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Karl’s Bold Move

In preparation for Karl Lagerfeld's presentation Wednesday of his Paris-New York Collection, Chanel closed its New York flagship for two days.

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NEW YORK — It takes a certain audacity to close a New York City flagship for two-plus days during the Christmas shopping season. But at chez Chanel, audacity is as abundant as pin-on camellias. So when Karl Lagerfeld decided to take his fourth annual satellite show to Gotham, he thought nothing of putting the store into lock-down mode to allow for a temporary demerching.

“Alain never says no. They can afford two days,” quipped the designer of the Wertheimer behind the Chanel empire. Dressed in a carefully planned assemblage of Chanel, Libertine and Agatha, Lagerfeld was taking a visitor through the space that, by Tuesday afternoon, showed not a trace of its usual retail reality. It did, however, still flaunt the house identity via the wallpaper decorated with big Chanel travel stickers. “You can’t have a show between handbags and perfume. It’s rude — like advertising.”

Such metamorphoses don’t happen easily; to stage the extravaganza, 80 people were flown in from Paris, and Lagerfeld engaged singer Devendra Banhart to perform live. If such an elaborate presentation sounds like much ado for a pre-fall collection, Lagerfeld begs to differ and noted that the effort balances “cruise on the other side” while surpassing it in sales. And he scoffed at the notion of “pre-” anything, unless the prefix stands for premium, considering the event’s guest list headed by Uma Thurman and Diane Kruger, its elite-even-by-Chanel-standards clothes and prices that go, he said, “up to nobody knows what.”

That’s because, four years ago, Lagerfeld decided to use the pre-fall delivery period to introduce a new concept, one that would highlight the work of the various couture ateliers owned by Chanel. Thus, the clothes he showed on Wednesday featured all kinds of embellishments from flamboyant crystal-embroidered “arm tiaras” to cryptic intricacies of construction. He focused on black and white with a garçonne orientation, often in tiny, reed-thin suits worn over satin jeans “to make the Chanel suit modern.”

Yet, while fans of any age will find something to love, this collection targets not Chanel’s youngest ready-to-wear customers, but its richest, whom Lagerfeld called its “smaller public” — thus, the bounty of suits, grandly veiled evening looks and quilted luggage apparently designed to incite wicked jealousy in the first-class check-in. To solidify the message in his press kit, he sought a latter-day Gibson Girl type and chose IMG’s Hilary Rhoda, whose look he described as “young old money.”

This story first appeared in the December 8, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While a designer with less energy — and a longer attention span — might have focused solely on this presentation during his few days in New York, Lagerfeld lined up numerous other projects, most of the photography sort. He shot for Numero Homme and Chinese Vogue early in the week with gigs for Bazaar, Interview and V upcoming. “My problem is I never can stop — I’m bulimic,” he said. “I like this job every year better, maybe because I took on the photography.” Which is not to say that he belabors his new discipline. “My concentration doesn’t go to shoots that last more than a day. I make mistakes, maybe, but I don’t correct.” Nor does he need worry about scheduling studio time, as his new Karl Lagerfeld headquarters on West 26th Street affords ample room for a photo studio — along with, he boasted, “the most beautiful views in New York.”

Lagerfeld is just as excited about his new apartment on Gramercy Park North, which Ingrid Sischy and Sandy Brant helped him find. Among its historical attractions: E.B. White lived there, Edith Wharton was born on the site and Edward Steichen supposedly had a studio nearby. The building’s design suits Lagerfeld, as well. “Few people know it — avant-garde Germany, 1910,” he explained. “I like that it’s a German feeling — but German in the best sense.”

And speaking of scents, after walking a guest out of the Chanel shop, Lagerfeld made a brief check of the competition next door, running into Dior, where he stopped at the men’s fragrance display. “This is nice,” he said to no one in particular. And then, to a sales associate: “Do you have the aftershave?”

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