LAGERFELD, KARL - IN HIS OWN WORDS
Remembering Karl Lagerfeld (Sept. 10, 1933 - Feb. 19, 2019), one of the world's most prolific and successful designers, who declined a role in Zoolander 2 but did accept a cameo in Francis Veber's The Valet (2006) - playing himself of course. In 1988, ANDREW L. URBAN spent a week waiting for Lagerfeld to show up in Monte Carlo at his apartment, to conduct an interview for Mode magazine's Insider Briefing (travel section). His rapid-fire speech and his unique image made a big impression. Here is what he told Urban about himself, his favourite pastime - work - and about his favourite place - Monte Carlo.
It must have been about twenty years before I moved to Monte Carlo that I first came here. The funny thing is, one of the first times I came, I was in the Country Club and I saw this villa above the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel: I said to myself if ever I lived in Monte Carlo I would like to live in this villa - nobody had lived there for years.
Now I have that same villa as a guest house - the renovations are almost complete - as you can imagine there is a lot to do, since it's been closed for over fifty years. The owners, the Society des Bains de Mer, who also own the Monte Carlo casino and several hotels, told me I could have it for the rest of my life on the condition I renovated it fully. It is costing a fortune, because I want it to be beautiful.
But my interest in Monte Carlo is not just this: for the past 15 years, I have known quite well the Princess Caroline, and have always liked the idea of Monte Carlo, partly because its so easy to reach. Above all, it's not a provincial town; it's like a little city without the unplesant aspects of a big city. You can find everything you want as in a big city, there are lots of things happening here.
But the most important thing for me is that I work in Rome, and in Paris and in Germany; and from Nice - just a short drive away - you can go to those places very quickly. For me, it's like a central point for my Italian business, my French business and my German business.
A lot of people think that people live in Monte Carlo because they have a tax problem and so on, but that's ridiculous because there are many other tax havens in the world for freelance people like me - I'm not employed in any business, I operate the business in my name I'm always a free person. I could even live in England; I have no office in England and would not have to pay income tax. Just as easily, I could go to Lichtenstein or wherever, so that's ridiculous.
I really chose Monte Carlo because I think it's one of the most pleasant places in the world. Also, a few years ago France was not a very secure place with all those things happenning that you heard about, with terrorist and all that. Here, how can I say it , it's a safe country, peaceful, especially in this corner, the old part. Most people live in the modern part but here in the old part I think it's the safest, best guarded place in Europe.
"I really chose Monte Carlo because I think it's one of the most pleasant places in the world"
This part of Monte Carlo is called Monaco Ville and it's like another world compared to the Monte Carlo down below. It's really a place where today you have a feeling of security like you have nowhere in the world anymore: I think that is something priceless.
I used to live down in Monte Carlo because it's not easy to find something here. The problem in the old part of the Principality is there are no parking places for the cars, none of the old buildings have garages so it would be impossible for me to live here. It took time to find something up here with a garage; this apartment building has been completely re-done and a garage built underneath - none of the other buildings have this, and I needed something quite big and comfortable.
Karl Lagerfeld - Monaco, 1988
Many people dream of living here on the hill, but there is not much space and the old buildings are very tiny and not very comfortable and there is not much light. But this place is light, and I work here on my collections, and then I go to Paris, Rome and Germany and explain what I want and so on. Then I come back here.
Now, I didn't acquire this apartment, because it was not for sale. It is the private property of the Prince of Monaco, and he rented it to me. He ownes this building and he rebuilt it, and asked me if I liked the idea of this top floor because it has a roof garden. I moved in a year ago; it was under construction for three years being re-done, in the most comfortable way.
As for my guesthouse, La Vigie, the first guest came to stay at the end of June, but we still have to do some finishing work, because here in the south of France, people don't always work too well, so we have to re-do some of the windows, some of the tiles, and things like this, but it can be lived in during the summer.
It will in any case not accommodate so many guests because the guests all have suites. On the ground floor is a huge ballroom and billiard room so we can have parties, and on the first floor there are in fact only two guest suites but everybody has a big living room, bathroom and dressing room so its really over-comfortable. The house is not actually that big; it looks big from the outside, but in the centre of the house is a huge staircase so there aren't that many rooms.
On the second floor I also made an apartment for myself - and in fact there is only one guest room, the rest is for myself - if I stay there or not it's not a problem. I have a library, a living room, a dining room, a bedroom and a dressing room but it's not that big. But I think I will probably spend much of my time here in the apartment, especially if I want to work; it would be much quieter here - I wouldn't want guests in the house when I want to be alone. I like the idea of having another place to go to it I want to get away.
But I never spend much time anywhere. I stay three or four days and go somewhere else. I've just been in Rome for three days and now I'm going to New York for a few days and then I go to Paris for two days, come back here for next weekend and then from here I'm going to Rome.
I'm constantly working, but you know, the job I do is not something called work in the proper sense of the word: it's not like being in a factory eight hours a day. I think there are different kinds of work.
"I'm constantly working, but you know, the job I do is not something called work in the proper sense of the word: it's not like being in a factory eight hours a day."
The kind of work I do is not exactly boring and I can do it whenever I like, anytime of the day, you don't have to do it between nine and six. I do it mostly early, early in the morning. I'm an early riser and the hours I prefer for creative work are between five or six and nine or ten in the morning. These are my favourite hours. I consider myself quick but you know, you are quick only in comparison to someone who is slower, so it depends.
At the moment my work load comprises KL Paris, the expensive ready to wear line, then I do KL by Karl Largerfeld, the inexpensive sportswear line in Germany, which is a very important business; then I do Chanel - high fashion and ready to wear - and then there is Fendi ready to wear, and fur.
And then I have the perfume business in New York. It's quite a lot, for one person. Chanel alone is four collections, for example, and then I have all my licencing businesses. I'm staring a men's line, I do a shoe licence, a jewellery licence, and you know, things like this only work if you do it all yourself.
With the licencing business, the days when people gave their name and forgot about it are over. People buy expensive things only if they are creative and there is something new about them. Of course I have big studios - I have a Fendi studio, a Chanel studio, a KL studio, a German studio and lots of people in New York for the perfume, but I do all the sketching myself. And the funny thing is, I even have to sketch my prints myself because we discovered that prints we had done by other people don't sell - it needs my personel touch, so I have to do it myself. But I like it, it's like painting.
And I do something else: I also work as a commercial photographer and I do all the Channel, KL and Fendi ads myself. I have a huge organization as a photographer; I have a production director, three assistants and so on, because lots of magazines want things from me even though I mainly want to do commercial work for my own business. But now I'm doing things for German Esquire, German Vogue and in fact I don't want so much photographic work.
I prefer to do this work because I want to create my own images of my products.
I have quite an interest in history - fashion history - as I like to be well informed. I like our times very much but I think you enjoy life more if you have real knowledge about the past, and by using elements from the past you can create things for the future. I think it's as well to have a basic interest in the future as well as the present and the past.
Sometimes I'm asked about my image, but I think it's very dangerous to define your own image because then you get into contemplation about yourself, something I don't really like. So I leave it up to the public - whatever they see there, they see. I hate to talk about myself in terms of an image.
My image is a reflection of my tastes - what I like and what I don't like. And I don't think you have to try to define what is beautiful universally. The job of the designer is to have his vision of what he thinks is beautiful, what he likes - the lifestyle, the women he dresses, whatever - and propose his version.
"My image is a reflection of my tastes - what I like and what I don't like."
It's up to the consumer to identify what they want, but I think one should not try to push it too much into words. Voltaire said something very clever; anything that needs an explanation isn't worth an explanation. I would put it this way: all the designers are there to make proposals, and it's up to the public to select. Sometimes you see a strong image but there is no product. There are too many people who talk a lot about what they make, but in fact it has nothing to do with what they really make.
Of course, in a way you reveal yourself, but I don't like to put it in words, especially in a business like this; you have your basic ideas but I like change. There can be something I hate one day: it's good to hate things because then you can love them the next. If you're totally indifferent, there's nothing more you can do.
But getting back to Monte Carlo: I like the lifestyle very much and I'm here as often as I can, although I don't go out very much. I like it as my quiet retreat. But I like the idea that if I have to go out, if I want to go out, there are tons of people, tons of places, and whatever you want, which is the nice thing about Monte Carlo. I have a few friends here but I'm not a name dropper so I won't mention names.
I see a limited group of people in Monte Carlo - I get to see enough people in the rest of the world. Here I want to be - I won't say alone - but quiet. I don't want to look at my watch all the time and have the telephone ringing. I want to concentrate on my work.
I don't consider work something I have to stop because for me it's like breathing. If you stop breathing you faint. As I said before, I don't regard it as work - I can be sketching something even if it's not being used in anything ... I don't know where the line is. For me there is no such thing as here that is work, and over there it's something else.
And I'm a freelance because I like that idea of being free: I have to do things but I can do it when I want. If I have something to do, it is because I want to do it, not because I have to.
Many years ago my life was different and I didn't like to travel that much. I stayed mostly in Paris, because I had this idea that I would miss something. Today I don't have that feeling. The fashion world has changed: Italy is exciting now, Germany is becoming interesting and so on. Before, I thought Paris was everything and the rest was nothing, but that was twenty years ago.
I first went to school in Paris when I was seven years old: my father was Swedish, my mother was German and I was born in Hamburg. I went to school in Hamburg and also Denmark, because we had a country estate on the border of Germany and Denmark.
I spoke English, German and French from the beginning, so I had no problem with school in France.
I was interested in what people used to wear and in books and paintings, and the way they were dressed - in the past as well as the present - and I became really interested before I knew what's called fashion. I never played with dolls or anything like that, but I do remember as a child I had a puppet theatre and I made sets and costumes for them, and for the costumes I needed a lot of knowledge from the past and that's the way I started to acquire it.
Then I wanted to become a portrait painter, but as my mother said, 'You're a little late for that because nowadays nobody needs to paint portraits - we have cameras for that'. But as I sketched quite well, when I was twelve years old she showed some of my work to the director of the art school in Hamburg who was a friend of hers. He said to her, 'Your son could already start to come to art school but I'll tell you something. Your son isn't concerned about art so much - he's more interested in costumes. Look at his sketches; the most important thing in all the sketches is what people wear.' And he was right.
In a way, I consider myself - and this sounds very pretentious - a professional dilletante. I never went to any professional school, I learnt it all by myself by working, so I don't have to debate whether I'm an artist or whatever. What I do is applied art - and I like that idea because what I like about fashion is that it's the one thing that quickly reflects changes in the world.
"In a way, I consider myself - and this sounds very pretentious - a professional dilletante. "
You can go back 20, 30, 50, 100 years and the quickest way to see what's happened is through fashion; and fashion means make-up, shoes and so on. It's also important how they are put together, that's what gives the atmosphere.
People sometimes say, 'O, that's been done before' but it wasn't done before in the same way, in the same context. For me, fashion is like music; you have a certain amount of notes and with that you have to make your tune.
I've always believed people are what they wear but you can improve it. We're not in medieval times anymore, when you did a certain job and so you were only allowed to wear certain types of clothes. Today everybody can dress how they want and look how they want. Especially for women, today there are so many different proposals that they can go from one to the other without being untrue to themselves.
Of course it's difficult to look like a Japanese intellectual and the next morning like Dynasty. But in a way it's fun to play around with dressing - in a way it's fun to change your character.
And for me, the approach to men's fashion and women's is much the same. Men have a very different view about clothing today, compared to the past. The market for toiletries and perfume and all those sorts of products for men is growing, which means that the men are changing. The old idea that men were not supposed to be handsome or well groomed was an idea that women put into men's heads in the 50s, to keep them at home.
In my own environment, I like clean elegant things and hate to have a mess around me. My mind is like a computer: I was computerized before the word was invented! Otherwise I couldn't do what I do. I think it's very healthy for your brain to work a lot and to be very organized - as it's also important for me to have a clean, well organized house. Of course you can have people do that for you, but nobody can clean up your mind, so you have to put your own computer programs in yourself.
Monte Carlo is a dress up city; I like the way they dress in Monte Carlo. I'm very much against 'laissez allez' and I'm very happy that the dress rules in the casino require coat and tie. It's a kind of discipline and I'm comfortable with discipline. I'm sorry for those sloppy tourists, but I think it's a good thing if they make a little effort too.
For myself, I tend to be a little overdressed, but I like clothes that I put on and then forget about them. If you're in the kind of business I am, you cannot think twenty-four hours a day about your own stuff.
In fashion I like nothing safe: the safest thing has to be pushed around and changed. I have this kind of destructive approach. I like to destroy, but only because I want to start again.
"In fashion I like nothing safe: the safest thing has to be pushed around and changed."
Finally, I want Monte Carlo to be the one non-commercial place for me. That's why I don't have a Karl Lagerfeld shop here - nothing. Here, I want it to be out of reality. That's why I think Monte Carlo is a marvellous place for me because it's not a down to earth place. It's heaven - and that's what I like about it.