BEVERLY HILLS — Karl Lagerfeld is ready to take another flight of fancy, this time California style.
The designer will present Chanel's latest cruise collection tonight, the second time in a row he has shown the line in the U.S. after last year's show on the East Balcony of New York's Grand Central Terminal. This time around, Chanel is taking over hangar number eight at Santa Monica Airport. Two airplanes are slated to pull into the hangar, from which the models will disembark in the collection. The 500 guests are expected to include Demi Moore, Diane Kruger, Camilla Belle, Milla Jovovich, Lily Allen, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Jessica Alba and Rachel Bilson.
"I did New York before, and everybody goes to New York now, so I can go somewhere else," Lagerfeld said of his decision to cruise West, with possibly a little dig at all the other European fashion houses who have chosen to open their resort lines in Gotham.
Chanel flew in more than 50 of its executives to make sure the production goes off without a hitch. Lagerfeld and his crew of stylists and publicists have taken over parts of the city's iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, which seems to be oozing the Chanel spirit. The driveway is lined with sleek black Town Cars displaying the house's iconic C logos on their dashboards; top models such as Sasha Pivovarova and Lily Donaldson are hurrying in and out for their fittings; Chanel-clad young executives are buzzing around clutching piles of costume jewelry, and male models are trying on Chanel roller skates custom-made for the show.
"When I started thinking about this collection, I thought it would be fun to go to L.A.," Lagerfeld said, sitting on one of the hotel's terraces overlooking a garden of palm trees. "It's in the spirit of people who travel with private jets in this part of the world, because, seen from Europe, L.A. is the idea of easy, pleasant life, of light, sunshine, fun and all that. Maybe the reality of daily life in L.A. is not that glamorous, but I don't care. L.A. is an idea, and so I used that idea as a concept for the collection."Lagerfeld first came to Tinseltown as a teenager and has a very definite idea of what the city stands for.
"For me, L.A. is something exotic, but at the same time, it's not something strange or unknown," he said. "I feel at ease here. I was 12 years old, and it was quite beautiful. Europe was not so great around 1950. I always like L.A., but I don't really know it in fact."
But he sure knows his shops and restaurants like a local. He always stays at the same suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and one of his first stops after landing is always Maxfield on Melrose Avenue for of-the-moment Japanese labels such as Number Nine and Mastermind. "I can do a little shopping because Maxfield is different from all the other shops in the world, and I find things I don't find in Paris and Milano," he said. "Japanese lines are very good and modern, not at all sloppy and oversized, because that doesn't work for me. Then I have a feeling I am a midget."
When it comes to favorite eateries here, his preference is also Japanese, and his favorite is Matsuhisa on La Cienega Boulevard. And he has plenty of acquaintances in Los Angeles with whom to go out, from Betsy Bloomingdale to Lindsay Lohan.
"Hollywood is so international now," he said. "It's the idea of the past, of what it is now, who the movie stars are today, the silent era. I am very much in touch with the silent era of Hollywood, but the [cruise] collection has nothing to do with that. It's not at all retro.
"It's a line composed more of elements than total looks," he added. "A cruise line for me is a puzzle. You put the elements together. They can live alone and you put them together in a certain way."
Asked about his take on Young Hollywood, he said, simply: "When did Hollywood start to not be young?"
And with the youth-driven vanity of Tinseltown comes an abundance of plastic surgery, a fact that hasn't been lost on the designer."You have the feeling here that some of them survived serious car crashes," he said of a few of the reconstructive efforts he has encountered in the past couple of days. "People here live for their appearance, and I understand that. They make an effort. The will of beauty is something I admire because it takes a lot of discipline, and I don't think those operations are very pleasant. Perhaps I should try one, but I don't think I will. I am too scared. The idea that you cannot move your face must be horrible. Men do it here, too. They should only come out at night, but then they wouldn't get tanned."
The designer has a very definite opinion on the current hoopla surrounding Paris Hilton and her possible jail sentence after several driving infractions.
"If you ask me, she should have a driver," he said. "She doesn't have the excuse of being a poor girl. If you are a party person, and you like to have fun and drink a little, you better take a driver. She just has to make sure the driver doesn't drink, but that's another problem. If he has to go to jail, she can take another one."
Lagerfeld may love Los Angeles, but he has no intention of setting up a home on the West Coast.
"I don't want to buy houses anymore," he said. "I only want places connected to hotels with room service. In Europe, it's so horrible with people who work in your house. They can steal from you and you cannot get rid of them. I sold all my houses, and all my homes are now connected to hotels. I just push the button. If there's a leak, it's their problem, not mine."
For tonight's cruise collection, Lagerfeld reconnected with Claudia Schiffer, who was once the face of Chanel, and with whom the designer was said to have had a falling out in the late Nineties.
"People thought I had had a fight with her, but I never did," he said. "A former assistant of mine invented lots of stories, and things I had never said. We never lost touch completely. I did this big campaign with her for Dom Perignon and thought she looked younger and more beautiful than ever."Schiffer is expected to be in the front row at tonight's show. "I think it's perfectly right for her not to be in the show," Lagerfeld said. "She is beyond that. There is a moment when you stop doing shows. She has a personality, she is genius for photos, stunning in real life, but leave the runways to the kids."
The collection's jet set theme seems particularly relevant for Lagerfeld, who admits he doesn't like traveling on commercial flights.
"If people want me to travel and think I should come, I need a proof of love, and that has to be a little expensive," he said. "You want me on commercial, you don't get me, because then, I think I am so unimportant that I could stay at home. It's not because I want the luxury of it. I want to travel only if they think I am really needed."
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