Imagine a chef who doesn’t eat his or her own food. Karl Lagerfeld felt the same incredulity toward designers who don’t wear designer clothes — or at least something beyond chinos and a T-shirt.
Lagerfeld never professed any great interest in designing men’s clothes. Wearing them was another story.
He was mad for men’s fashions, as the industry was reminded at the conclusion of the fall 2019 Fendi show, the last by Lagerfeld. The Roman house screened a clip of the designer sketching the outfit he wore on his first day at Fendi in 1965: Cerruti hat, Norfolk jacket in a tweed speckled with red and yellow, culottes, boots and a squarish bag he bought in Milan.
“Men’s wear interests me in terms of what I can put on my back. I have a client mentality,” he told WWD in 2012. “My favorite jacket is always the last one I bought.”
Lagerfeld applied the same passion and exacting standards to his personal attire as he did every collection he designed. He seemed ageless and eternal — and was immediately recognizable worldwide — because he always dressed in a similar fashion: dark suit, high collar, necktie, sunglasses, hair caught in a short ponytail and powdered white.
“I’m not very gifted for hairdos,” he would demur. In fact, he had preferred long hair since he was 10 years old and attending public school in rural Germany.
Swathed in roomy black layers in the Nineties, Lagerfeld famously shed 90 pounds at the turn of the new Millennium in order to shimmy into the slim threads of Hedi Slimane, who revolutionized men’s wear during his tenure at Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007. For years, Lagerfeld was Dior Homme’s biggest customer in the world, and he even lensed campaigns for the brand when Kris Van Assche took over.
Lagerfeld’s closet was a sea of rolling racks crammed with dark suits. Besides Dior, and custom-made jackets by Slimane in his post-Dior years, Lagerfeld donned clothes by Raf Simons, Sacai and N.Hoolywood, along with jeans by Mastermind, Diesel and his own brand.
“I like to be impeccably dressed. That is an ambition. I don’t want to look sloppy, because then I feel sloppy. And I think people who look sloppy are sloppy,” he said. “I like the discipline of well-cut, impeccable clothes. I think it’s a very healthy discipline. Don’t dress to kill, dress to survive.”
Here, excerpts of a colorful conversation during which Lagerfeld professed eternal love for shirts and revulsion for tattoos, flip-flops and suspenders:
On his preference for off-the-rack men’s wear: “It’s better than any bathroom scale, huh? Clothes tell the truth. Because you can lose the kilos, but you can gain weight in bad areas: You can get skinny arms and a big tummy or a flat ass. Don’t trust the scale; trust the clothes.”
On his fetish clothing item: “The shirt is, for me, the top of the top. Designers often say I would have invented jeans. No. I would have invented the white shirt. I’m a shirt freak. At Hilditch & Key, they have made my shirts since I was 16. And they made over 300 designs of collars and shirts for me. They also do the long white smocks I use for sketching when I work at home, because I do a dirty job, you know. I have always said that my only luxuries are beautiful antique sheets and perfect white imperial cotton long nightshirts. Some have even ruffles. I copied them on 17th-century men’s nightshirts I saw in the Victoria & Albert Museum. If you’re accustomed to a handmade shirt by Hilditch, a ready-bought shirt is like wearing some torture stuff.”
On what he doesn’t like in men’s wear: “I don’t like to wear waistcoats very much anymore. I hate to have something on the stomach. And I hate to wear suspenders. I have the feeling I’m wearing a bra.”
On tattoos: “I think tattoos are horrible. It’s like living in a Pucci dress full- time. If you’re young and tight, maybe it’s OK, but…”
On footwear: “Shoes have to be like gloves: flawless, impeccable. I hate sloppy footwear. What I hate most is flip-flops. I am physically allergic to flip-flops.”
On knitwear: “I don’t wear sweaters a lot. I don’t know why. I prefer woven material. It feels cleaner. When I wear knits, I have the feeling I get sloppy. For me it is too soft. I like hard wear. I like clothes with discipline, because I think you get more disciplined if you dress in a disciplined way.”
On spending lavishly on clothes: “As long as you buy something that makes other people work, guilt is a hypocritical feeling. Gilded, OK. Guilt, no. That’s stupid. I like to shop. I’m superficial. But, you know, in this business, it’s what creates jobs. If people buy one jacket a year, the business wouldn’t be as good.”