Why acid-tongued Karl Lagerfeld still matters

When he speaks in German-accented English, those in the vicinity run for cover. Or at the very least start quaking.

For Karl Lagerfeld, the man who revived Chanel's fortunes in the Eighties, is nothing if not acerbic.

Adele, Pippa Middleton and Heidi Klum have all been on the receiving end of forthright pronouncements from the ever sunglass-wearing emperor of fashion.

 

Karl

 

The 70-something (he's vague about his date of birth) knows that controversy, and a flourish of theatricality attract attention.

So his shows – and how many other people of his generation are still working at this level? – are high on production values and creativity. The result is reams of column inches.

Remember the airline show when the iconic designer invited the fashion elite on board a retro 'Air Chanel', as models dressed in chic 'stewardess' outfits strutted down the aisle?

The references weren't too literal because, as the style Kaiser, quipped, "what stewardesses wore in the Sixties, it really wasn't that great".

 

Karl



Another featured Florence Welch singing amid giant shells, white coral and hundreds of pearls in Paris' Grand Palais.

Then there was a Marie Antoinette-inspired cruise collection shown in the plush gardens of Le Palais de Versailles.

And, the designer, who says "if I stop working, I'll die and it'll all be finished", produces four collections each year – two prêt-a-porter and two couture each for spring/summer and autumn/winter.

His loyal clientele, Nicole Kidman, Monaco's Princess Caroline, her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi, Blake Lively and Diane Kruger, among them, lap it up.

 

Karl



As well as dressing the A-list, he often photographs them. Karl produced nude shots of Carla Bruni before her incarnation as a first lady and took beautiful pre-wedding images of Caroline's brother Prince Albert and his bride Charlene Wittstock on the steps of their palace.

All of this translates into big business – £2 billion's worth a year, apparently, at the last count. While it's best to take his attention-grabbing statements with a pinch of salt, his clothes are quite another matter.

His particular genius has been to marry the French label's classic, time-honoured style with modern marketing and styling.

So founder Coco Chanel's famous jacket has been given a reboot with gold chains and lashings of pearls worn at the belt; it's often teamed with mini-skirts, hot pants, lace-up biker boots and sometimes little else. 

This week, Coco's staple takes centre stage in a new exhibition of photographs featuring ballet dancers, hip hop divas and actress friends of Karl like Sarah Jessica Parker and Dakota Fanning.

Shot by the man entrusted with her precious double CC logo, it proves that every generation can make the jacket their own. 

Rather than be incensed he adores it when today's young stars like Lily Allen and Alexa Chung take his garments and treat them casually.

The most outrageous septuagenarian in the business knows that's what keeps the fashion house relevant a century after it was founded.

 

Karl Lagerfeld quotes

  • On the Duchess of Cambridge wearing high street clothes: "She's beautiful … (with) the state of the economy in Europe, she cannot come like a red carpet girl. It wouldn't be right, but for times being, she's perfect"
  • On her mother Carole Middleton: "I think she is very sexy. I think the mother is sexier than the daughters. There is something full of life about her. For a woman who must be 50 or so, I think she's great. Full of energy"  
  • On the British royal family: "Totally unnecessary, but pleasant"
  • Asked whether Samantha Cameron should have worn jeans at Conservatives' conference: "In France the image of Mrs Cameron is unknown"
  • Which also seems to be the case for his fellow German Heidi Klum: "I don't know Heidi Klum. She was never known in France. Claudia Schiffer also doesn't know who she is" "
  • On Heidi's ex Seal: "I am no dermatologist but I wouldn't want his skin. Mine looks better than his"
  • On Adele: "She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice"
  • On Chanel muse Ines de la Fressange after their falling out: "I wish her all the luck in the world, just so long as I don't have to see her anymore or hear her spoken about"
  • On eating or rather not: "When I see tons of food in the studio, for us and for everybody, for me it's as if this stuff was made out of plastic. The idea doesn't even enter my mind that a human being could put that into their mouth. I'm like the animals in the forest. They don't touch what they cannot eat"
  • On goals: "My only ambition in life ... is to wear size 28 jeans"
  • On homosexuality: "When I was a child I asked my mother what homosexuality was about and she said — and this was 100 years ago in Germany and she was very open-minded — 'It's like hair colour. It's nothing. Some people are blonde and some people have dark hair. It's not a subject.' This was a very healthy attitude" 
  • On the importance of grooming: "When I was a child, my mother always told me that you could wake up in the middle of the night and be deathly sick, so you always have to be impeccable"
  • On tracksuit bottoms: "A sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants"
  • Flipflops also seem to attract his disdain: "I am physically allergic to them"
  • On women who criticise the fashion industry for using slender models: "They are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly"
  • On short, unattractive people: "Life is not a beauty contest, some [ugly people] are great. What I hate is nasty, ugly people... the worst is ugly, short men. Women can be short, but for men it is impossible"
  • On why he never had children: "They grow so fast, and having adult children makes you look 100 years old. I don't want that"
  • On why he would never complain about his job: "People buy dresses to be happy, not to hear about somebody who suffered over a piece of taffeta"

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