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From the FASHION Archives: Karl Lagerfeld’s Most Memorable Bon Mots

Pulled straight from the April 1989 issue of FASHION

Killer Karl, Monte Karl, Kaiser Karl… the nicknames suggest a fashion force to be reckoned with. They’re not kidding.

Karl Lagerfeld was born with that special brand of self-confident arrogance that comes with inherited wealth and privilege (the family fortune comes from canned milk). Add unbridled curiosity, an iconoclastic yen to épater la bourgeoisie, and the ability to sustain a workload that would floor your garden-variety powerhouse and you’ve got the Lagerfeld formula for fame. That one man is capable of shaping so many significant and quite distinct fashion collections – Chanel, Fendi. KL for Klaus Steilmann, as well as his own signature collections for both men and women – defies the law of industry averages. His assiduously cultivated rivals must bite down even harder on their eyeliners when they contemplate the seeming ease with which Lagerfeld, aristocratically ponytailed with trademark fan in hand, makes so much happen. And thus far, ‘89 is his year, with Chanel never more in the news and Lagerfeld’s own lines reaping the kind of critical and commercial rewards that rarely coincide in the carping clothing business. But alongside a patent genius for whipping up outfit after outfit, Lagerfeld is also the barb-tongued, hawk-eyed philosopher of 20th-century style.

Fashion commentator Marina Sturdza has interviewed him a number of times in the course of their careers. Here’s a grab bag of bons mots from her Lagerfeld archives.

On Hard Work: I’m a working-class person… working with class. I do it for the sake of doing it. I think it’s fun. It’s like I hate war, but I like to be on the battlefield. In my mind and my working life, the collections I design are all independent and separate. I’m working in different studios in different countries with different people. Fendi is my Italian version of me, KL in Paris is the real me. Chanel is a little game I’m playing for the moment. I like to live in different worlds. Constant change helps me in my work and makes me feel and think differently. Personally, it bores me to immediately redo the same thing only because it’s supposed to be my “style” or whatever they call it. That’s why I enjoy doing different things like Chanel, because I can be stimulated and play with my own professional ability.

On Chanel: I respect nothing, no one, including myself. Respect is not a very creative thing. Imagine me respecting Chanel. We would go nowhere. She doesn’t interest me as a person. I think she was an unpleasant, bitchy woman. But I must admit, she survived everybody. Her legacy is that I think she invented a concept you can still use, and that’s her real genius.

On Inès de la Fressange, the Face of Chanel: Without Inès, I would never touch Chanel. When I started Chanel, I realized I needed a modern girl with class and style to give me an image to hang the thing on because obviously, I’m not a woman, and Chanel is a look made by a woman for a woman. I’d known Inès for many years and I had a feeling she gave Chanel a kind of reality for me, because Chanel taste is not really my taste. I wouldn’t know what to do without her.

On Other Inspirations: I’m inspired by everything. By every single thing. Sometimes the most stupid thing can inspire you to a good idea. I also see what ideas I can make out of a mistake. Sometimes the mistakes give me my best ideas. I have a vision in a flash and I don’t hesitate. I see something, I decide, and I don’t change my mind.

On Shock Value: Indifference is the worst crime in life.

On Other Designers: I think lots of designers do interesting things, but I don’t like the idea that there is only one designer who does wonderful things and all the rest is bullshit. I don’t think anyone is good all the time or none of the time. There is a right moment for everything: the best disappears for a while, then it can come back.