The white ponytail, the dark glasses, the always-black jacket and jeans. Karl Lagerfeld is one of—if not the—most recognizable fashion designers in the world, and a seemingly endless source of new ideas. Twice a year, in the span of two months, he presents four new collections: Chanel couture in January and, a month later, ready-to-wear for Fendi, Chanel, and his own Karl Lagerfeld label. And each collection has its own, distinct point of view. He’s also cheerfully verbose, with opinions on any topic ranging from celebrities to diets to other designers’ work. In the few days before a show, Lagerfeld manages to oversee the goings-on of his presentations (including the involved creation of a huge Chanel carousel set) while coolly meeting the demands of the fashion press and his celebrity friends.
Have you previewed the clothes before?
I photograph a dossier de presse [press kit] about a week before the show. It’s a dress rehearsal for the hair and makeup teams, as well as the studio with the clothing and the shoes. Most of the important looks are often not ready then—a week before is a long time in dressmaking—but it’s important to do these photos to see where we are.
Which editors visit the studio?
People I really like and respect (they are even allowed not to like what they see) and who have their own opinion about fashion, style, or looks. No flattering—please!
Last season it was the Olsen twins, who are divine, talented, and so clever. I love the Olsen twins. But “celebrities” I don’t know well, I prefer not to see them in the studio before the show. Editors are used to fittings and unfinished things. But it’s different if the “celebrity” is a close friend.
How did your initial inspiration change over the course of the fittings?
I decided to de-accessorize the clothes and deconstruct the tweed. I put the accessories as symbols on the merry-go-round and showed a collection with few accessories, except beautifully worked buttons and belts. As others showed tons of necklaces, I was happy not to do it as I normally do.
What external influences affect your creative process?
I want to know everything. I want to see everything, and this curiosity helps me to find inspiration in the most unconnected of strange situations. But there is no rule—or only one: Keep the eyes open and do it your way.
What’s it like before the shows?
There are two days in which each girl comes to have her final fittings and hair and makeup tests and Polaroids taken for the running order. I also visit the set—late in the evening after the fittings, but also during the daytime to see the light, as we show in the morning. People think the last 24 hours are crazy—but a collection has to be ready before.
What was the idea behind the stage set, with the carousel covered in Chanel icons?
We had all the symbols typical of Chanel: the camellia, the buttons, the pearls, the handbag, everything. But in the show there was almost nothing, just one small handbag. Logos and branding are so important in the world we live in. They are the experience of luxury. In a big part of the world, people cannot read English or French—but they are great in remembering signs.
After so many years, how do you approach each collection fresh?
I love fashion!
I love the girl!
I love to watch times change!
I love to do fittings!
I love to photograph clothes,
and I love sketching them.
I am not blasé, and I only believe in the next collection. I am never satisfied with myself and that is what keeps me going—I have no post-satisfaction.