Karl Lagerfeld on Chanel, Fendi and emerging designers
As usual, the Kaiser's statements were worth their weight in gold. Donning a Dior Homme suit and never relinquishing his signature tinted glasses, Karl Lagerfeld once again captivated the audience with his insights, tinged with brutal honesty and liberally sprinkled with humour. On the menu last Saturday there was fashion, the fashion industry and plenty of character, as the Hamburg-born designer talked to a capacity crowd at the Hotel Potocki in Paris, the venue of the second edition of the Vogue Paris Fashion Festival.
With over half a century of a glitter fashion career behind him, Lagerfeld admitted he lost count of the number of shows he staged, as journalist Loïc Prigent marvelled at his boundless eclecticism: in 2017 Lagerfeld totted up three haute couture shows with Fendi and Chanel, not to mention the ready-to-wear collections. "Well, that's fine then," said Lagerfeld, "it means the machine is in perfect working order." For the designer, the differences between the various labels he works on are as plain as they are innate. "There's no question about it. Fendi is my Italian identity, Chanel my French one. There are more Chanel fakes among our competitors than at Fendi."
The Italian fashion label is going through a period of uncertainty, with the heralded departure of Pietro Beccari, its CEO since 2012, who is set to replace Sidney Toledano as CEO of Christian Dior. So, from his privileged vantage point, what does Karl Lagerfeld think of the boss' departure? "I am the boss, I've looked after style at Fendi for 52 years," he said, a well-timed quip that prompted a burst of applause from the the audience, and which Lagerfeld immediately followed up by praising Pietro Beccari's work, reminding everyone that Beccari succeeded in trebling the label's revenue, making it top the one-billion-euro mark. Inevitably, rumours about Beccari's possible successor abound, one of the most heavily tipped being former Luxottica Group President Retail, Nicola Brandolese. Karl Lagerfeld simply commented: "I hope there will be good news soon."
Having closed this subject, it was time to talk about Chanel. "With the Wertheimer brothers and Bernard Arnault, I was lucky," he said. "I'm a craftsman. I design at home, in the morning. The [Chanel] studio is too busy with people. I see no one at Chanel, except for Eric Pfrunder (the Image Director), Bruno Pavlovsky (President of the fashion business) and Virginie Viard (the studio's director). It is Bruno who made Chanel what it has become in the last few years," said Lagerfeld. "I don't want to be a businessman, it's not my job. It’d be an instant debacle.”
Consequently, Lagerfeld was quick to recognise that his own label is in good hands. With Apax Partners holding the main stake, and G-III Apparel among its shareholders, the company remains distinct from the rest of Lagerfeld's work, and is gradually reaching maturity. "I cannot make it an imitation of myself. My label bears no relationship to Chanel and Fendi. It's almost better off being done by a design office," he said. But while the three labels have neither image nor price positioning in common, they all share in the success of the brains behind them. "In the last few years, the number of stores has greatly increased," said Lagerfeld, happy for a job well done. The Karl Lagerfeld label currently operates 80 stores worldwide.
The audience, filled with design students and fashion aficionados, was also treated to a slightly sour snippet, as Lagerfeld answered Loïc Prigent's question on how to become an intern at Chanel. "I don't know, you should ask Virginie [Viard]. In general, they take on the children of people they know. It’s a question of industrial secrets. They need people whose background they are sure of," he openly admitted.
Interns aside, Lagerfeld has an abrasive, somewhat pessimistic view of the new generation of designers. "Nowadays, there is rather too much of a game of musical chairs in fashion. The new generations run out of steam easily." But the Kaiser showed some enthusiasm when talking about the current health of French fashion design. "We need French designers like Jacquemus... I fought for Marine Serre's selection for the LVMH Prize 2017."
A prolific and eclectic designer, Lagerfeld will end the fashion year with the Chanel Métiers d'Art show in Hamburg on 6th December. Having travelled with his collections to Edinburgh, Salzburg, Rome and the Ritz Hotel in Paris last year, Karl Lagerfeld will be going back to his home town, at the majestic Elbphilarmonie concert hall designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. "It's one of the world's most beautiful buildings. The port of Hamburg area, with its red brick buildings, it's magnificent. I'm Hanseatic first, and German second. I went to Paris with the firm intention of never going back [to Germany]. I no longer have anything to do with Germany," he said. Some may think the Hamburg show is a way for Lagerfeld to come full circle, but the designer is keen to dispel any doubts about his future. "I'm not daft yet," he said, "and there won't be any reference to my childhood in the show."
Enough to trigger a last round of applause for the fashion genius and his tasty turn of phrase.
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