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NEW YORK — Even though Karl Lagerfeld’s own choice of desk and chairs have yet to arrive in his West 26th Street office, the designer seems to have had no problems settling into his new Manhattan environs.

The sleek, 20,000-square-foot space has polished concrete floors and white walls and comes replete with a photo studio, where Lagerfeld already has been hard at work. The offices are also bustling with ubercool Lagerfeld staffers, like stylist Melanie Ward, who is the creative director of the contemporary Karl Lagerfeld collection.

“There’s energy in New York,” Lagerfeld said, sitting in his studio. “The other day, we did photos inspired by James Dean. It wouldn’t have been the same in Europe, even if it was done in a room with a white wall. A white wall in New York is not a white wall in Paris because there’s not the same energy.”

Gotham is taking on a special meaning for the designer, and the city is informing his work, from the new Karl Lagerfeld venture, which is owned by Tommy Hilfiger Corp., to Chanel’s Paris-New York collection that he presented here last week.

“I discovered something very strange: I have nearly more friends in New York than in Paris. I love Paris, but it’s a little bit provincial,” he added. “It’s nice to go to a little province town. It’s charming, but I think there is something in the air in New York.”

Since the formation of the Karl Lagerfeld venture, executives have been working on rebranding Lagerfeld Gallery, which he has presented in Paris to date, and creating a brand language for Karl Lagerfeld, the contemporary line that will officially bow during New York Fashion Week in February for fall selling.

Customers will get a glimpse of the new Karl Lagerfeld collection in March, when a limited-edition capsule group is being launched exclusively at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

“We were talking about the launch being in fall, and Karl was thinking it doesn’t have to take that long,” said Ann Acierno, president of Karl Lagerfeld. “I got the sketches in 48 hours from him. We presented it to Neiman’s and Bergdorf’s, and they took it right on the spot.”

This story first appeared in the December 13, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The capsule features such looks as low-rise, screen-print and laser-cut jeans, logo T-shirts and tank tops and silk georgette dresses, as well as T-shirts that state “Love, Karl” or portrait T-shirts of Lagerfeld’s face or silhouette.

Beginning with the fall 2006 collection, Lagerfeld Gallery will be renamed and marketed as Lagerfeld Collection. It will now sport an Art Deco-like logo with a sleek ‘L’ encased in a vertical rectangle.

“Lagerfeld Gallery in Paris was supposed to be my world in my Gallery on the Rue de Seine,” Lagerfeld said. “I wanted to do something intimate in Paris, but now it’s something bigger.”

Lagerfeld Collection and Karl Lagerfeld will be officially launched simultaneously with a runway show on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. That slot caps fashion week and has become quite high-profile in the past two seasons, when it was used by Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani.

The fashion show will take place in a West 26th Street space near Lagerfeld’s offices that was formerly Annie Leibovitz’s studio. It is now the home of contemporary ballet group Cedar Lake.

“There was a moment when I was over at the place to buy it,” Lagerfeld recalled. “But then it was just for a studio, it was before this venture. I was not crazy for a studio on the ground floor.”

Combining both collections on the runway was a strategic move for Lagerfeld, who said this only serves to underscore how people dress today.

“Today, it’s all about mixing,” he said. “It’s like when you wear jeans with something more expensive. The total look is a little different. That’s why I like to mix four labels in one editorial shoot. Some designers hate that because they want their line to stay pure, but to me, that is absolutely not inspiring. You learn when what you did is used and integrated into life.”

Acierno added: “The spirit of both of the lines is really similar. Although they are very different in terms of a more sophisticated design and fabric, they are really part of the same family, like brothers and sisters.”

On the day of the interview late last week, Lagerfeld sported a mix and match of labels, including a Karl Lagerfeld T-shirt, a Mastermind jacket, Agatha jeans and Causse gloves.

“Even if I can make everything I want, I like to mix. After all, I am a stylist. I wear 10 labels at the same time,” Lagerfeld said.

Lagerfeld didn’t define the target client for either collection.

“This is a question I never answer because we propose,” he said. “This is for whoever likes, whoever wants, whoever can identify with it. There was once a designer in Paris who said, ‘My dresses are only for intelligent women.’ She went out of business, so maybe there were only idiots. In fact, it was not clever for her to say that. I design for the people who like. There is no age group because age group is a racism in a way, too.”

That said, don’t expect to see Lagerfeld in one of the T-shirts featuring black-and-white Sixties shots of his own face. “It’s difficult to wear my own face with 40 years in between,” he said. “I don’t propose my own face. If they think it’s fun, we can do it.”

The long-term business plan is to build Karl Lagerfeld into a full business, and the fall launch is expected to have about 150 to 200 styles for women’s and the same amount for men’s. In terms of sales, women’s is expected to account for about 70 percent, while men’s will account for the remainder.

Forty percent of the business is expected to emanate from Europe, 40 percent from the U.S. and the rest from Asia. The company plans to sign licenses for both Karl Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Collection for such classifications and categories as watches, eyewear, jewelry, handbags, shoes and fragrance. “All of that is in play,” Acierno said.

For fall, Karl Lagerfeld will have suggested retail price points from $95 for T-shirts to about $995 for outerwear. By comparison, Lagerfeld Collection retails from $197 for T-shirts to $2,630 for an evening dress.

Thirty-five percent of business will be in wholesale, 45 percent in retail and licensing revenue will account for the rest. The plan is to start opening Karl Lagerfeld stores in 18 months, starting with a location in New York and then potential units in Los Angeles, Florida and Texas.

“We are working on the aesthetic of the stores right now,” Acierno said. “It will be similar in feeling to this space here, but with appropriate selling features.”

Karl Lagerfeld targets contemporary areas in department and specialty stores, while Lagerfeld Collection is more specialty-store driven and Europe-based. Acierno said she anticipates a Lagerfeld Collection men’s launch for spring 2007 or fall 2007. She declined to give sales projections for Karl Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Collection.

Now that Lagerfeld has Chanel in Paris, Fendi in Rome and Karl Lagerfeld in New York, his circle seems complete. “That’s enough,” he said. “But I like that they are different parts of the world. I think for the Paris team, it’s good to have something in New York. I think it’s much more inspiring. It’s more modern. And it doesn’t take that long to go to New York. It’s not the day of the Cunard line anymore when it took five days to get here.”

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