 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
To test her theory, Neuen enlisted German neurologist Christian Elger to perform an experiment to see how the brains of a Catholic priest and a devoted fashionista responded in the face of their respective “religions.” “The emotional reactions are the same,” she said.
Lagerfeld afforded Neuen access to his daily routine of fashion shows and photography over 16 months, even opening up his private photo archive and sharing information about his life and career trajectory, from the son of a milk producer in northern Germany to the pinnacle of French fashion as the couturier of Chanel, in addition to being the fur and ready-to-wear designer at Fendi and the head of his signature brand, which is currently in expansion mode. (Indeed, Lagerfeld is to attend an advance screening in early September in Munich, where he is opening a signature boutique.)
Amidst Lagerfeld’s amusing narration and scenes of him at work, Neuen blends in interviews with models Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and Inès de la Fressange; editors Suzy Menkes and Christiane Arp; publisher Gerhard Steidl, and celebrities Diane Kruger, Sarah Jessica Parker and Milla Jovovich. The crew raveled with Lagerfeld to New York, Singapore, London, Paris, Hamburg and Florida, the latter to film client Patricia Rossignol introduce her Chanel couture gown at a charity function.
Vox has also given the four-hour treatment to Abba, and usually attracts well more than a million viewers to the program.
In the documentary, Lagerfeld refers to himself a “fashion missionary” — and voices his opinion on “fashion popes.” “The only pope I thought was chic was Pius XII. Even though he may not be remembered for his popularity, I thought he was elegant. And Pope John XXIII was the most charismatic; you can keep all the others,” he said.
To be sure, Neuen was a convert to Lagerfeld practically since their first encounter back in 1999. “He’s the most impressive person I’ve ever met,” she marveled. “He’s a true individual, and there’s a lightness of being around him.”