Cruise, couture, collaboration, cinematography – the fashion world wheel is spinning faster and faster. And, though powerhouse Karl Lagerfeld may be setting the pace; is the so-called designer actually putting in the miles?
Robin Givhan first said it in 2012 but the statement still rings true today: Karl Lagerfeld did not design any of his silhouettes; he took the Chanel code of Gabrielle, never adding to it but rather bringing it out in different colours, ways and fabrics like perpetually wheeling out an old actress trussed up in more and more make-up. Similarly at Fendi, the most popular and iconic item is that of Silvia Venturini Fendi - the baguette bag. As Andrew O’Hagan put it in his 2015 feature on Lagerfeld in the New York Times, “he has called himself a ‘fashion machine’, someone who produces designs in order to keep moving forward.“ However, he has never truly done this.
Where McQueen, Galliano, Philo, Ghesquiere, Wang and countless others have forged identities and added codes to the grandes maisons, Lagerfeld has simply walked the Fendi and Chanel roads laid before him; his own line is so uniform that it does not warrant a catwalk show. Like countless literary figures, the Kaiser has created an image of himself but is there anything behind the façade?
That is not to say he is not talented; of course Lagerfeld is an impressive artist and the ways in which he contributes to the fashion world are countless, but therein lies the issue. Lagerfeld is - like it or not - the King of the fashion merry-go-round; a merry-go-round that has been spinning out of control of late, whirling faster and faster in a hurricane of Ready-to-Wear and Haute Couture collections, Cruise shows, diffusion lines and exhibitions.
Heads are spinning, and we wonder why Raf Simons stepped down from his seemingly covetable post at Christian Dior - a brand worth [USD] $35.1 billion in comparison to privately owned Chanel at [USD] $6.8 billion and LVMH partner brand Louis Vuitton at [USD] $28.1 billion (as of May 2015 via Forbes).
Before Lagerfeld installed the tradition of showing Chanel’s pre-Fall and Cruise collections in exotic locations around the world, designers were happily able to disseminate each season’s wares via the medium of a lookbook or a low-key show in the city of the brand. Simple. Then Lagerfeld stepped in and upped the ante with Paris-Dallas (bouclé jackets take on a Wild West vibe), Paris-Edinbourg (Mary Queen of Scots gets her hands on a bouclé jacket) and Paris-Seoul (the bouclé jacket goes K-Pop in wild graphic coloured prints - repeat of SS’14 anyone?).
Thanks to fierce French rivalry, this showmanship meant that Dior and Louis Vuitton - both owned by Bernard Arnault’s LVMH, also the owner of Fendi - the Italian fourrière for whom Lagerfeld is Creative Director – likewise had to take part, or risk being seen as lagging behind the fashion behemoth of Chanel.
In order to be a player in the fashion game and to reach the stratosphere inhabited by its most famous names, you can never be ‘off’. Speaking with The Business of Fashion, Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia Editor-in-Chief, said of the man: “Karl is a person who works 24 hours a day, but in a light way. He enjoys it, because he does what he likes.” Ultimately, fashion is now a full-time sport and you have to run the race continually to be in it - a race created by Lagerfeld, with hurdles such as multiple collections, exhibitions and far-flung shows, all added along the way. Where others sprint, he jogs. Where others design, create, innovate, he curates his image and draws heavily on previous work.
“Karl is drawing like a demon at all moments,” stylist Charlotte Stockade told The Business of Fashion earlier this year. “It takes him two seconds - rip - off it floats down the table. It’s his work to have the ideas and somebody else’s to go and flesh it out.” The man never stops, nor need he ever stop; he never seems to have a bad day.
That said, does it really require that much effort to design a Chanel collection when you’re constantly recycling designs, rarely bringing new ideas to the table? Arguably Lagerfeld’s greatest gift to fashion - and curse if you ask other designers - is his staging of incredibly high-production shows. As he did with diffusion lines at Karl Lagerfeld, he has added a new arena to the fashion circus and brands feel they have to enter it in order to compete.
Though McQueen was also well known for the spectacle of his shows, which brimmed with a sense of true art and innovation, Lagerfeld’s runway extravaganzas appear influenced in no small part by direct consumerism and mainstream sensibility. For his latest offering of tweed, he turned the Grand Palais in Paris into an airport, having already created a Chanel supermarket, post-apocalyptic theatre and a mesmerising jungle of paper flowers. Yet is all this display going on behind the collections just smoke and mirrors for the lack of creativity within the clothes themselves? If so, Lagerfeld must be hailed as the master of distraction.
This merry-go-round of shows and unmanageable designer demands mean Lagerfeld is single-handedly ruining the fashion world, pushing those with real talent to the extreme. While the younger designers and brands struggle to keep up with the requirements, this octogenarian is handling three different brands, designing hotels, shooting his own campaigns, occasionally lobbying governments, schmoozing the Caras’ and Kristens’ of the fashion scene and creating films for short running exhibitions. Talk about a fashion whirlwind; it’s a German hurricane named Lagerfeld.
When the wind stops blowing, who will step in? It’s anyone’s guess at this point and in a fashion world that is spinning so fast, it’s hard to know where the wheel of Chanel fortune will stop. When Lagerfeld entered the after-party for the Paris-Seoul collection, one reveler screamed in admiration “I’m going to die!” to which the response from another Karlite came “But Karl never will.” My money? Tom Ford, plainly and simply because he is created in the mould of Lagerfeld, a similarly sharply curated image of a man with fingers in all the fashion pies.
Words: Anna Haze