30 minutes with Fashion genius Karl Lagerfeld via W Magazine
Like an Energizer Bunny in black shades and biker gloves, Karl Lagerfeldjust keeps going, somehow finding time to photograph fashion stories,film short movies, and publish art books—all on top of designing twoclothing lines. Directing commercials has become his latest passion; andlast Thursday his series of three-minute spots for Magnum Ice Cream,each starring Rachel Bilson and her sweet-tooth, debuted as part of theTribeca Film Festival. Earlier in the day, W had the opportunity to sitdown Lagerfeld, and over sliced pineapple and Diet Coke, discusseverything from who ought to design Dior to the one thing he actuallycan’t do.
Lagerfeld: What can I tell you?
Well, let’s start with this ad campaign you’ve done for Magnum IceCream.
I’ve done many ads because that’s my new career. It’s an inspiringextension for my mind. I always loved advertising. If I hadn’t been infashion, I’d have been in advertising. I like everything about it. Ithink it’s an interesting expression of the culture of the moment. Ijust put out a huge book about the history of German advertising from1900-1920, because it was the best period. It’s not very well known, butthere were great artists. And those posters—when they show up, there arehardly any left—sell for fortunes. It’s a very interesting book, I mustsay. In fact it’s a box with 12 books.
So why ice cream?
Don’t forget my father was a milkman. He produced Carnation milk inEurope under different names, so I like to say he was a milkman. And icecream is made with milk, no?
Do you eat it?
I would love to if I was allowed to eat sugar, but my doctor told methat sugar wasn’t needed for me so I haven’t touched it in ten years. Ialso did the ad for Dom Pérignon and I don’t drink alcohol, but I thinkit’s a very civilized drink.
Do you crave sugar?
No. Gone. But I like chocolate. I don’t eat it, but I like the smell ofit. People can drink with their eyes; I can eat with my nose. I wouldlove to have a perfume based on chocolate.
Eau de Cocoa.
I love the idea.
You’re a busy man.
I’m always busy. You know, the more I do, the more ideas I have—that’sthe funny thing. The brain is a muscle, and I’m a kind of body-builder.
Do you ever take vacations?
I’m not an employee who goes to the office every morning at the sametime. Then, vacations are needed. I’m like a rock singer with one-nightstands on the road. I’m here for two days in New York; I leave in themorning early. I come back for Anna Wintour’s party at the Met, thenagain at the end of May for a prize I get from the Gordon ParksFoundation. I’m lucky that I can do all these things in the bestconditions. I don’t have to struggle for that. I don’t have to discussbudgets. I don’t do meetings. At Chanel, there are no meetings. AtChanel, we do what we want, whenever we want and it works. And Fendi isthe same.
What music are you listening to now?
A lot. But my favorite at the moment is the album that just came outfrom The Kills. It’s very good. I buy the CD because I think one shouldbuy them. It’s very important. Musicians have to make a living, no?
What are you reading right now?
For the moment, on the plane, I was reading a very well-done biographyof Edith Sitwell.
Do you ever think about cutting your hair?
No, because I’m afraid it won’t grow again. And I’m not very gifted forhairdos. This is the quickest thing in the world. It takes less thanfive seconds.
Do you do it yourself?
No, I have someone who comes to the house and washes it, puts in the dryshampoo, and takes care if it because I have no time. I don’t even havetime to go to the dentist. I’m busy but in a pleasant way. I’m the onewho wanted to do all of it, so I can’t complain.
What are your thoughts on Dior? Who should take over?
Well I’m not a consultant there, but I think Riccardo Tisci would begood, and then Haider Ackermann at Givenchy—not because they are friendsof mine, but because they are good.
But I read that you wanted Haider to succeed you at Chanel?
Not especially. It’s not his world I don’t think.
What about Balmain?
Forget about it! This was a job done by a fashion editor. I don’t evenknow the name of the man who did it, so don’t ask me about that.
You’re a designer, photographer, book publisher, filmmaker. Is thereanything else you’d like to do?
You don’t think four jobs can do?
Is there anything left that you want to do?
Is this a political question?
You don’t even vote!
No, I never ever vote because I know too much about the backgrounds ofthese people. No, but for me the advertising world is a new country toconquer. When you want something you haven’t done before you have tothink it’s the most important thing. If you see it only as a room thatleads to another room, you might make a mistake. I don’t want to crossthe room. I want to stay there.
So we’ll be seeing more ads from you.
I saw newspapers saying that maybe I do too much because I work with bigcompanies—Coca-Cola, Sky TV, Magnum, Schwarzkopf, which is like L’Orealin Europe. I’m not going to calm down, because that’s not my nature. ButI don’t have to think about what’s next. I think that’s a very healthything. The Ivory Tower in the end will kill you.
Is there anything you wish you were better at?
Yes, playing the piano.
Can you play at all?
No! Forget about it. For one year I had lessons and then my mother threwthe thing on my fingers and said, ‘Start sketching—it makes less noise.’She was right. She was a violinist and couldn’t stand poorly playedmusic.
You seem to have a love/hate relationship with technology. You havehundreds of iPods but you don’t use a computer. You correspond by fax.
There are people who only have a fax because of me.
Well, because it’s so outdated!
Well, I don’t want to be in-fashion.
But, really, why do you still fax?
It’s very easy to explain: For me, sketching and writing are the samething. I like to write. It’s a physical thing—I hate to be without paperand pencil in hand. And I write like a talk. I can put my way of talkingon the paper exactly the same way. The machines they tried to make whereyou write directly on computers are not perfect. The minute they’reperfect, I will use them.
So will we ever add writer to your list of occupations?
I’m not a writer, and I don’t want to be a writer because I have nothingto say.
I’m living my memoir, I don’t need to write it. But I do write a lot ofprefaces for books.
You’ve famously worn Dior Homme, Tom Ford. What menswear designers doyou like now?
Tom Ford is not as good on me as younger men. And you know why? BecauseI wore the same kind of clothes thirty years ago—Italian-made byCaraceni. I love the way Tom Ford suits are made. They’re chic; they’reelegant. But on my younger entourage, they look better than on me. Iwear Dior Homme—my old Hedi Slimane suits. The ones they do today, too,as long as they don’t get too flou. And a little Lanvin. I used to loveMargiela, but it’s not him anymore and it shows a little. I used to buyquite a lot of Japanese labels, too, like Undercover and Number (N)ine,but that one disappeared. Mister Hollywood does well-made clothes. Youknow, I hate made-by-order clothes. It’s up to me to fit into them, notto buy some orthopedic stuff to get the body into. I never had onebutton touched on a Dior suit. Size 48 is my perfect size. In the pastyou had to do fittings because there was nothing really good. But when Iwent to Caraceni thirty years ago, there was one fitter for waistcoat,one for jacket, one for pants—it took hours. You needed three months toget the clothes. No, no, no. I like things immediately.
How do you like a woman to dress?
It depends on the circumstances, her look, her life. There is no rulethat I could reduce to two lines.
Is there one thing that you don’t like a woman to wear?
I’m not mad for thongs.
The fall Chanel collection was rather dark, apocalyptic…
It was three days before the earthquake in Japan. It was right for themoment. But that’s what I felt. It’s instinctual. A collection is aboutwhat one feels, whatever it is.
When are you happiest?
Happiness is like a fever. I don’t take the temperature.
When was the last time you cried?
I’m trying to think of the last time I had onions.