It seems that in these Gucci-laden, Tom Ford-obsessed days fashionistas have simply forsaken their roots. People! Have we forgotten about Mr. Chanel himself – Karl Lagerfeld? As if he would let that happen. Between his new diet book (due out April ’05), his recent fiasco between the the (gasp!) discount mass-retailer H&M, and his newly announced association with Tommy Hilfiger running design, advertising and imaging for trademarked lines he sold to Hilfiger, Karl Lagerfeld at 66 is still as fabulous and feisty as ever.
The German-born designer started his career at 17 and quickly went from designing for the House of Balmain to Jean Patou, Charles Jourdan, Valentino, Fendi, Chloe and for the past 25 years, Chanel. But do not for one minute think that being the creative force behind the legendary label has kept him pinned down. Aside from designing full ready-to-wear collections for Chanel and Fendi, his own label, Lagerfeld Gallery (which he started back in the early ’80s), plus Chanel Couture twice a year – he is a professional photographer (he shoots of all of his own ad campaigns) and in his spare time creates and publishes books for his new imprint, Editions 7L.
The man has the power to put those of us in our 20s to shame with his energy and ambition. But, shamed as we may be, we still admire his dedication, we praise him for designing those skinny-legged pants and we absolutely adore him for his ability to make a statement and not give a damn what anyone has to say about it.
Take for instance a memorable moment back in the early ’90s when he employed strippers and an Italian porn star to model his black-and-white collection for Fendi. He has produced legendary pieces like the shower-dress, with beaded water streaming down the front; a car-dress with a radiator grille and fender, and a multitude of outstandingly eccentric hats. And ten years after the height of Lagerfeld’s Chanel we still hang on his every move.
I was reminded of the power Karl Lagerfeld can wield a couple of seasons ago right here at the ever-so-trendy South Beach restaurant/lounge, B.E.D. Someone had put in a call to say the fashion icon would be stopping by for a nosh on the night in question. The staff had been preparing for his arrival upwards of four hours when the diva himself appeared – for a total of about 60 seconds. After seeing that he would have to perch where so many of “the people” had sat, eaten, danced, and/or groped before him, he promptly turned on his polished heel and headed back out the door.
In 1997, Vogue crowned him the “unparalleled interpreter of the mood of the moment” and that night back in 2003 I crowned him the unparalleled moodiest of the moment. But loved him all the same.
Although I must say that Vogue may have been onto something. Take for instance the Karl Lagerfeld for H&M collection (“just 30 pieces,” he says, “very androgynous”). The collection, which debuted in selected H&M stores on November 12th, was Lagerfeld’s signature modern, elegant and streamlined pieces in black and white. His reasoning behind the mass retailer/haute couture collaboration was “the idea was modern.”
Maybe his venture into chain retail was also a gentle reminder that he too is human. He understands the needs of the general public for an impeccably cut blazer and tailored pants. Perhaps he is not as out of reach as once believed. Well, when asked about eating a hot dog from a New York street vendor in a recent interview with Elle magazine Lagerfeld replied, “Yes, I was mad for hot dogs when I was human. I loved that – eating them in the streets, walking around with food.” OK, maybe not.
When the now model-thin Lagerfeld caught wind of the chain retailer enlarging the sizes to fit the average UK female shape – size 14-16 – he fired back calling British women too fat for his clothing. He sneered, “What I created was fashion for slim, slender people. That was the original idea.” Lagerfeld has vowed never to work for H&M again.
Back in 1977 Lagerfeld was quoted as saying, “I don’t like skinny people. I think it’s very d?od?” However in 2002, after shedding 90 pounds he scoffed, “Muscles are out. Bones are in.” Karl Lagerfeld is nothing if not of the moment.
Whether slim or overweight, a confident Lagerfeld has always remained his most loyal fan. His pant size may have fluctuated over the years, but his dire belief in the “House of Karl” has never waned.