We chat work, life and the beauty of imbalance with Karl Lagerfeld in Toronto

Karl Lagerfeld Toronto
Photography by Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld’s fashion achievements are unnecessary to list. Not as well known is his passion for interior design. Current projects include suites for the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, a hotel in Macau and lobbies for the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos in Toronto, his first condominium project in North America. We sat down with Lagerfeld at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.

You’ve done so many homes and had so many different styles–Memphis, Art Deco, Biedermeier, 18th century…
“Or no style at all, because I had more than one.”

But in these cases, you decorated and then sold everything.
“I’m not attached to property. I’m attached to the idea of doing things. I like to change as the world changes. Don’t forget, I’m in fashion. It’s about going ahead.”

Do you keep anything?
“I keep books and a few pieces of furniture. I have the desk where I started to write and sketch when I was a child. It’s a very beautiful German Biedermeier desk, and it’s very tiny. Today I cannot use it, but I keep it as a kind of chest of drawers.”

So you’re sentimental about that then?
“I’m not really sentimental about things I bought myself. That’s why I like doing hotels and projects like this, because I love to do things. When it’s done, I want to do something else.”

Are you still in your modern design phase?
“Yes, yes. [The lobbies] will not be baroque [chuckling]. I am not allowed to talk about it yet, but I have a precise idea, with no second option. If you have a second option, then you’re not sure of yourself.”

You tend to dress in a uniform. When did that start?
“I don’t know. I am not a result of some merchandising process. I like the idea because I look different from everybody else. I am easily identified. As a child, I wanted to be different. I wore Bavarian clothes in the north of Europe because nobody had them.”

I read somewhere that you believe in reincarnation. Is that true?
“No, and I am tired of people who say they think they were a courtesan in Egypt 4,000 years ago or stupid things like that. I like the idea, but if we don’t remember, who cares? Reincarnation would only be interesting if you could remember.”

Do you care what other people think about what you do?
“Less and less.”

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
“It’s the best! It took some time, but I got there.

When did that start?
“Slowly. Too late for my taste, but that’s OK. I think what saves me is I am not taking myself seriously. I consider myself a joke. I always think that I can do better, that I should make an effort and I am lazy. But it’s grotesque! I never compare myself to anybody else. I built my life the way I wanted it to be built. It’s a very selfish life, but for the job I am doing you have to be free 24 hours a day. You cannot do it the way I do it if you have family problems or things like that. When designers accept a contract they should know it’s a job and not complain like poor victims after. If you start to think, ‘You have to respect me because I did a big thing in the past,’ forget about it. I have no archives, nothing.”

You don’t?
“No! Chanel and Fendi have archives. But I don’t want it. There is a huge exhibition, very beautiful, apparently, in Germany, in a big state museum with everything I did in life. I will never go there. I refuse any interviews. I didn’t go to the opening. I have nothing to do with it. I don’t want to be confronted by my own past.”

What about a Met Gala-type retrospective?
“But that’s the same thing as the German museum. I did it with Anna Wintour for Chanel, but it was more Chanel. I do not have to put my name on it like ‘Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel’ or ‘Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi’ like other designers do. That’s ridiculous. I made my name without putting my name over the door. I started with Chloé and then I did Lagerfeld only because the people who were tired of Chloé wanted to leave with me, and we made another kind of company, but it was very different. Now I think Lagerfeld is positioned right because it’s inexpensive and much more accessible. That’s why I did H&M. I loved the idea. I can do the most expensive and the less expensive, too, because I don’t use the word ‘cheap.’

“I am lucky, my contract gives me total freedom. I can do whatever I want. There is no exclusivity. If you want to kill a designer you give them a contract with exclusivity. Then he will dry out in his ivory tower.”

What do you think of some of these young guys who are in these situations, like Vuitton or Balenciaga?
“Nobody did as many years as I did—I did Fendi for 50 years. I made a kind of blueprint for this. You know, when I took over Chanel, everyone said, ‘Don’t touch it.’”

Really?
“But then it was the dowdiest thing in the world for the bourgeois from the 16th arrondissement in Paris. Horrible. Nobody said, ‘Oh, great idea.’ [Coco] was dead for 11 years. People were saying, ‘We have to respect.’ You know, if you want to kill a label you become respectful.”

You grew up in comfortable circumstances.
“Beyond comfortable. But I didn’t want toys. I only wanted books. I never played with children. I was only reading, sketching and learning languages. I could speak French and English when I was six. My father spoke nine languages and I wanted to be a grown-up person. I hated children.”

You hated children?
“I spent my childhood in the country. They were not that brilliant. I wanted nothing else. And I still want nothing else. That’s why I ended up with 300,000 books. It’s a nightmare.”

Why is it a nightmare?
“It’s work and space to manage all that.”

Have you tried an e-reader?
“I still prefer paper because I am a paper freak. I sketch everything myself. I do everything myself. If not, I’m not interested. I am only interested in what I am doing.”