THE KAISER SHARES A FEW POINTED OPINIONS AND REMEMBERS THE EARLY DAYS.
Byline: Andre Leon Talley, March 1978
I’m nothing but a streetwalker. And I say that because it is nearly impossible to be so busy always promoting one’s product. Streetwalking is the way things are done in modern life. One must always push in personal appearances, social promotion,” says Karl Lagerfeld of his overall fashion work which includes Chloe — one of the most successful of the new perfumes on the market in the last two years.
“At the age of one, I gave my first commercial smile, for the advertising of my father’s business,” adds Lagerfeld (a real German baron) while sitting erect on his state bed in his formal 18th-century receiving room. Lagerfeld is the prime heir to the German Glue Cklee fortune, Europe’s equivalent of Carnation condensed milk. As a young boy of a privileged family, Lagerfeld has early visions of his fashion career, which led him to Paris in 1952. In 1954, he won the International Wool Competition first prize for designing a coat. The same year, Yves Saint Laurent designed a dress and won first place in that division of the competition.
Long before Paris, Lagerfeld was already freaked out on fashion. “When I was four, I asked my mother for a valet for my birthday. I wanted my clothes prepared so I could wear anything I wanted at any time of the day. I was a clothes freak. And I was mad for dressing differently at least four times a day. At 10, I was always in hats, high collars and neckties. I never played with other children. I read books and did drawings night and day.
“At five, I started my French lessons with a teacher who was one of the 56 war refugees that lived in our country castle outside Hamburg after World War II. I made early preparations for coming to France.”
Designer for Chloe for 14 years, Lagerfeld today has 30 licensees in Japan (half under the name Chloe, the other signed Lagerfeld); 20 licensees in Germany, as well as the Eve Stillman lingerie in the U.S. He has just signed licenses for sunglasses and a porcelain china collection for the German company Hutschenreuter.
Lagerfeld’s influence is widespread, although it often remains unspoken of. He started his kind of layering in ’69, unconstructed silk dresses in ’72, unfinished hemlines in ’74 and in ’77, a return to the use of lace on cotton tulle. Designing freelance for Fendi for the last 12 years, Lagerfeld has turned furs inside out, upside down and the fur industry around with his innovations. The Paris Chloe boutique is often visited by SA designers and manufacturers who buy his dresses and jackets to copy.
“I have no opinion whatsoever about my influence, Who cares? What is important is what I will do, not what I did in the past.” Although Lagerfeld claims not to think of past collections, he is constantly barking to intimates how he did spencers for Chloe last October, before Yves Saint Laurent showed them for couture in January this year.
“It’s the most flattering thing in the business to be copied. What really makes me laugh is Chantal Thomass using the lace-embroidered cotton tulle I first designed for Foster Willi St. Gall last year. Since she buys a fabric later, she can sell her dresses at half the price of a Chloe.
“My work with Fendi only really started to move six years ago. I finally got the sisters to see how we could really change the shapes and treatments of fur.
“The world changes, youth changes, your skin on your face changes,” adds the 39-year-old Lagerfeld. “I advocate change. What I do is create change seen through my view of the world around me. What I hate are designers who make the same old jacket or sweater differently season after season and call it their personality, their evolution, their style. When I hear I’m called an ‘intellectual designer,’ I hate that. What is the worst is a fashion designer who talks all the time of his or her creativity, what they are now, how they evolve. Just do it and shut up.”
Lagerfeld can’t stop talking about his new mood at Chloe for fall-winter ’78.
“People who make clothes should avoid at all cost the idea that because Paris is in a difficult mood, fashion must be severe and serious. During the war, fashion in Paris was unbelievably amusing. In the streets, it was always the same dark suit on women with the most eccentric hats ever. Women often wore hats that looked like wedding cakes.”
Lagerfeld will show whimsy, tongue-in-cheek elevator-attendant hats with chin straps in everything from red patent to black suede with day and evening clothes. He is also thinking of piling up junk jewels he calls “theater jewels” due to the state proportions. On a day suit, he will pin brooches with paste stones the size of golf balls.
“Accessories should be funny. Humor is vital, and I always make accessories that amuse me. They also aid in playing down the bourgeois aspect of the dresses.
“Women can’t wear real jewelry anywhere these days. The funniest thing to do is to make a joke out of the whole concept of wearing jewels.
“When I show tennis shoes with evening dresses, big hats with tulle veils or when Donna Jordan wore rhinestones in my shows with sports clothes, everybody is quick to say it is bad taste. They also make racist remarks about my being German, but I don’t care. They criticize what I later see as trends.
“As for clothes, I don’t like words like modern or classic for my next collection. My mood is Oskar Schlemmer because his shapes, curves and angles as a member of the Bauhaus have always been my favorites. I am still working on a new technique for a volume I want that stands just lightly away from my body. Oversoft and unconstructed shapes will not work. I am treating silk, velvet and satin in something I know as ’bouti,’ which is like double-faced quilted material that is weightless.”
Between fitting sessions, sample-fabric meetings and licensee conferences, Lagerfeld still finds time for his fetish — the 18th century in France.
His new apartment, with restored wood paneling from the destroyed Palais Royal in the Tuileries, is replete with antiques. Each window is draped to the floor in $100-a-yard taffeta de ninon curtains. Besides the seven rooms, Lagerfeld has three rooms behind the kitchen that are full of books divided by subjects. His marble bathroom is flanked on both sides of the entrance by floor-to-ceiling wood shelves full of his “night table” reading.
Another passion is antique auctions, where Lagerfeld will buy everything from a vintage Mme. Gres jersey dress and cape and give it to Paloma Picasso, to a Louis XVI bed for his mother’s apartments in the same flat.
“I am always gambling at auctions,” says Lagerfeld, who spent $4,000 last week on a gilded Louis XV canape attributed to Tilliard. The chair’s estimated value is $100,000. Lagerfeld’s taste for auctions is so developed that he will rise at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to be chauffeured to the Belgium border to attend an auction of entire paneled rooms in old estates. He also often sits out entire afternoons in the airless and smelly Palais D’Orsay auction rooms nervously waiting to bid.
As for Club Sept, Lagerfeld never goes there. Last night, the big opening of the Sept au Palace, Lagerfeld planned to go to the movies with a friend. “Social life is nothing in Paris. There are no great houses, imaginative parties or wonderful hostesses. I have dinners with friends or stay home reading or working,” continues Lagerfeld, who eats at least three times a week at La Coupole with Anouk Aimee, Paloma Picasso and her gang or Anna Piaggi, when she is in town.
If Lagerfeld suddenly stopped making dresses, what would he do? “If I listen to my fortune teller, I’ll become a movie producer. I would make very sophisticated but mean, mean, bitchy Marx Brothers-type comedies. They would be mean, but in a light way.”
March 12, the date of French elections, used to be a constant subject on Lagerfeld’s tongue until last week, when he decided he had had enough of all the polls, publicity and front-page stories of the candidates. “As for the elections and the fear of socialism, my favorite definition of socialism is when the late Candy Darling said: ‘I want everybody to live on Park Avenue.’ As for the possible crisis, I can’t vote as I am a guest of France. I must say I feel like people must have felt before July 14 in France in 1789, sitting on this bed and dressed this way.
“The day we begin to pay 90 percent income taxes, life will not be very glamorous. I will then rent rooms here because all I have is beautiful beds. And instead of spending $200 a night for dinner with friends in bistros, it will be spaghetti at home.
“There is a turning point in France. But I see a big room with lots of doors and no keyholes. Where is the door to the new world, the new hope? I prefer to imagine the world from my windows rather than see the often unpleasant reality.”
More From Karl
“I try to forget my collections. It’s best not to remember too well. People who remember what they did before tend to do the same thing over again.”
— April 1983
“I am so bored by designers who think their style is too important to be changed and who think life was so much better in Paris 10 years ago, and fashion was so much more elegant. who cares?”
— February 1986