France is famous for its 35-hour workweek. For Karl Lagerfeld, that’s how long he sleeps over five days—but the rest of the time he’s in overdrive, churning out a dazzling array of fashion collections, photos, movies, books and other side projects.
During the recent round of international shows, the German-born designer generated headlines galore. He opened a new store in Paris for his signature brand, showed collections for Fendi and Chanel, and attended a premiere of a documentary about his sketching habit. In fact, he unveiled drawings for jelly-shoe giant Melissa and German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung while Milan was still in full swing.
Beyond the public appearances and dozens of interviews was a press-kit shoot for Chanel, six days before the show; a jaunt to Saint Moritz for an exhibition of his latest photographs, dubbed “Fire Etchings”; and preparations for the Bal de la Rose, a charity function in Monte Carlo later in the month for which he designed the invitation, plus costumes for performer Rita Ora.
“I always have in my mind that there are more hours in the day than 24. But in the end I find out there are only 24 hours,” the designer muses in his mile-a-minute parlance.
While he claims to be no expert at time management, Lagerfeld manages his own agenda according to a few ground rules.
“I never take appointments in the morning. I work at home. I sketch and prepare, and the afternoon and evening is for fittings and photography,” he explains. “Most of the time I have lunch at home because I’m not very social.”
In fact, Lagerfeld claims to follow no rigid agenda, only “vaguely knowing” what’s on his daunting to-do list. “I’m organized and at the same time, I try to not define every minute. I hate the idea that I can’t have my own time at my disposal,” he says.
Caroline Lebar, Lagerfeld’s longtime communications director, notes the designer is loathe to book anything too far in advance, preferring a maximum horizon of a week to 10 days for fittings and interviews, and up to a couple of months for photographic work. “He makes his own priorities, and he gives everything the time that it takes,” Lebar says.
Lagerfeld confesses that he’s always late because he doesn’t wish to shortchange colleagues and gives his full attention—and then some—to interviews, fittings, photo sessions and the like. “Time is passing too quickly,” he laments.
Asked if he had any tips for people striving to use their time more productively, he replies: “The best advice is to be very organized in your mind. Keep it like an impeccable cupboard in your head.”
As for his nuclear-powered work ethic, “I live with the idea that I still can do better. That’s what pushes me to go ahead,” he says. “For me, everything I did is vaguely OK. I just have to kick my ass to do better.
“I just have to sleep seven hours. If I don’t sleep enough, I’m ready for the garbage can.”
Luckily, he says, he sleeps well. And he has a trusty alarm clock in the form of his blue-eyed cat Choupette, who often nuzzles his face in the morning. Still, he wishes, “I hope one day we’ll have 48-hour days.”