F O L L OW T H E LEADER
Karl Lagerfeld has been the creative director of the fabled House of Fendi for 50 years, but his vision is as fresh and modern as ever. By Sasha Slater. Photographed by Philip Sinden. Styled by Sara Gilmour.
TKarl Lagerfeld hese are the dog days of summer and the whole of Paris is panting in the heat. Everyone who can has left for the Côte d’Azur, abandoning the capital to the tourists. But Karl Lagerfeld’s studio on the Rive Gauche is abuzz. Around the edges of a room dominated by a gigantic dining table, a huge crystal chandelier and a vast collection of books, which line the walls from floor to ceiling, are squeezed five or six seamstresses and dressers, who have come from Rome with the entire Fendi Spring/Summer ’16 collection. A photographer is on hand to shoot every look, and a model to parade it.
In an inner sanctum next door sit Silvia Venturini Fendi, the famed Italian label’s creative director for accessories and menswear; Charlotte Stockdale, who styles the Fendi shows, and her colleague Katie Lyall. And at the head of the table, his powder-white hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses, a Junya Watanabe patchwork jacket in a symphony of blacks, greys, and pinstripes, and black leather gloves that cover all but the very tips of his fingers, is Lagerfeld himself.
Despite the model’s lightning-quick changes and the seamstresses’ quiet efficiency, the sheer number of looks means that the process takes time. When the team has finally packed up and left for Rome, I am ushered into the designer’s presence and he stands to greet me.
“Am I happy?” he repeats when I ask if he’s pleased with the new-season looks he’s just seen. “Yes, but the minute I do something, I forget about it. Anyway, I might change my mind and that means the fittings we saw never existed. You can only talk about things when they are final. I was happy, but now we have to be happy about the next thing.”
“I never feel proud. I always hope the next collection will be better. That I can still improve. When you start to be proud then you’d better retire. Fashion is like show business. It’s all about the next show.”
Even so, he is still happy with the first Fendi Haute Fourrure show that took place in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées during Paris Couture Week. It was a parade of the most extreme luxury. There were thigh-high silver-and-gold boots teamed with inky black sables tipped with silver so they glimmered like magic as the models strode down the catwalk. Orchids were rendered in mink, and peach-coloured fur was made to look as light and flyaway as feathers. All this was set to the thrilling music of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” and viewed against the background of a giant Giorgio de Chirico painting. It was a show that celebrated Lagerfeld’s 50 years at the helm of Fendi, and one to live forever in the memory of anyone who saw it.
A Karl Lagerfeld sketch for Fendi’s Autumn/ Winter ’88 collection