Karl Lagerfeld has always liked to make bold pronouncements. Back in 1984, he declared: ‘I would like to be a one-man multinational fashion phenomenon.’ It’s a feat he has totally pulled off. A whirling dervish of a globetrotter, he somehow still manages, as he approaches his ninth decade, to turn out head-turning collection after collection for his own label (a new flagship store just opened in London) – and of course for Chanel; the tally, currently, stands at 17 collections year.
Karl Otto Lagerfeldt (he later dropped the ‘t’) was born in Hamburg in 1935. At just 17 – in 1952 – Karl moved to Paris, where he impressed couture houses with his sketching talents. In 1955, his coat designs won a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat (the same year that Yves Saint Laurent won for dresses). He became assistant to couturier Pierre Balmain, but only stayed for three years, apparently commenting: ‘I was not born to be an assistant’. Karl Lagerfeld moved to Jean Patou, later turning freelance – until taking over as head designer at Chloé, where he stayed until 1983. And then the call from Chanel. His friends told him to turn it down; in an interview, Karl recalled: ‘Everybody said, “Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.” But by then I thought it was a challenge.’ And the rest is design history…
Along the way, he’s collaborated with H&M. He’s written a book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet, after shedding 40 kilos. At the same time, Lagerfeld finds time to direct short films and in 2013 made a documentary entitled Karl Lagerfeld Draws Himself. As Vogue puts it, ‘Lagerfeld fights a fear of boredom by channeling his intense energy and curiosity into a variety of activities, any one of which could be a separate career. Besides designing many fashion lines, this multilingual man is a photographer, director, illustrator, costume designer and diet guru.’ If there’s a microsecond with nothing to do, he tweets; even his beloved and pampered white cat, Choupette, has a huge Twitter following. As he put it in an interview with New York Magazine: ‘Yes, I need to do everything. I like making costumes, writing dialogues, being in the middle of everything.’
And of course, Karl Lagerfeld‘s own style is utterly recognisable at 30 paces: crisp white high-collared shirt, silver pompadour hairstyle, trim jacket – and always, a pair of studded black leather driving gloves (to protect his hands from ageing sunlight, so he says). Over the years, Lagefeld’s own signature look – like the designs under his own KL label – has become more pared-down. ‘A pair of jeans, a nice shirt and a jacket are all a boy needs – or a girl, or an older man, or an older woman. Anyone, really, they are the basics of today,’ is his style philosophy.
Karl Lagerfeld has always been first to embrace new technology: the London store features iPads in the changing rooms – and he encourages customers to take ‘selfies’ and share their images with friends. They can also flip through the iPads as a ‘lookbook’ – and every single day, his website www.karl.com delivers a new look into Karl’s world, with snippets from behind-the-scenes, a look at his diary. (And of course, those famous one-line ‘pronouncements’.)
Spring 2014 also saw the long-awaited launch of Karl Lagerfeld Parfums: a pair of fragrances for men and women distinctively packaged, Karl-style, in high-tech, ultra-chic bottles in his signature black-and-white. The inspiration, as he put it, was ‘at the same time high-tech and classic. It’s a mix of both of them, at what I think is the right moment to do that. The high-tech touch and the very classical glass touch of the beautiful-shaped bottle.’ Each is adorned with a large metal ring beneath the cap – like one of Karl’s collars – and his silhouette is repeated, over and over, on the inside of the box.
Acclaimed ‘nose’ Christine Nagel – winner of many awards, including a 2012 Fragrance Foundation Award for ‘Best feminine fragrance of the past 20 years’ (for Narciso Rodriguez for Her) – created the women’s fragrance, alongside colleague Serge Majoulier: an elegant green floral, opening with a zoosh of fresh lemon and sweet hints of peach, then bursting into a full bouquet of roses, magnolias and plumeria. In the base, you’ll be cocooned by musks and deep, dark ambery notes.
As he likes to do, Karl Lagerfeld shot the ad. campaign himself, featuring models Kati Neischer and Baptiste Giabiconi. ‘We needed one boy and one girl,’ he explained. ‘Baptiste and Kati were perfect for what I wanted to embody. There was no other option possible.’ He set out to embody the fragrance’s story in the black-and-white portraits: of desire, irresistible attraction, magnetism between this very ‘rock-and-roll’ duo. ‘I believe that perfume should be something highly sensual. I wanted the photo to reflect this idea,’ he explains. ‘You do not wear a perfume only to smell nice, but because you want to feel handsome or beautiful.’
And his final pronouncement…? ‘Today’s fashion is simply no longer about clothing. It is about the whole package – not just accessories or glasses, but fragrance, too. It is important for a brand to have its own signature perfume. A fragrance is an important as a piece of clothing.’
Karl Lagerfeld – the one-man multinational fashion phenomenon – has spoken. And as ever, he nails it…
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