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Fashion Feud

Don't cross Karl Lagerfeld -- especially about his childhood.

Don’t cross Karl Lagerfeld — especially about his childhood. The designer has blasted the new book by Alicia Drake, “The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris,” which focuses on the rivalry between Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent and their intertwined loves and muses over the decade.

But what really touched Lagerfeld’s nerves was Drake’s claims about the designer’s past. First, she asserts that, at 73, he’s older than he admits and, worse, that much of his idyllic childhood in Germany was his own invention. Lagerfeld — who didn’t cooperate with the book — isn’t threatening to sue, but fired off a scathing three-page letter to Drake — obtained by WWD — charging her with faulty research, questioning the credibility and motives of her key sources — including his late cousin Kurt Lagerfeld — and citing “100 mistakes and more,” including inaccuracies about the Lagerfeld family homestead.

“Your ‘book’ is more based on ‘suppositions’ and improvised ‘conclusions’ than on truth,” Lagerfeld wrote to Drake. As for his late cousin, the designer told Drake: “He hated me and he hated my mother, as he told you. What he says about her is a shame! I have not seen him for over 50 years, have no idea what his children look like. He was never in Baden Baden in my parents’ house there.

“Not a word about my half-sister (also dead by now). There was a lot to say. They were very close and against my mother and me. They got no money when my father died and must have resented that for the rest of their lives. I had not seen her since 1964 or ’65 [in Baden Baden].”

As for the family’s house, Lagerfeld sent Drake photos of it and disputed his cousin’s claims that it was a mere four-bedroom bungalow. Instead, the designer said: “It had 14 rooms in two buildings — one behind the other. We had never to leave the house. There was food all the time and the description of the end of the war is very romantic, but it was very different. There were not even shelters and they weren’t needed. The farmers were not poor people with three cows.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“But you prefer the vision of grey, grey boring middle-class life (what was, in fact, perhaps this cousin’s life — no idea — never went to his house — never met his children and remember vaguely his wife — she died too, I think — as a nice person).

“I love when my stupid cousin (my father called him ‘Service Kurt’ because of his position in Newstadt at one of the Gluecksklee factories where he worked all his life) thinks my father wanted to move to the country in 1934 (in fact, it was ’35) and that he knew by then that war would come. That shows how uninformed poor Kurt was and that he never knew or found out the real reasons.”

Finally, in wishing Drake a sarcastic “Bravo!” for her book, Lagerfeld adds in a P.S.: “I felt loved and protected by my parents — in a time like the ’40s when it was not easy to have a protected life.”

And what is Drake’s response to Lagerfeld’s vituperative attack? She notes that she spent five years writing and researching the book, seeking out Lagerfeld’s closest living relatives, including Kurt, and relying on Lagerfeld’s father’s memoir as another valuable source. The book “is not intended to be an authorized biography. It is a portrait of the times based on objective research,” Drake said.

As for the dispute over the size and condition of the Lagerfeld childhood home in Germany, she responded: “I consulted the local Bad Bramstedt historian several times, who gave me documents, photos and information on the building of Bissenmoor, the family house of Karl Lagerfeld situated in Bad Bramstedt, as well as the context and living conditions in the town during the Second World War. I visited Bad Bramstedt twice during my research.”