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Land of the Rising Karl

Karl Lagerfeld was treated like a rock star when he made an unexpected stop at the new Chanel flagship in Ginza.

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TOKYO — “They would have torn me to pieces,” Karl Lagerfeld said last week after he had to flee a thumping dance party thrown by Paris boutique Colette to fete its temporary boutique in collaboration with Comme des Garçons. The designer was practically tackled on the dance floor as fashion fanatics petted, pinched and kissed him.

“They wanted my clothing,” he said. “I’m not [prudish], but I don’t go out in order to get a massage.”

Welcome to the Land of Lagerfeld.

The designer, who was in town last week for the opening of the largest Chanel store in the world and to shoot a special Tokyo issue of Interview magazine with editor in chief Ingrid Sischy, created pandemonium wherever he went.

“Rock star! Rock star!” Vogue’s André Leon Talley declared as a swarm of fans dozens deep surged around Lagerfeld on Saturday, including a woman so overcome with emotion that she sobbed into the shoulder of the designer’s Dior Homme peacoat.

“You don’t need music today [to be famous],” was Lagerfeld’s offhand retort as a forest of arms held aloft camera-equipped cell phones to capture an image of a visiting fashion deity.

The designer was making an unexpected stop in front of the new Chanel flagship boutique in Ginza, where shoppers began queuing up at midnight to be among the first to enter at 10 a.m. By that hour, a line of hundreds snaked around the block.

“They don’t do this for Mick Jagger anymore,” Talley quipped.

Even the normally cool designer was nonplussed.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lagerfeld said last Thursday after he had to interrupt a fashion shoot in the Shibuya district when he was surrounded by hundreds of curiosity seekers, including local schoolboys in blazers, who excitedly asked the couturier to autograph their backpacks. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t know how they are so well-informed. What is quite flattering for a man my age, the public is quite young.”

The scene was more orderly, but the adulation no less obvious, last Friday night, when Chanel reprised its “red carpet” spring 2005 runway show in a massive tent erected in front of the Imperial Palace. Decked out in Chanel, women arrived hours ahead of the 7 p.m. show, many laden with shopping bags from a preshow spree at Chanel. Some flew in especially for the evening from South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China.

This story first appeared in the December 7, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I flew in from Fukuoka,” said 28-year-old Mio Hashiguchi as she filed in to find her seat. “I have been a Chanel fan for 10 years. My budget for each shopping trip is one million yen [$9,750].”

Forty-one-year old Chiharu Hara of Tokyo has her beat. “For Chanel, I spend 20 million yen a year [$195,000],” she declared.

For some, that seemed a small price to pay for a brush with a fashion superstar.

At a cocktail party after the show, 30-year-old Yoshie Uchida was among legions of women who sought a moment with Lagerfeld.

“I am so excited!” Uchida enthused after her encounter. “I had been waving to him at the party, and when he started to walk away from the party room, I ran and asked for a picture. And while I was standing next to him, he said that he liked the way I put together my outfit. Of course, it is all Chanel!”

Yuka Kuroda, a 17-year-old Tokyo high school student, came wearing her own jeans and one of her mother’s tweed jackets. “I have been a Chanel fan for two years,” she related. “I am so excited to see Karl, the most talented designer of the world.”

Benita, who only gave her first name, agreed: “It was my greatest honor to see him. I flew from Korea just for this.”

Japan’s top fashion editors also turned out in force — and had high praise for Lagerfeld.

“With the brand name Chanel, this talented man can do everything with new ideas,” said Kazuhiro Saito, editor in chief of Vogue Nippon. “Karl is the only designer who can edit today’s Chanel.”

“Karl is like a great arranger of music,” added Kazu Yamamuro, chief producer of Fashion Tsushin TV. “He pays high respect to the original tune, which is Coco Chanel, and he arranges it with modern twists. That’s the perfect marriage between the brand and the designer.”

In Japan, brands tend to be more famous than the designers behind them, but Lagerfeld enjoyed instant recognition all over Tokyo.

Talley, who has accompanied Lagerfeld on trips to Los Angeles and other major cities, said the public reaction was unparalleled in Japan.

“It’s beyond larger than life,” he said. “It’s the third dimension of fame.”

Amanda Harlech, a creative consultant and muse to the designer, related an incident last Wednesday when Lagerfeld decided impromptu to march the models from his pre-fall show at the boutique out into Ginza’s main square, which is dominated by a monumental billboard depicting Lagerfeld in front of a sparkling Eiffel Tower.

Harlech said such an enormous crowd gathered that traffic ground to a halt and police intervened. But in a display of the reserved nature of the Japanese, “they held their breath. The crowd was stunned. It was like virtual reality,” she said. “The applause burst out only after Karl had left, they were so transfixed.”

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