Andrew Bolton, Amanda Harlech, and Sébastien Jondeau Remember Karl Lagerfeld’s Life and Legacy
Released on 05/01/2023
[soft classical music]
This year's exhibition is called Karl Lagerfeld:
A Line of Beauty, and it's a celebration
of Karl's extraordinary career.
His career spanned 65 years.
Karl would often say he was four people.
That he was one person at Chanel, one person at Fendi,
one person at his own label, and one person at Chloe.
And to an extent, that's true.
Fendi, you know, it was more of his modernist tendencies.
Chloe, he's more romantic.
At Karl Lagerfeld, he's more minimalist,
and I suppose at Chanel, more of his historicist
and post-modernist sensibilities.
So to an extent, you know, that was true,
but I think that themes transcended all of those houses.
What was remarkable about Karl was that he was able
to navigate all these different houses,
sometimes simultaneously, to create relatively
distinct aesthetics with those particular brands.
So he was the ultimate chameleon.
We met at one of his parties that he would throw
in his sort of 18th century house in Paris.
He would throw these enormous fashion parties
and the great and good and everybody and the bad
all came, and it was fantastic, and I met him there.
And then I went on meeting him, and in '96,
I started working at Chanel.
The very first time I met Karl was in 2004, actually.
He was extraordinary.
I think what struck me the most was obviously
his intelligence and his knowledge,
but also how confident he was.
When I first met Karl, I was doing a student job
and I was 15 years old, and I didn't know who he was at all.
Yeah, my role at the beginning with Karl was only, like,
to be like a bodyguard, but with the time,
he became more like...
Of course, I was his private secretary, I would say,
than his personnel assistant.
I think actually working and being a friend of Karl,
there wasn't really a difference.
Karl loved his work.
That was his life.
He gave everything to work and that was his happy place,
and there was no division and no holidays.
He made working the most glorious,
inspiring, revelatory time.
I guess we have these three here,
which will keep everything in place.
So one thing that I noticed with Karl's work
is that across the different brands,
across the different time periods,
there was a fairly strong shoulder.
There was also a really kind of angular line
along the tailored jackets from the shoulder
into the kind of chest area.
And the finishes, it's been a treat to see everything
on the inside, something that many people don't get to see.
We wanted to focus more on Karl the designer,
so less his words and more his works.
And we honed in on his creative process,
particularly his sketching.
The drawing was sort of a mix between a technical drawing
and an expressionistic fashion illustration.
For me, you know, Carl was like a genius.
He was drawing like crazy, you know, like a machine.
He can start to make like 20 dresses
in like two, three hours, you know?
He always said he was part of the working class,
meaning that he worked all day and all night,
and I didn't know how he achieved what he did.
It was just extraordinary.
So that was the biggest challenge,
was trying to do him justice, do a man of such
extraordinary productivity justice.
Karl didn't have hobbies.
The thing he loved most of all was to work,
and that meant to sketch and to fit.
The sketches were almost like love letters.
They had this secret language, this private language
that only the premiers could decipher
and then translate and decode into a garment.
So it's so nice to have Karl's very first design represented
in the exhibition, just as a toile, but nevertheless,
it's very accurate rendition of what his first design was,
so I think that's also very moving.
And at the time, we also found a letter that Karl wrote
to his mother, just after he won the Woolmark prize.
He left the prize, came back home on his own,
had supper at eight o'clock and wrote this eight-page letter
to his mother that was really moving and talking about
his experience and the joy and the pride that he had
winning the prize.
But you also hear his personality and his humor and his wit
that became so much associated with Karl.
Well, I wish I was there with Karl and his mother looking
at the River Elba in Hamburg when she said to him,
you know, there is the gateway to other worlds, I mean...
You should go.
And I think Karl always, you know,
from the very moment he saw that 18th century painting
with Frederick and Voltaire, literally as a child,
which he kept all his life,
he had a yearning to be in Paris.
I will say, like, it's my village.
The 7th near to the Eglise Saint-Germain
is the place that I was the most during my 20 years,
'cause we were doing so many things in like,
a circle of like two kilometers, one kilometers, I will say.
Well, Karl really loved...
I mean, he loved Paris, and he loved Paris in June,
'cause he said the air was like silk,
and he used to love just strolling flanerie through Paris,
But his favorite place that he would always gravitate to
would be the Cafe Flore.
Let's go to the Flore.
We were like coming here, like, not every day,
but like four, five days a week.
Karl was coming here since the '60s.
And there's one particular silhouette
that he would return to again and again and again
which we call the Schlemmerian silhouette, which is based
after Oskar Schlemmer, the bauhaus artist,
which was a very, very broad shoulder, a nipped-in waist,
and wider hips, and it's something you see
across all of the different design houses,
and I think that the areas of the body
that he was obsessed with, with the shoulders,
and also the just the top of the ribcage.
He always wanted to make it as narrow as possible.
And I think that was partly to do with youthfulness.
I think he felt that having this very narrow ribcage
gave an sort of sense of youthfulness.
One of the wedding dresses selected for the exhibition.
And I just wanna check that we have
the new underskirt prepared.
I don't know if Karl intended to create
a sort of cipher of himself.
I mean, he often was delighted at this cartoon of himself,
or this dolly that he had constructed
by virtue of what he wore and his powdered white hair
in the ponytail, the dark glasses.
Karl became this sort of icon,
he became a sort of rockstar, and he developed
this sort of look that he called the dolly, or the puppet,
and that ossified it around the early 2000s,
which was, you know, the black and white uniform
that he created with the high collar and the cravat
and the chrome hearts jewelry, and I think people very much
sort of see that side of Karl and they think, that's Karl.
And for me, that was just a sort of disguise.
It was a way of allowing him, in a way,
to pass incognito on the world stage.
So these dualities that I think have share the sort
of contradictory sides of Karl.
Masculine, feminine, romantic, military,
So I hope that when people walk through the exhibition
and they see these dualities and these contradictions,
they get a better sense of Karl, who he really was,
as opposed to the image and the myth of Karl.
But I think Karl was extraordinary, you know?
He was three things.
He was a total designer, so he, you know, made furs,
he made dresses, he made suits, he made handbags,
he made shoes, he did makeup.
He was somebody who did interiors and photography,
he wrote books, he directed plays.
But I think ultimately, you know,
what Karl's legacy will be is this sort of fashion designer
impresario who was able to marriage art and business,
which has really become the sort of model
for contemporary fashion.
And he always wanted to be relevant,
and he never wanted to look back.
I think he did look back.
I think he was actually deeply nostalgic,
and I think he looked back, but he would never admit it.
I think that what also what kept him so relevant
was his curiosity, his intelligence,
but also his sort of open-mindedness.
He would take inspiration from anywhere,
from a green sweater in the street or, you know,
from art or from film or from literature.
So he didn't have any, he wasn't a snob.
Well, he was a snob.
He was a democratic snob.
What made Karl unique was his enormous knowledge
and his joy in absolutely dancing with every historical
and cultural reference, making extraordinary
and original and unique combinations.
I think it was such a radical transformation
of the classic Chanel suits with the miniskirt,
and Chanel always hated knees, didn't she?
This year we were fortunate to work with Tadao Ando,
the architect who designed the exhibition.
Tadao and Karl were great friends, had a lot of respect
and admiration for each other, and Tadao actually designed
a house for Karl that never got built.
So I think it's just so poetic that he can now live
in a house that Tadao built.
[melancholic music continues]
The Doc with Andrew Bolton
Karl Lagerfeld Launches KARL in London
Karl Lagerfeld for Hogan
Chief Curator Andrew Bolton on Rei Kawakubo's Genius
Karl Lagerfeld: Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear
Karl Lagerfeld: Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear
Michaela Coel's Crystal Adorned Karl Lagerfeld Tribute
Karl Lagerfeld: Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear
Karl Lagerfeld: Spring 2008 Ready-to-Wear
Karl Lagerfeld: Spring 2007 Ready-to-Wear