Karl La­ger­feld


“We had to ma­ke a press kit wi­th ima­ges from the col­lec­tion and, un­for­tu­na­te­ly, no pro­po­sal was sa­ti­sfac­to­ry, so I thought that may­be the per­son be­st sui­ted to per­fec­tly car­ry out my re­que­st was me. No soo­ner said than do­ne. I li­ked it and went to the next step: an ad­ver­ti­sing cam­pai­gn.” This led to “Cha­nel. Le Cam­pa­gne di Karl La­ger­feld” (L’Ip­po­cam­po Edi­zio­ni), an an­tho­lo­gy of all the glos­sy worlds ima­gi­ned by the Ger­man fa­shion de­si­gner for Cha­nel over a pe­riod of 31 years. He crea­ted this phan­ta­smal uni­ver­se in the bat of an eye, wi­thout ever loo­king back. “A la re­cher­che du temps per­du, on perd son temps,” warns the ever­green Karl. “If you lie spra­w­led on the un­ma­de bed of your pa­st, you’re fi­ni­shed.” So he is al­ways stan­ding, in a ru­sh bet­ween a col­lec­tion, a fit­ting, a shoot. For us, ho­we­ver, he stops to talk about the book – but on­ly for a bit be­cau­se he warns us: “I ha­te ana­ly­zing emo­tions!” – and to evo­ke its worlds, a com­bi­na­tion of fa­shion and pho­to­gra­phy.

You re­mind me of that cha­rac­ter in ‘Bla­de Run­ner’ when he says, “I’ve seen things you peo­ple wouldn’t be­lie­ve...” Cor­rec­tion: I’ve had a glimp­se! I’m near­sighted: I on­ly see what I want to see and I work wi­thout a real plan in the be­gin­ning. When I de­ci­de to shoot a cam­pai­gn, I don’t know what I’ll do or how it will be: it de­pends on the mo­del, the col­lec­tion, the lo­ca­tion, etc. They are the pie­ces of a puzz­le that I don’t want to ana­ly­ze be­cau­se they al­ways chan­ge. Nor do I want to de­fi­ne my­self th­rou­gh a gen­re re­pea­ted ad in­fi­ni­tum, li­ke so­me pho­to­gra­phers who I won’t men­tion: my sty­le de­pends on the mo­ment I ta­ke the pic­tu­re. Thir­ty-one years of ad­ver­ti­sing cam­pai­gns: what has chan­ged? Eve­ry­thing: the girls, fa­shion, so­cie­ty... but I don’t li­ke to ex­plain: I work in­stinc­ti­ve­ly. I’m di­sco­ve­ring this book wi­th you. I ne­ver look at the things I’ve do­ne.

And in terms of fa­shion, what’s new to­day?

Fa­shion is al­ways about re­vi­vals. It’s the wo­men who chan­ge and that’s a mer­cy be­cau­se other­wi­se the­re would be no fa­shion!

Tell us about it.

The out­fit adap­ts to a wo­man’s sty­le and ea­ch pe­riod has its dif­fe­rent ty­pes of wo­man, but we can on­ly say this wi­th hind­sight. I ima­gi­ne the mo­dern ver­sion of the Cha­nel wo­man, but then I do ma­ny other things, be­cau­se other­wi­se I iso­la­te my­self from the world. I in­si­st: don’t you find it bo­ring to see the sa­me si­lhouet­tes eve­ry 15 years? Ah! but I don’t see any­thing! I ad­mit, thou­gh, that I’m ti­red of the ‘80s. In fact, when they talk to me about it, I al­ways say that I wa­sn’t born yet.

So who are the de­si­gners to wat­ch?

Marine Serre, Jacquemus... and I al­so li­ke Vir­gil Abloh. Ye­ster­day he wro­te me a let­ter to thank me for ha­ving spo­ken well of him. I’ve kno­wn him for so­me ti­me be­cau­se we ma­de Cha­nel jac­ke­ts for him. In the let­ter he said he saw Phar­rell (Wil­liams) in a swea­ter, and asked if he could ha­ve the sa­me one... He’s so sweet!

You al­so shoot ma­ny films: is it ea­sy to mo­ve from a sta­tic ima­ge to a mo­ving one?

Yes, be­cau­se I ima­gi­ne a fa­shion pho­to li­ke a film still. The­re’s al­ways a ci­ne­ma­tic tou­ch in my pho­tos. I ha­ve so ma­ny re­fe­ren­ces in mind that I don’t even need to try to re­mem­ber what in­spi­red me. It’s all he­re: I’m a wal­king Goo­gle... (he lau­ghs). In my films I do eve­ry­thing, even the dia­lo­gues. Now I’m about to ma­ke one wi­th Pe­ne­lo­pe (Cruz): I al­rea­dy ha­ve the who­le script in mind. The fun­ny thing is that Pe­ne­lo­pe thinks she has an ac­cent, so she asked me to shoot a si­lent film. Well, it will be a tri­bu­te to the ‘20s and to Co­co Cha­nel, who was a real char­mer. Pe­ne­lo­pe is per­fect for the ro­le: she’s the queen of charm.

Why Pe­ne­lo­pe?

I’ve kno­wn her for 15 years and I’m ve­ry fond of her. I am a loyal ty­pe: I li­ke to see the peo­ple I’d lo­ve to work wi­th again. Plus, I ha­ve ab­so­lu­te­ly no sen­se of hie­rar­chy; I need eve­ryo­ne be­cau­se I on­ly know how to do two things in li­fe: draw and speak. For the re­st... help!

Do you ever ha­ve doub­ts?

May­be I should... but no, ne­ver! The doubt is on­ly at the be­gin­ning when I re­flect on an idea, but as soon as I start doing it the­re is no mo­re room for he­si­ta­tion. Not ju­st for me, but for my team: if you start doub­ting, eve­ryo­ne de­pen­ding on you will start to floun­der. Fa­shion mu­st be light, mo­re im­pro­vi­sed, mo­re air du

temps, less con­cep­tua­li­zed! What pho­to­gra­phers and their works ne­ver ti­re you?

Lo­ts! Penn, Ave­don, New­ton, Bour­din, Stei­chen, Stie­gli­tz, Ca­se­be­re, Loui­se Da­hl-Wolf... Among con­tem­po­ra­ries I ad­mi­re Mei­sel. He con­stan­tly chan­ges and ne­ver stops. I’m ve­ry sad that he re­fu­ses to ma­ke books. I’ve been great friends wi­th so­me of the­se pho­to­gra­phers. My mo­ther was ve­ry fond of Guy Bour­din, and she of­ten lent him her ca­stle to ta­ke pic­tu­res, un­til he set fi­re to a room one day... so then he ca­me to me. I lo­ved Bour­din but al­so New­ton. Tho­se we­re other ti­mes, when pho­tos we­re re­tou­ched by hand. Bour­din would work for a full day on a pho­to. New­ton had not the as­si­stant: he shot alo­ne wi­th an old ca­me­ra and a pla­stic bag for hol­ding the film rolls. It ma­kes me think of ano­ther pho­to­gra­pher wi­th whom I’m great friends: An­nie Lei­bo­vi­tz. I lo­ve her work and I lo­ve her as a per­son. We of­ten di­sa­gree: I lo­ve ar­guing wi­th her! Ju­st a few days ago she was sup­po­sed to do a por­trait of me com­mis­sio­ned by An­na (Win­tour) at my hou­se, in my stu­dio, whe­re on­ly clo­se friends en­ter. I told her An­nie, okay, but co­me alo­ne, wi­thout an as­si­stant, as we’ve do­ne in the pa­st. You do eve­ry­thing – rolls and lights – your­self: she wa­sn’t th­ril­led about the idea. But it was fun.

To­day you ju­st need an iP­ho­ne and eve­ryo­ne is a pho­to­gra­pher...

But peo­ple shoot wi­thout real­ly loo­king... eve­ry­thing is in the fra­me. I don’t re­tou­ch the pho­tos, but I pay great at­ten­tion to the crop­ping. I crop them all. Pho­to­gra­phy fo­cu­ses on gra­phic ele­men­ts, but few peo­ple ha­ve a gra­phic vi­sion. In this sen­se, the sea of ima­ges that sub­mer­ges us does not mat­ter. The good pho­tos al­ways emer­ge. La­te­ly I’ve been in­te­re­sted in ab­stract pho­to­gra­phy and I lo­ve por­trai­ts.

Will we see yours?

I’ve ta­ken qui­te a few, but for my pri­va­te col­lec­tion, and I don’t show them. The charm – and the my­ste­ry – of a suc­ces­sful por­trait is the mi­ra­cle of an en­coun­ter. The ca­me­ra sim­ply ser­ves to cap­tu­re that mo­ment of beau­ty in the me­ta­phy­si­cal sen­se.

What is the se­cret of your lon­ge­vi­ty?

The­re is no re­ci­pe: my joy in li­fe is not ha­ving lo­st my spon­ta­nei­ty or my abi­li­ty to be sur­pri­sed. It is a great for­tu­ne not to be bla­sé. Plus, I al­so know how to be an op­por­tu­ni­st and I can na­vi­ga­te all the wa­ters. I do what I lo­ve, but I am al­so in­te­re­sted in eve­ry­thing that I don’t lo­ve. I want to see and know eve­ry­thing. When you crea­te your worlds, do you im­me­dia­te­ly find the right to­ne and look?

I’d say that I al­ways feel in tu­ne wi­th my ti­me. Is it per­cep­tion? In­tui­tion? I don’t know and I can’t ex­plain it. One day Hel­mut New­ton told me that, in the be­gin­ning, my work was ve­ry per­so­nal, but then over ti­me it be­ca­me too tied to the fa­shion trends of the mo­ment. I re­plied, “Hel­mut! Ha­ve you for­got­ten our job? We crea­te fa­shion!” • ori­gi­nal text pa­ge 510

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