Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just a Pretty Dress

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just a Pretty Dress

Article excerpt

The World According to Karl: The Wit and Wisdom of Karl Lagerfeld edited by Jean-Christophe Napias and Sandrine Gulbenkian Thames & Hudson, £18.95, pp. 176, ISBN 9782080201706 Every fashion era has its monster and in ours it's Karl Lagerfeld, a man who has so emptied himself on to the outside that there is no longer any membrane between what he is, what he does and what he looks like: a macabre dandy for the electronic age, a Zen businessman as effective as Andy Warhol or Michael Jackson or David Bowie in propagating product and persona as one. 'I enjoy the luxury of being at the centre of this complete universe that's mine, ' he says with the concentrated generosity of a narcissist who wants to thrill the whole world in order to make it his pool. The eternal dark glasses might suggest otherwise - that here is someone with a concealed inner life - but he affects to deny it ('With me there's nothing below the surface, but it's quite a surface'), so presumably the dark glasses are just for the pool's reflected glare.

His outrageously unattractive appearance is both a precipitation of temperament and a promotional tool for the collections he designs for Chanel. This media costume became fixed a long time ago into that of a sado-masochistic ghoul out of the Brothers Grimm, re-imagined by an Expressionist cineaste: 'I like the idea of craziness with discipline.' To top it off he wears - the nerve of the man - that pendant of ultimate awfulness, a grey ponytail ('You have to do things one is not supposed to do'). For Paris's most successful couturier to come up with a personal image so tasteless and brittle is an unusual kind of bravura, rendering him uniquely recognisable, even in silhouette.

It is also armour of course. Lagerfeld sounds phobic - 'I don't like being watched at all' - and you'd expect him to remain silent, for fear of exposure; after all, Warhol confined himself to 'Oh really', Bowie rarely speaks off-the-cuff and Michael Jackson whispered coyly at the earth. But it turns out that Lagerfeld has a mercurial, sometimes devastating way with words. I first became aware of it in Rodolphe Marconi's documentary-film of 2007, Lagerfeld Confidential. Years ago I was offered an interview with Lagerfeld and turned it down for intellectually snobbish reasons. …

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