“I’m a fashion person,” designer Karl Lagerfeld once said, “and fashion is not only about clothes—it’s about all kinds of change.” That much is evident on viewing Karl Lagerfeld. Modemethode, a celebration of one of the world’s most renowned fashion designers at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany. Curated by the museum’s director, Rein Wolfs, and Lagerfeld’s long- time creative consultant, Amanda Harlech, the exhibition comprises 126 looks, accessories and a portfolio of sketches, and represents the first comprehensive overview of the fashion cosmos created by the Paris-based German designer.
“Karl Lagerfeld has been defining the fashion world for over 60 years, and yet his topicality is unparalleled,” says Wolfs. “While his designs are distinctive and singular, they also convey the spirit of the times and express a clear style tuned to the fashion houses and collections in question.” “I like to reinvent myself,” Lagerfeld once said. “It’s part of my job.”
Early on, the designer consciously dedicated himself not only to haute couture but also to younger prêt-à-porter, foreseeing fashion’s future in this more wearable approach. Modemethode showcases his most important work, starting with the coat for which he received the International Woolmark Prize in 1954, the catalyst for his first job in fashion, at Balmain. From that moment, the fashion world never let him go. In 1958 he became art director at Jean Patou.
From 1963 he played a leading role at Chloé, where his prêt-à-porter collections were regarded as sensational. Twenty dresses created between 1966 and 1996 illustrate his refinement of the airy, often romanticised and overly patterned Chloé style. In 1965 Lagerfeld joined Italian fashion house Fendi and still helms its prêt-à-porter collections. Thirty looks and accessories from 1970-2015 convey the typically Roman, insouciant elegance associated with the label for which Lagerfeld has been head designer for 50 years. By the 1970s, Lagerfeld explored an individual path. He founded Karl Lagerfeld and had success with women’s ready- to-wear. Fourteen dresses and suits from 1986-2011 highlight his “street-worthy” side, evident in his latter-day designs for H&M and Diesel.
Chanel takes up the lion’s share of his time. He became creative director in 1983, overseeing a makeover of the faltering brand. Sixty-three looks created between 1983 and 2015 reflect his prodigious oeuvre.
As someone who advises Lagerfeld, Harlech sees the creative dynamism up close. “Karl reminds me of an Olympic athlete. His curiosity doesn’t take a break: he reads six books at a time, new publications and old volumes of poetry, like Emily Dickinson. He devours culture in the most inspired and creative ways. Everything he takes in fuels the next step in his creative process. It is fascinating to watch him jump from a photo shoot to working on a new shoulder, which in turn may become the inspiration for a piece of furniture in a new house. Karl is simply unique.”
Karl Lagerfeld has been defining the fashion world for over 60 years, and yet his topicality is unparalleled
And fun, too. “The word that best describes him is joy,” says Harlech. “You can’t really talk about work, because it is a delight to work at his side. To him, work is the light. He is at the top of his creative powers, and he is getting stronger and stronger. This is how it is with artists—the more they see and express, the better they get.” So how does Lagerfeld make the transitions between brand identities? This is, after all, a man who designs his own line as well as eight Chanel and four Fendi collections every year, not to mention accessories. “He laughs about it,” says Lady Harlech. “He always says, ‘I don’t know how I do it, I just do it.’ But if you have an eye as sensitive and agile as his, you can evoke the spirit of every single house. Karl is like a clairvoyant; he grasps things telepathically. He can assess people one hundred metres away. He recognises their weakness and creative potential. He is happy everywhere: He loves the Roman aspect of Fendi, and the opportunity to realise everything Chanel could be.” Lagerfeld’s modemethode, or “fashion method,” is defined by its comprehensive approach: from the first sketch to the finished piece, from accessories to set construction and the music accompanying fashion shows, to photos, graphic design for the press, advertising and catalogues, to the design for shop windows, every detail is rendered à la Lagerfeld. They call him Kaiser. He’s also haute couture’s king, and culture’s meister zeitgeister extraordinaire.