“All the other designers hate me...” Karl Lagerfeld gets ready to tell all

A truly free spirit, Karl has no taboos and doesn’t stonewall. The immense couturier has lost none of the verve that’s made him a cult figure in the fashion world and a veritable pop icon. In a meandering interview, he delivers his reflections on a variety of subjects from First Ladies and Johnny Hallyday’s inheritance issues to the so-called overworking of fashion designers.

Interview by Philip Utz, Portrait Stéphane Feugère

Numéro: So, in good shape?

Karl Lagerfeld: Yes, as long as it’s not in the plural. That said I don’t get fat anymore. I was on a diet for 15 years, but now I can eat all I want without ever gaining a gram. It’s very strange.

 

Age has no hold over you!

It all depends on the conditions in which you age. If you do it by avoiding excess, and in great luxury, it is effectively quite bearable.

 

Doesn’t getting old have its fair share of inconveniences?

For the time being, I’m not suffering terribly. I’ve had every test under the sun and they can’t find anything wrong. Call me back in ten years and we’ll talk about it again.

 

At your age though, isn’t it exhausting juggling three brands – Chanel, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld – and not forgetting all your other extra-curricular activities?

No, au contraire, it’s stimulating. All these designers who design exclusively for brands end up finding themselves completely sterilised. By dint of revisiting their own classics, they end up going around in circles, biting their own tails. As far as I’m concerned, I am obliged to constantly reinvent myself by going from one house to the next, which is what also allows me to see what’s happening next door. I’m constantly moving, which stops me from navel-gazing all day and becoming fossilised. Which suits me just fine, because otherwise I get bored. At Chanel I have a contract to do four collections a year – two ready-to-wear and two haute couture – but in fact I do ten, between the ready-to-wear and the couture, the pre-collections, the cruise collection and the Métiers d’Art, not to mention Coco Snow– which isn’t, I assure you, a capsule collection for cokeheads, but a winter sports line – and Coco Beach, for beachwear…

 

When Raf Simons left Dior, lots was said about how designers are overworked. What do you think about that?

Personally, I’ve never complained. And that is exactly why all the other designers hate me. They are only interested in their damn “inspirations”, they can spend an hour deciding where a button should go, or choosing sketches done by their assistants, which riles me to distraction. I am a machine. The worst thing about all of this, is that they try and blame me for their problems with working overtime. Azzedine [Alaïa], for example, before falling down the stairs, claimed that the supposedly unsustainable rhythms in fashion today were entirely my fault, which is absurd. When you are running a billion-dollar business, you must keep up. And if is doesn’t suit you, then you may as well mess around in your bedroom. I’m sorry but last year I lost my two best enemies Pierre Bergé and the other one. Azzedine loathed me, go figure. And for Pierre’s funeral, my florist asked me, “Do you want us to send a cactus?” 

 

 

Men’s fashion means little to me. I buy it, of course, but drawing a men’s collection and put up with all those stupid models, no thanks.”

 

 

And you and your funeral, do you see it more in Sidi Bou Said like Azzedine, or at the Madeleine?

How awful! There will be no burial. I’d rather die. Since those miserable Hallyday family stories, a funeral at the Madeleine looks like a joke. I’ve asked to be cremated and for my ashes to dispersed with those of my mother… and those of Choupette [Karl Lagerfeld’s cat], if she dies before me.

 

I don’t know what you’ve got against Azzedine. Personally, I loved him and you can’t say he lacked talent…

I didn’t say that. I never said anything, I don’t criticise him, even if at the end of his career all he did was make ballet slippers for menopausal fashion victims.

 

How is it you’re not blasé after sixty years of career?

Thank-you for reminding me of my seniority. Blasé? Oh no, never. In German Blase means “bladder”. On the contrary I think I’m quite lazy, that I could do better. I am never happy with myself. I have to give myself a kick up the behind to go forward, and the day of the show, backstage, I always say to myself, “Well my poor girls, with this we’ll not be doing the next one.” I get no satisfaction from the job I do. And that is what pushes me to continue, this permanent dissatisfaction and discontentment.

 

 

If you don’t want to have your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!

 

Self-portrait

Anyway, moving on, today is International Women’s Day…

For me Women’s Day is every day of the year. Men’s fashion does little for me. I buy it of course, and I’m delighted that Hedi [Slimane] is going to Céline but drawing a men’s collection and having to put up with all those stupid models, no thanks. Not to mention the fact with all their accusations of harassment they have become quite toxic. No, no, no, don’t leave me alone with one of those sordid creatures.

 

At what age did you start to prefer men over women?

Whoever told you I preferred men to women? Where did you get that certainty from?

 

If you could slip into the skin of a first lady, would you be Brigitte, Carla or Bernadette?

I am friends with them both, so I won’t answer that question.

 

I cited three ladies…

Bernadette is a woman from another planet, a French woman of another era. Carla, I have worked with a lot, so I consider her a friend. As for Madame Macron, I’d already met her before her husband entered politics, and I like her a lot. Anyway, these three women are so utterly different that I think your question makes no sense, in fact its completely stupid. Personally, I adore Mrs Obama. I fell for her when an American journalist asked her if her leather skirts weren’t a little tight for a first lady, and Michelle Obama answered, “Why, don’t you like my big black ass?”

 

Come to mention it, we didn’t see you at the grand fashion dinner held by Bribri and Manu at the Élysée during the shows… did you have a headache?

I never go out the night before a show, it’s bad luck.

 

And yet I clearly remember having seen you at an Apple Watch launch at Colette on the very morning of a show once…

It was the actual morning of the show, which is different: the dice have been thrown and you can do nothing about it.

 

What do you think about #MeToo?

I’m fed up with it. I don’t even eat pig [in France the movement’s known as #BalanceTonPorc] What shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened. Not to mention the fact there are no prosecution witnesses. That said I cannot stand Mr Weinstein. I had a problem with him at amfAR [the amfAR Gala is organised during the Cannes Film Festival in the fight against AIDS] …

 

Did he try and drag you into his hotel room too?

No, it wasn’t of a sexual nature, but a professional one. I’ll spare you the details, but he isn’t exactly what you might call a man of his word.

 

Have movements like #MeToo and #Time’sUp affected the way you approach your work?

Absolutely not. I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. Its simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything. As for the accusations against the poor Karl Templar [creative director at Interview magazine], I don’t believe a single word of it. A girl complained he tried to pull her pants down and he is instantly excommunicated from a profession that up until then had venerated him. Its unbelievable. If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!

 

During an interview in 2010, you told me you were thinking about Haider Ackermann as your replacement at Chanel…

Yes, but that was a long time ago.

 

And today who do you seeing doing that?

I don’t propose anything or anyone, because the house of Chanel doesn’t belong to me. Marc Jacobs, who I adore, also dreamed of replacing me… When I first knew him, he was 17 years old working as an assistant for my friend Perry Ellis. Alas when he was made artistic director there, he got fired because of his grunge collection which didn’t work at all.

 

 

Between Virgil Abloh, Jacquemus and Jonathan Anderson, who would you willingly take to a dessert island to end your days with?
“I’d kill myself first.”

 

Can you rank these three designers in descending order of talent? Simon Porte Jacquemus, Virgil Abloh and Jonathan Anderson?

The designers I prefer, in disorder, Marine Serre – 1m50 but a will of steel – Jacquemus, who makes me laugh… and who is rather pretty too. He is funny, yes. And to conclude J. W. Anderson, even if his approach is occasionally over intellectualised – undoubtedly, I haven’t done the required studies.  

 

Between Virgil Abloh, Jacquemus and Jonathan Anderson, who would you willingly take to a dessert island to end your days with?
“I’d kill myself first.”

 

How did you get the idea of growing a goatee?

I had one in the famous portrait of me taken by Helmut Newton 40 years ago, and I wanted to rediscover the feeling of having one again, to see if after all these years, it was still just as bothersome. What is funny is that with all these whiskers I look a lot like Choupette… we’re really like an old couple. In fact, she maintains it for me, we sleep on the same pillow and she spends her life licking it.

 

I don’t think of you as very hairy… How long did it take to grow?

I’ve been growing it since Christmas. But you are right, the strange thing is, so to speak, I don’t a hair on my body.  

 

Just the beard.

Well and the hair on my head too.

 

You have no underarm hair?

No, not much, not a bush.

 

You’re completely hair free?

Well let’s just say I have it where it should be. But I don’t have a hairy chest for example, or a hairy back – thank God! – or hairy thighs…

 

Talking about hair, I read somewhere that you’ve named Choupette as the heir to your vast fortune…

Among others, yes. Don’t worry, there is enough for everyone.

 

And how much is this vast fortune of yours?

I’m certainly not Bernard Arnault, I’ll tell you right away. It’s not like I have 72 billion euros in my current account.

 

But I thought it was forbidden in France to leave anything in your will to your hamster or guinea pig?

Well it’s lucky I’m not French then.

 

You recently launched a capsule collection for your own brand with Sébastien Jondeau, your personal assistant for the last 20 years… What are his main qualities, apart from being built like a Greek god and gap-toothed like Vanessa Paradis?

Sébastien corresponds with a certain kind of man aged 35 – 40 who cannot find anything to wear. He embodies a male canon that is the complete opposite of those skinny things with wonky teeth we generally see on runways… They certainly don’t run the risk of getting harassed. To be honest what they really need is a good dentist.

 

When one’s a genius like you, what do you arm yourself with on a daily basis, an infinite patience and great indulgence for dealing with others, often less spirited?

A genius? It’s you who said it. When I was young, my mother always said to me that I was stupid, she called me “Mule”. I’ve probably just been overcompensating ever since. And I’m not surrounded by idiots, I have fantastic teams. So, when it comes to the retarded and other ignoramuses, I don’t see them, I don’t know them…

 

Apart from me…

You give yourself too much importance.