PARIS — Despite all the laundries that dot the streets of Manhattan, none is quite good enough for Karl Lagerfeld’s beloved wardrobe of Hilditch & Key shirts.

“Starched collars are not really done well there,” the designer laments, blaming that shortcoming for his tendency to overpack for trips like this week’s New York jaunt to close fashion week with his hotly anticipated show.

“My problem is being overweight, not in myself — in my luggage,” he quips in his dizzying, mile-a-minute manner. “I’m always bringing too many books and papers, cameras and music machines and tons of clothes because I never like to wear the same thing twice … My life is a trunk show” (of the Goyard variety).

Otherwise, New York suits the slim designer to a T. “I feel very much at home in New York,” he says in an interview about the latest fashion capital he’s conquering, after Paris with Chanel and Milan with Fendi. “New York is a city where I like to go out every night, something I don’t do in Paris.”

The Japanese restaurants Omen and Matsuri are favorite Lagerfeld haunts, but he’s adventurous and always on the lookout for the new, too. One of his latest discoveries is La Esquina, which he describes as “this new Mexican restaurant in the basement, sort of like a speakeasy, where you eat behind the kitchen and where people can smoke. It’s very funny.”

Lagerfeld, of course, doesn’t smoke — never has — but he’s against such prohibitions in principle, convinced frustration of any kind leads to no positive ends. He’s not even particularly fond of Mexican food. “I eat nothing,” he says.

Slated to arrive in New York on Monday, Lagerfeld has kept his slate relatively clear for his five-day stay, owing to the amount of preparations necessary for a megarunway show that will mix four different collections for men and women into what he hopes will be a legible, irresistible fashion statement.

Tommy Hilfiger Corp. owns the Lagerfeld business and the show will feature his Lagerfeld Collection previously called Lagerfeld Gallery and previously shown in Paris, plus the new contemporary Karl Lagerfeld label.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I’d better pay attention to that, no?” Lagerfeld says. “We’ll be mixing different lines and labels and levels of price. This is the modern way to dress.”

There are a few diversions planned so as not to interrupt all the necessary fittings. The designer is slated to zip off to Chicago on Tuesday or Wednesday to tape a forthcoming episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Otherwise, no editorial or advertising shoots are scheduled, and he’s not banking on having time to go to exhibitions.

Normally, to navigate the New York cultural scene, he relies on his friend Ingrid Sischy, editor in chief of Interview, or Melanie Ward, the creative director of the Karl Lagerfeld line. But don’t expect him to go to any gallery openings — ever. “Then, you only see people,” he says. “I prefer to go after.” Topping Sischy’s list of art destinations for the designer is a new installation of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi at the MoMA.

Shopping, despite being a favorite Lagerfeld pastime, is not a sure bet this trip, either. Should it come to pass, Libertine, Dior Homme and Chrome Hearts are his favorite fashion troika.

Beyond that, “maybe I will go to Moss for my apartment,” he says, referring to the design destination in SoHo that might shelter some gems for his new Paris digs on Quai Voltaire, which he plans to move into in late April and furnish with items no more vintage than the year 2000.

To be sure, Lagerfeld says he finds New York more stimulating than Paris — particularly below 23rd Street. His favorite neighborhood is the one around Gramercy Park North, where his new apartment is under construction.

“Uptown, I don’t like. Probably it reminds me too much of the Eighties, when I wasn’t so happy to be in New York,” he says. “I feel better downtown.”

Short of an intimate after-show dinner at Bette, hosted by Sischy and Interview’s Sandy Brant, Lagerfeld has nothing else clogging his social calendar.

Not that he has one.

Despite his mind-boggling workload in fashion, photography and publishing — not to mention the endless demand from the media for interviews — Lagerfeld is a man who keeps no agenda and who doesn’t even wear a watch.

“I’m a professional improviser,” he says in his winking manner. “I never ask what my schedule is. I like to be told at the last minute … I like to keep this idea of fake freedom.”

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