While the world remembers Karl Lagerfeld through his created persona, his close friends and companions remember him more intimately. “Karl became this sort of icon and rockstar through this look that he called the ‘dolly’ or the ‘puppet’ that he ossified during the early 2000s, which was the black and white uniform that he created with the high collar, the cravat, and the Chrome Hearts jewelry,” says Andrew Bolton, Curator of the Costume Institute. “And I think people very much sort of see that side of Karl and think that is Karl. But for me, that is sort of a disguise. It was a way for a lion to pass incognito on the world’s stage.”
In this documentary, Lagerfeld’s closest colleagues and companions, including Bolton, Amanda Harlech, and the designer’s former personal assistant Sébastien Jondeau share a closer glimpse into the life and work of the mysterious man. “Karl loved his work, and that was his life. He made working the most glorious, inspiring, and revolutionary time,” said Harlech. Lagerfeld, who designed for Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, and his namesake label during his 65-year career, was a known workaholic to his friends. His curiosity and intelligence were some traits that struck out to everyone, including his ability to have a distinct identity wherever he went. “Karl would often say he was four people. One person at Chanel, one person at Fendi, one person at his own label, and one person at Chloé,” describes Bolton. “He always said he was part of the working class, meaning that he worked all day and all night, and I don’t know how he achieved what he did.”
For this year’s Costume Institute exhibition, “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” the biggest challenge for Bolton was doing justice to a man like Lagerfeld and his distinct design styles from the four houses for which he designed. Bolton describes the four characteristics of Lagerfeld as Fendi showcasing more of Lagerfeld’s modernist tendencies, Chloé his romantic side, Karl Lagerfeld his minimalist self, and Chanel his historic post-modernist sensibility. “I think ultimately Karl’s legacy will be this sort of fashion designer impresario who was able to marry art and business, which has become the model for contemporary fashion.” Today his legacy lives on at the Costume Institute in an exhibit designed by another one of his associates Tadao Ando.
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