Well, that didn’t take long.
William Middleton, a former Paris bureau chief of WWD and W magazine, just signed a book deal with HarperCollins to write “an unconventional biography” of Karl Lagerfeld and how he turned himself into a cultural icon. Lagerfeld died Feb. 19.
Middleton, who met Lagerfeld in 1995, did many stories with him when he worked in Paris and developed a friendship along the way. Middleton is the author of “Double Vision,” about the powerful art-world family headed by Dominique and John de Menil that was published last spring.
Middleton said he had proposed a book to Lagerfeld about a year ago, and the designer was not interested in delving into his past. “I don’t think the history of Karl is the most interesting part. There are some elements of his past that are interesting. But it’s really what he turned himself into that’s so fascinating. I didn’t want to do a normal biography,” he said.
Immediately after Lagerfeld died, Middleton wrote a three-page proposal and e-mailed his agent, Binky Urban at ICM. “By 9 a.m., she had me on the phone [with HarperCollins vice president and executive editor Sara Nelson] and we had a contract the next week. It all happened quite fast,” said Middleton, who signed the contract March 7.
Middleton said he’ll take a different approach with the Lagerfeld book than the de Menil one. The de Menil book was an exhaustive biography, 675 pages and “a big, big book.”
“That doesn’t feel right with Karl. What feels right to me is a book that’s kind of episodic, that looks at the most exciting moments of his life — almost flashes of the most compelling moments in Karl’s life and the world around him, and with his fierce engagement with popular culture. There was no one who was more connected to what was going on in art and film and architecture and design and so many elements of culture, and I think that really needs to be brought up,” said Middleton.
He said the idea is to make it a “contained project,” at around 250 to 300 pages, along with some images. He said he hopes to have cooperation from Chanel, but hasn’t discussed that yet. Middleton, who said he got “a nice advance,” plans to move to Paris to write the book, which is expected to be published in 2021.
And what happens if he doesn’t get cooperation from Chanel, where Lagerfeld was creative director for 34 years?
“I don’t know. We’re doing the book,” he said.
“I’m passionate about Karl and I have great respect for him,” he said. He said he used to do previews for the ready-to-wear and haute couture every season with him, and did many stories with him for W.
“The image of Karl can be so harsh, the sunglasses, the fans, the bitchy bon mot. I said to him after spending some time together, it’s rare to see someone whose public image is so harsh, but in reality, is so much warmer, and he said, ‘Better that than the opposite, no?’”
Reached for comment, Nelson at HarperCollins said she jumped at the idea right away. “I’m a lay person, and was fascinated always by Lagerfeld and love fashion.”
This proposal came to her, and she had read some of the de Menil book, so she was familiar with Middleton’s work. “He had an interesting take, and has covered that world a lot and lived inside the French fashion journalism world. I just thought it would be an interesting take. I’m sure there will be more than several books on Lagerfeld, but this one appealed to me,” she said.