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Karl Lagerfeld on fashion, brexit and feline muses

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Karl Lagerfeld on fashion, brexit and feline muses

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Euronews – Isabelle Kumar
He’s an icon – often described as the Kaiser – The Emperor in German- because when you are creative director to some of the most important Haute coutures houses in the world – Fendi, Chanel and your own label – you can really say that you rule the fashion world.
We are in Rome to celebrate 90 years of Fendi – and are going to meet none other than Karl Lagerfeld.

Karl Lagerfeld many thanks for being with us in the Global Conversation.

The meaning of luxury

We are here in Rome to celebrate 90 years of Fendi, a company we associate with luxury but what does luxury mean to you?

Karl Lagerfeld
Fendi is a good example of what luxury can and should be. But you know there are many different types of luxury. Luxury also means having the time for yourself without having to live under continual pressure. Today there are some poor people who have nothing to do and others who are far too stressed – so that’s a sort of luxury too. Luxury is also about quality and about a state of mind. You know, you could write an essay on luxury – it’s not just about expensive things, they must be well-made and their price must be justified, their quality must be impeccable.


Biography: Karl Lagerfeld

  • Mystery surrounds Karl Lagerfeld’s year of birth- it is thought to be 1935
  • Lagerfeld joined Fendi in 1965 and Chanel in 1983
  • In his youth Lagerfeld thought he might become and illustrator
  • He adores his cat ‘Choupette’ whom he refers to as his muse

Euronews
But luxury for you is perhaps also working. It seems like you never stop, what is your secret?

Karl Lagerfeld
There is no secret, because let’s not forget for Fendi as well as Chanel, I work in exceptional conditions. I have the best people in the best conditions. I am not being bothered by people in marketing. I can do what I want where I want. You understand that that in itself this is the height of luxury. Because in other fashion houses there are the design and marketing departments. I don’t have to deal with that. So if someone bothered me with all that, I’d be gone in a second.

Euronews
This 90th birthday is going to be celebrated with a fashion show…

Karl Lagerfeld
Not my birthday !!

Euronews
No! Not your birthday but rather Fendi’s and we are going to celebrate that at The Trevi Fountain – with a fashion show inspired by Rome and fairy tales.

Karl Lagerfeld
Not only by Rome. The theme of the collection is legends and “fairytales”.

Euronews
And how did you translate that into your clothes, into your creations?

Karl Lagerfeld
What we did, you’ll see – it’s very poetic, it’s very much like a fairytale. I took inspiration from someone who is now completely forgotten. At the turn of the last century there was a Dane called Kay Nielson who was a marvellous illustrator, very poetic, very strange, very Nordic, not at all like Art nouveaux and art deco – I rediscovered him totally by chance because he was completely forgotten… and I took inspiration from that for the colours, for certain graphics. We asked the foundation and the publisher obviously because there is barely a trace left of him but it is very very pretty… and that is an inspiration I transformed into an Italian style.

Euronews
The Fendi house is known for its expertise, working by hand – but how do you incorporate technological innovations to that?

Karl Lagerfeld
Well, one doesn’t prevent the other. Otherwise we wouldn’t do that sort of thing. If you stay with a formula, you’re screwed in no time. You need to keep your eyes open. You can do the most inspired things but at the same time it has got to be at the cutting edge technically, otherwise there’s no point.

Euronews
And Rome is an important city to you?

Karl Lagerfeld
It’s the city that I know best after Paris. So I’ve been to Rome more than 800 times in my life… I have even had appartments in Rome. It’s a place where I feel… I hate that expression « At Home » I’m « at home » nowhere, yet I’m at home everywhere, it’s not the same thing at all. But it’s still an extremely familiar place to me.

Euronews
And what was your first experience of this city?

Karl Lagerfeld
That was when I was a child with my parents, prehistoric times!

Euronews
Is there a particular memory that has stayed with you?

Karl Lagerfeld
Yes, the flu I had.

Euronews
So, you’re not just linked to Fendi, you also work for Chanel, and for your own label – do you need a triple-personality for that?

Karl Lagerfeld
I have three!

Euronews
There are 3?

Karl Lagerfeld
Yes that’s it, I hope. Because you know, Fendi is my Italian version, Chanel is my French version and the rest, well it’s me

Euronews
and I have seen you do your sketches with stunning speed and precision.

Karl Lagerfeld
I wanted to become an Illustrator in the beginning and that has helped me a lot because people who work with computers, Artistic Directors look at stuff that others are doing. I do everything myself. I do extremely precise drawings, almost in 3D. The people who work with me, the heads of work shop ‘premieres’ as we call them, barely need to ask questions. When I see the first fittings – it looks exactly like my design. If It isn’t any good, it’s my fault – not theirs.

Euronews
It’s interesting because I would have thought that these people who translate your sketches would be rare gems who can ….

Karl Lagerfeld
No, I translate in advance with my annotations and 3D drawings. It takes up a lot of my time but I love it. Initially I had wanted to a Cartoonist or a Portrait artist.

Euronews
We have asked our online audience to send us some questions for this interview. You are an icon but Christos Senekous turns the question around and asks ‘ Who is your icon?’

Karl Lagerfeld
They are Icons that people don’t know anymore perhaps : Harry Kessler who founded Bauhaus and the Nietzsche Foundation in Weimar or Walter Rathenau, the first victim of the Nazis in Germany. But in fact I don’t think of people in terms of icons. The general public does not know my icons.

The meowing muse

Euronews
And is having a muse important to you?

Karl Lagerfeld
Yes my muse is Choupette!

Euronews
Choupette your cat!

Karl Lagerfeld
yes yes yes

Euronews
How does she inspire you?

Karl Lagerfeld
Fortunately, it’s not something you can analyse. By her mere presence. She has a very calming effect. By the way, it is medically recognised. People who have a cat have far fewer health problems compared to all those who do not. Apparently its amazingly therapeutic. I read a detailed, serious, scientific article about it.

Euronews
It’s true that animals calm us down but I also think that…

Karl Lagerfeld
I need to be calmed down, I’m a little hysterical. But it’s a relatively new thing – she is 5 years old. Never before in my life did I think I would fall in love with a cat, but she is exceptional and world famous.

Euronews
What are the qualities that make her exceptional?

Karl Lagerfeld
Her presence and her beauty also because she’s a joy to watch. She’s hilarious with her big eyes like star sapphires. And her coat is perfect because she has several maids, she is never alone. Even here at the hotel, she is up there with her maid.

Euronews
She travels with you?

Karl Lagerfeld
Some trips, not all. In some countries, travelling with animals is problematic. But these are countries that I avoid. For example, I don’t go to England. But now with Brexit, we need not even ask the question.

Brexit

Euronews
Let me ask you a question about Brexit because we are worried for Europe. Some say Brexit could be the first step towards the disintegration of Europe. What do you think?

Karl Lagerfeld
What shocked me is that the people who voted to leave, disappeared once disaster struck. That horrible man, the Mayor of London…

Euronews
…Boris Johnson

Karl Lagerfeld
And then the other pretentious one, very very populist

Euronews
Nigel Farage

Karl Lagerfeld
For me Cameron is the gravedigger of Europe in a sense. They had advantages that others do not have. And those who voted are not necessarily those who will make the future. They will empty the country of its elite. That’s what happens when you do foolish things.

Euronews
And what do you think about the situation in Europe. Because we are seeing a rise of nationalism. Does that worry you?

Karl Lagerfeld
It worries me. But I do not think it can really happen. Austria and all that, it’s not funny at all, neither is Poland for that matter – not to mention France with its own little movement.

The future of fashion

Euronews
What are the implications for young people for example, in fashion?

Karl Lagerfeld
Fashion, will always exist. There will be more H&Ms than luxury stores but fashion will always exist.

Euronews
Is there an elegance – that one could term European?

Karl Lagerfeld
Yes, because you can also find elegance in the Middle East. Some burkas are very elegant but they are not for us!

Euronews
And what is European elegance for you as a European citizen?

Karl Lagerfeld
It’s hard to put into words. It’s a cosmopolitan style, not regional. It’s an attitude, a lightness. But we have to step carefully so that it doesn’t disappear. Populism doesn’t encourage these things.

Euronews
Here’s another question from one of our online follower from Germany who asks what advice you would give to young designers looking to follow in your footsteps?

Karl Lagerfeld
They had better run!

Euronews
Do you think they have the same opportunities that you had?

Karl Lagerfeld
No, no. It was a different era….
I have gained knowledge that you cannot learn at school. The whole time I have been involved in this, I have never looked back. I have accumulated knowledge. To be honest, I don’t want to discourage them but I think it would be better if they picked a different example to follow.

Euronews
What advice would you give to this young generation?

Karl Lagerfeld
I don’t give this kind of general advice, I can only offer individual guidance. It depends on the talent they have, their desire and even the circumstances in which they live. How they express themselves. How they can find the right path. It’s not that simple otherwise everybody would succeed. There isn’t a receipe for success!

Euronews
You say that you always look ahead…

Karl Lagerfeld
Yes 6 months ahead. 6 months because this is what fashion is all about. Otherwise we’re talking avant garde – and we’d wear it in 20 years! Remember the avant garde of the 60’s – nobody is dressed like that today. That was one big farce!

Euronews
I wonder if you could answer the following question from Nam Kim then… “What will the fashion industry look like in 50 years time?” Can you imagine what it will be like?

Karl Lagerfeld
I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know.

Success and the industry

Euronews You seem to have your feet on the ground despite living in quite an eccentric world – how do you do it?

Karl Lagerfeld
Size 42. I don’t know. I am pragmatic, lucid and I am under no illusions when it comes to myself!

Euronews
Designers sometimes complain that the world of fashion goes too fast?

Karl Lagerfeld
In that case they shouldn’t sign contracts with big companies who need a certain rhythm for their business needs. So they want the cheque – but the work, bit more difficult isn’t it? They only realise that afterwards. There are some people who are angry with me as I did initiate collections which did not exist before. What’s more – for Chanel there is the ‘métiers d’art’ – the early collections…. I know that I am vaguely responsible for an infernal work load but I have the teams to do it and the clients who need it. If you have developed thus far – and if you have so many people working for you – you have to go for it. I don’t believe in getting inspiration sitting on a beach. In French you say – hunger grows while eating – well inspiration comes from working!

The flash of inspiration

Euronews
Inspiration comes in your sleep too I have heard?

Karl Lagerfeld
I have electronic flashes – I suddenly see something. Even when I am awake – in the bath for example – it’s very odd. I don’t know where it comes from. It shows that I am completely imbued by my work – I am delighted!

Euronews
Have you always had those flashes?

Karl Lagerfeld
No – it’s got worse over time! That means I am making progress!

Facing challenges

Euronews
Uhmanoh has sent in this question – ‘what is the most complicated thing you have had to face up to during your career’?

Karl Lagerfeld
There have been so many – I don’t recall. But it mostly went well – I don’t remember anything in particular. You know my professional and private pasts– are all compressed- so I don’t remember!

Euronews
Do you feel a need to pass on your knowledge?

Karl Lagerfeld
No, no – I can’t. But I do have assistants, trainees – so in a certain way yes. But people need to rely on themselves. I have always relied on myself. When I was young – it was tricky because if you were young and didn’t have any experience you were considered nothing. Now if you are young you are considered amazing! And if you are In between no one cares! And then lots people who pass for young designers are 45 – so god help us!

Euronews
Back to Fendi – what did you bring to them?

Karl Lagerfeld
Mostly in the beginning – how to work with fur differently. Before everything was stiff – conservative, heavy. Back then the Fendi sisters were concerned about working with fur – to not have respect for it – because it is expensive. No. You have to break down the barriers and build something new.

Euronews
You have risen to so many challenges –but is there still one that is particularly dear to you?

Karl Lagerfeld
I don’t see things in terms of challenges – it is a logical progression that is part of my work. There are no challenges – I have no one to answer to – except myself – and that I don’t care about!

Euronews
Is there something you would always refuse to do – you have had so many different ventures

Karl Lagerfeld
No I won’t refuse anything , if it’s something I haven’t done before and if it’s an interesting challenge. Of course if I were asked to do something ridiculous I would refuse – but I don’t.
Given the people I work for, that risk does not exist, not here, nor in Paris.

Stepping out and looking in

Euronews
You are not only a fashion designer – you are also a talented photographer…

Karl Lagerfeld
Apparently so.

Karl Lagerfeld
That’s just continuity, because if I were only in fashion – I would lose contact with the outside world. By taking photos for newspapers and advertising, there’s a continuity with the fashion world – the models of the moment. That’s very important, because isolation equals death. When people start to put themselves in an ivory tower – they’re dead. We are no longer in the era of draping taffeta dresses listening to Verdi. That’s over.

Karlisms

Euronews
You are known for your ‘Karlisms’. I would like to quote you one –‘ I know how annoying, impossible and hard to please I can be. I wouldn’t recommend myself as a guest to anyone’ – but you seem quite charming –

Karl Lagerfeld
Really?

Euronews
What makes you impossible?

Karl Lagerfeld
I don’t know. I am not even sure I said it. There are Karlisms that are invented by other Karls you know!

Euronews
Finally – you create, create, create – but for yourself you choose a more constant style – why?

Karl Lagerfeld
Constant and not so constant – because it suits me, its immaculate, because I hate sloppiness and its also engraved in people’s minds. You know I can never go out onto the streets now…

Euronews
You never go out into the street?

Karl Lagerfeld
No. From the door to my house to the car – to the car to the door- I don’t go to public areas. I hate selfies and all that kind of stuff though I love all the progress. I don’t remember what life was like before i-phones but personally I don’t want to be on a photo with a thousand strangers.

Euronews
Karl Lagerfeld – many thanks for having been with us in the Global Conversation.

Karl Lagerfeld
I hope I didn’t say anything silly

Euronews
Not at all!

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