Karl Lagerfeld Talks Chanel, Cats

WWD caught up with the designer to discuss black jackets, the state of politics and, of course, his newfound love for cats.

Karl Lagerfeld

NEW YORK — Karl Lagerfeld hit town on Monday in time for the unveiling here of the “The Little Black Jacket” tour —the traveling exhibition of images he collaborated on with Carine Roitfeld.

This story first appeared in the June 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

This being Lagerfeld, he brought with him an en- tourage, and on Tuesday afternoon at the exhibition space at 18 Wooster Street, the designer was joined by Brad Kroenig and his 4-year-old son and sometime Chanel model Hudson, and Sébastien Jondeau, whom many may better know as Lagerfeld’s bodyguard and personal secretary (Lagerfeld’s beloved nine-month old Siamese cat, Choupette, stayed at home in Paris, but more on that later).

On Tuesday, the designer got his first glimpse of the New York installation, which is based on a Steidl book of the same photos due out in the fall, and pays tribute to the classic Chanel jacket shot by Lagerfeld on personalities from Sarah Jessica Parker to Yoko Ono, Alexander Wang and Charlotte Casiraghi.

Needless to say, Lagerfeld has a packed schedule on his short trip: He was set to attend the Gordon Parks’ Centennial Gala Tuesday night, the opening party of the Chanel exhibition and private dinner tonight, and round out his time here with a Chanel photo shoot Thursday.

The exhibition will be on display from Friday through June 15. WWD caught up with Lagerfeld to discuss black jackets, the state of politics and, of course, his newfound love for cats.

WWD: How did you decide on who made the cut and who didn’t?
K.L.: That’s the story and secret between Carine and me. I cannot say that there were real rules. There are people she preferred and people I preferred, and then we mixed it all. It’s a mix of different tastes and different choices.

WWD: Which is your favorite image?
Madame [Micheline] Chaban-Delmas with no makeup, unretouched, with her beautiful lined face. She is the widow of the [former] French prime minister and mayor of Bordeaux for 30 years. She is a great woman, and I think it shows. Some of the others play a part. I love the photo of Uma Thurman [resembling Marlene Dietrich], but she is not like this in life. We made Anja Rubik Japanese. She doesn’t look like this either and is playing a part. The idea is the portrait of the personality, or the personality playing a part.

WWD: How was Carine as a collaborator?
It’s very stimulating to work with Carine, because there aren’t so many gifted stylists, and nothing is more exhausting than to work with an ungifted stylist. That makes a job very difficult.

WWD: Do you think an iconic piece like the little black jacket can ever go out of fashion?
You can ask the same question about blue jeans and T-shirts and tank tops. There are different cuts, shapes and proportions, but the basic thing is timeless. There are not that many designer items you can say that about. We don’t know who did the tank top; we don’t know who did the white shirt, but we know who did the little black jacket.

WWD: You put the jacket on both men and women. Who does it look better on?
The inspiration came from a man. It was the lift boy uniform in the hotel of Baron Pantz near Salzburg, [Austria,] where [Coco Chanel] saw it, but the genius was to translate it.

WWD: Do you hope the new first lady of France, Valérie Trierweiler, would embrace the look?
If she wants to wear something typically French, made in France, she should. You know, the handbag she offered to Madame Obama is made by a company [Le Tanneur] that now belongs to people from Qatar. It’s not that French. At least this [jacket] is French French.

WWD: Speaking of politics, how are things in Europe right now?
For me, it’s OK. I don’t know so much about the rest right now. I am doing Fendi pre-fall, I work on the Lagerfeld collection for next summer, and on Chanel couture, so don’t ask me anything about political events. I am not French so I don’t vote.

WWD: But can’t you vote in Germany?
Yes, but I never did.

WWD: What do you think of [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and her style?
Merkel has a tough job. I think her positions are quite healthy. She is not a fashion person, so I don’t criticize her [style]. Sometimes she could get a person who cuts the jackets and the pants a little better, but she has more serious things to do. She would be criticized that she would be too trendy. It’s not like the Danish lady [Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt], but who knows the Danish lady?

WWD: But there are some differences between [French President] François Hollande and Merkel. As a German in Paris, how do you feel about that?
You will only see the real differences with the election of the parliament next week and in two weeks. For the moment, everybody is talking a lot. But what will be we will know in two weeks from now. I have nothing against politics but I am an observer. The French have a little problem but I hope they can work it out. Germans have a huge export market, which the French don’t. To open the factories again and make exciting product is very difficult. It’s easy to say we create jobs and bring excitement to French creativity. In terms of fashion and perfume and beauty, that may exist, but for the rest, some other countries are not bad. Competition is healthy.

WWD: You are so good with [your godson] Hudson. Is it true you wouldn’t mind having children?
Yes, but like this, with other parents. I don’t like the idea of responsibility. I don’t want any children. A cat is already a lot to manage for me.

WWD: Do you have a cat?
A very famous white Siamese cat, Choupette. She is a famous beauty. She is nine months old. [Model] Baptiste [Giaconi] gave her to me for Christmas to watch for two weeks when he was away but then I refused to give her back. I thought she was too cute. She is like a kept woman. She has a strong personality. She has lunch and dinner with me on the table, with her own food. She doesn’t touch my food. She doesn’t want to eat on the floor. She sleeps under a pillow and she even knows how to use an iPad. She has two personal maids, for both night and day. She is beyond spoiled.

WWD: Could your next book be about cats then?
Why not? We do keep a diary. When I am not there, the maids take down, in little books, everything she did, from what she ate, to how she behaved, if she was tired, and if she wasn’t sleeping. In the nine months, we already have almost 600 pages. Colette had written a lot about cats. I am not Colette, but I think it could be funny to make a little book of Choupette’s diary.

WWD: But would you also make a little black jacket for her?
No, I don’t like animals in human clothes. I think that’s very circuslike.