How to unpack Karl Lagerfeld’s far-reaching impact on fashion, the luxury business, pop culture and the people close to him?
It takes a village, and more than three years after the German designer’s death, filmmakers, writers, curators and photographers are working furiously to cast light on different facets of his career and personal life.
Coming in the first half of next year: an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s Costume Institute, and a book by former WWD journalist and author William Middleton titled ”Paradise Now: The Extraordinary Life of Karl Lagerfeld.” Next year, French television station Canal+ plans to air a four-part documentary series entitled “Lagerfeld Ambitions.”
Word has it the BBC is also working on a documentary, and a little further down the road will be a feature film by Jared Leto in collaboration with the Karl Lagerfeld fashion house, with Leto playing the design legend.
Next month, British fashion photographer Robert Fairer releases “Karl Lagerfeld Unseen: The Chanel Years,” a hardcover Thames & Hudson tome that captures many ‘90s supermodels; documents the designer’s immense range with the fashion house founder’s brand codes, and demonstrates the family spirit and culture of excellence Lagerfeld inspired and nurtured.
Fairer chose to focus on the “golden years,” from the mid-1990s through to 2006, selecting a little under 300 photos from the tens of thousands he snapped backstage, agog at the splendor of the clothes, the luxurious surroundings and the electrifying atmosphere stoked by having a living design legend tinkering with the looks right up to the last minute, and giving each model an encouraging word.
“It was in his nature to create, create, create every minute of the day,” Fairer marvels in an interview. “You knew you weren’t going to take three pictures of an outfit — more like 15.
“Out of all the designers, he was super approachable, always allowing you to photograph him,” adds Fairer, who has also published books of his behind-the-scenes photos at Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Marc Jacobs shows.
At Chanel, Fairer mostly aimed his lens at the sumptuous and varied clothing — and the accessories, which the photographer came to appreciate thanks to the creativity Lagerfeld poured into handbags, jewelry, hats, gloves, shoes, earmuffs, surfboards — you name it.
In his pre-digital days, Fairer would typically bring 15 rolls of film to a show, but a Chanel one would require at least 40 as there was so much to capture.
“Over the years, I developed this sixth sense about what’s about to happen,” he says. “It’s like creating a little scene with the 20 seconds you have.”
He also describes a collaborative approach with the models, who usually obliged if he asked for a certain pose or attitude.
Fairer has snapped photos backstage at McQueen shows in waste recycling plants where “you were lucky if the floor was hosed down.”
Chanel shows, by contrast, were “on another level,” the vast backstage area always carpeted, superbly lit, equipped with great caterers, free-flowing Champagne and trays and trays of costume jewelry.
Flicking through the 352-page book, there are glimpses of fashion stars no longer with us: not only Lagerfeld, but also the model Stella Tennant and editor André Leon Talley.
Fairer admits some nostalgia, lauding the “powerful aura” of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell’s inimitable walk that can be detected a mile away, and Kate Moss’ punchy personality.
“My photography was always very collaborative,” he explains.
The book also features essays by journalists Natasha Fraser, Sally Singer and Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, plus a foreword by Lady Amanda Harlech, who notes that Fairer captured “the joy, edge and beauty” of the backstage world, which Lagerfeld adored.