Karl Lagerfeld Talks to the Times

June 4, 2006

The New York Times welcomed audiences to its first annual Sunday with the Magazine event program earlier this month at the CUNY Graduate Center. The Times Talks™ series features conversations with the editors and writers of The New York Times Magazine and celebrated leaders in the fields of world affairs, politics, ethics, media, fashion, food, lifestyle, and entertainment. As a self-proclaimed Fashionista, I was absolutely thrilled to attend the sold-out session moderated by New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, and style editor Stefano Tonchi, with one the biggest names in the industry, Karl Lagerfeld. Creative Director for Chanel, Fendi, and the eponymous Lagerfeld Gallery, the iconic talent who first came to prominence more than a half century ago, shows no signs of slowing down. What is so intriguing about Mr. Lagerfeld isn't just his background, breadth of talent and knowledge, and perspective, but how relevant and current he remains' having dressed everyone from Lindsay Lohan to C.Z. Guest. He's cross-cultural, cross-generational, and with his recent line for H&M, making his wares affordable for the masses.


Designer Karl Lagerfeld front and center

Born in Hamburg in 1938, as a child Mr. Lagerfeld says he head a like this (stretching his arms out wide) because he thought he was the center of the world. Friends told him he was terribly spoiled. He thought they [his parents] didn't do enough for him. At 17, he won first prize in a contest held by the International Wool Association. Pierre Balmain produced the winning design and hired the young Mr. Lagerfeld as his assistant. At only twenty, he became the art director for Jean Patou. When approaching the creative process, the designer says he prefers to work alone from home in the early part of the day (7am to 1pm); hence most of his appointments are scheduled for later in the afternoon. When asked what drives him, he says he doesn't believe in the sake of 'doing for doing.' He doesn't work for a kind of success. He's perfectly happy being a fashion designer and doesn't want to be 'an artist.'


Fielding questions from Cathy Horyn and Stefano Tonchi

When asked about differences between the States, New York in particular, and Europe. He says it's not so provincial here; everything is mixed here. Mr. Lagerfeld is so au courant; he even produced a podcast for his recent collection which debuted this past February in New York. Cathy Horyn said with greatest respect that, 'He is a great manipulator of the media. He returns all his calls, personally and gives great quotes without publicists' He's a self-described curious and interested sort who is always looking to adapt with the times, to look at what's next in fashion. When asked about his transformation from an iconic, 'bigger than life rock star image' to someone who doesn't want to be overly exposed. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons; Mr. Lagerfeld prefers to be behind the lens? He says that he was hiding behind bigger clothes. He decided he wanted to 'get back to the bones' of fashion. There was no defining moment, but this correlates with his views on change, growth, and experience' losing the weight wasn't a marketing tool, he wanted to have an active part in life.

Chatting as they set up for the book signing...

'I saw a fortune teller when I was 18. I wrote everything down on paper. Everything this woman said would happen did. She said at a time in your life when everyone else is tired [when you should be tired], life will be very active. Years later, she called me as I was in the car on my way to sign a contract. She warned me of a mistake on page seven. And there was a mistake!'

In a comment on modern-day economics and a social polarization, 'the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer' Ms. Horyn asked, 'How will fashion change?' Mr. Lagerfeld replied, 'Everyone has to get dressed in the morning, so people will continue to make a living with fashion, but maybe with fewer people.' Described as a paradigm and a paradox, at the end of an era, he and Valentino are the last of 50's designers trained by 20's couturiers. 'Couture isn't what is used to be; now ready-to-wear is couture, especially pricing. It was a different time and society; socialites had dress codes with clothes for every occasion, day and night. Now there is no reason for couture with 13 fittings, unless you have nothing else to do. It's an idea of having something that no one else has. It's one of the reasons vintage and thrift shops are so popular; it's more interesting because of the details and techniques. Mr. Lagerfeld shared with the audience that he does not have a cell phone. He says that he 'Needs to be disconnected to remain connected.'

The designer not only posed for pictures, he autographed his famous diet book!


Ms. Horyn noted how one of her favorite things about the Renaissance Man, is his incredible knowledge of arts and literature, especially how he's helped to bring back to life things that are often forgotten. 'I knew I would never have a normal life. The base of this job is to be free, not to be attached to anything,' noted Mr. Lagerfeld. When he's done with something, he's ready to move on; he loses interest very quickly and doesn't want to be too pleased with what he's done in the past. He considers himself lucky to be doing what he likes and not going to a factory day-to-day doing something he hates.

During the Q&A, a member of the audience who had accompanied her daughter asked him if when people come to his house, if he looks at what they're wearing. He said that he never judges people by what they wear. 'When I see people come over and I look and think how happy they were when they bought that shit.' This drew a roar of laughter from the audience. When asked about how fashion has changed for the consumer, he says that he hates the word cheap. People are cheap, clothes are inexpensive. 'Something can be well-designed and inexpensive.' When asked to name who he personally admires, he said it would be too dangerous to provide a list, because anyone who's not on the list would be upset. 'Sometimes you have to make horrible things to get better. No one is in a state of permanent perfection. Inspiration is the way you look at the world.' He doesn't believe in just sitting on a beach to be inspired. 'Appetite comes when you're eating. Ideas come when you're working. I'm not inspired when I'm not true to my free-self. You needn't just imagine the world from your window. And if you live in a beautiful place [like Paris], why do you run away from it?'

Strking a pose at CUNY Arts Center

For more information, please visit, www.nytimes.com/timestalks



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