c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service

MILAN ó Karl Lagerfeld, arguably the most recognizable fashion designer in the world, is in a back office at Fendiís headquarters on the Via Solari, receiving from an assistant a gift someone has sent for his Birman, Choupette.

ďI have a famous cat,Ē said Lagerfeld, glancing over the cat-printed notepads offered to him and Choupette. (She has more than 46,000 fans on the Twitter account invented in her honor, turns up frequently in the pages of fashion magazines and has inspired a line of makeup by Shu Uemura.) Lagerfeld said he hoped the cat would become more famous than him. ďThen I can disappear behind Choupette,Ē he said.

Few things could be less likely. Lagerfeld is an object of public fascination in the Selfie Age, too recognizable to walk the streets or attend a party without incident.

Now in his 70s (or 80s, depending on the source) ó and more ťminence blanc, thanks to his powdered ponytail, than ťminence grise ó the German-born designer remains as prolific as he is tenacious, with a terse wit and a predilection for Delphic pronouncements.

ďThere are not too many people with an opinion I care for,Ē he said. His own he dispenses liberally, and from them, nothing is safe.

One assistant at Fendi years ago even found himself rechristened when Lagerfeld deemed his actual surname, Peugnet, cumbersome and provincial. ďI said, ĎHervť, this name is not possible, itís too heavy,'Ē Lagerfeld said. The assistant eventually left to found his own line, and the world came to know him, as Lagerfeld did, as Hervť Lťger, from the French word for ďlight.Ē

During an interview last week, Lagerfeld opined on a range of subjects, including his preference for working with women (ďIím not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couldnít care less about their opinion.Ē); his desire to die the way Coco Chanel did, while in the middle of creating a collection; and his aversion to stress. (ďI donít believe in it. Itís a job, one should not become hysterical.Ē)

Itís hard to envision Lagerfeld hysterical. He delivers even the most pointed of his gravelly barbs with a composure unlikely to ruffle his starched collar or muss his Dior Homme suit.

But, in his case, a little stress may be understandable. In addition to designing several collections a year each for Fendi, Chanel and his own Karl Lagerfeld line, he announced last week that he would add a show of haute fourrure, or ďcouture fur,Ē for fur-centric Fendi during the Paris couture collections in July.

The occasion will signify his 50th anniversary as designer for the Roman label, the longest-ever partnership between a designer and a luxury maison, as well as the first time in the history of the Fťdťration FranÁaise de la Couture that a single designer has staged both an haute couture and an haute fourrure show in a single season. (This conversation was condensed and edited.)

Q: The haute fourrure collection will mark your 50th year at Fendi, but Iím told you donít like the word ďanniversaryĒ ó you donít like looking back.

A: No, no, no, no. This is one of the sicknesses of our period, to look back. No, forget about it. Fashion is now and tomorrow. Who cares about the past? But at Fendi, they like to tour the past.

Q: So maybe call it a celebration, rather than an anniversary?

A: Itís not a celebration. Itís a new start. In the past, Fendi did only fur. Then they started to do ready-to-wear and funny fur (i.e., faux fur), but this was 40 years ago. Now, itís time to do the highest level of couture fourrure. But better to do it during haute couture because itís the right place to show it to the right people. Thatís a very simple idea. Itís nothing going back to any roots. Itís planting new trees.


Q: Fifty years is a very long time to be with a company. Do you ever reflect over the long term of your career at Fendi?

A: No. Never.

Q: Is that the secret to longevity?

A: I donít take ideas from my own past. Sometimes I see things (and say), ďOh, itís not that bad.Ē And people tell me, ďYou did that 20 or 30 years ago.Ē Maybe ó I forgot. As long as youíre in the business, you must not think about your own work. In Germany, they made a huge exhibition of everything I did, Fendi, Chanel, Lagerfeld, Chloť and all that. Iím not even going to the show. I donít care.

Q: You donít feel the weight of all that history behind you?

A: Thereís no history. I donít even have archives, myself. I keep nothing. What I like is to do ó not the fact that I did. It doesnít excite me at all. When people start to think that what they did in the past is perhaps even better than what they do now, they should stop. Lots of my colleagues, they have archives, they look at their dresses like they were Rembrandts! Please, forget about it.


Q: How did the idea come about to do haute fourrure?

A: I donít remember where the idea comes from. Maybe itís me. I think the idea is right. The problem with fur . ... For me, as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I donít get the message. Itís very easy to say no fur, no fur, no fur, but itís an industry. Who will pay for all the unemployment of the people if you suppress the industry of the fur? The hunters in the north for the sable, they have no other job, there is nothing else to do. Those organizations who are much against it, they are not Bill Gates.

Q: So youíre not very sympathetic to the anti-fur cause?

A: Iím very sympathetic. I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way, but I think all that improved a lot. I think a butcher shop is even worse. Itís like visiting a murder. Itís horrible, no? So I prefer not to know it.

Q: Does fur ever feel like a limitation?

A: No. You have to find new ways to use something that could be considered limited in the way you could use it. Thatís part of the job. I know the technique, I know the materials. I havenít used some of them for quite a long time. So itís fun to use it again to do something I havenít done with them before. I hope I have enough ideas that I can make something new out of that.


Q: Do you worry about not having enough ideas? I wouldnít expect so.

A: No, no, no. I donít believe in waiting for inspiration. The French say, líappťtit vient en mangeant, the ideas come when you work. I work a lot for the garbage can. I have huge bins next (to me), for whatever I do, 95 percent goes to the bin.

Q: Itís like Einstein apparently said: 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration.

A: He was very funny and very clever, even if my brain is not exactly his. He was pretty right. You know, Einstein had a huge sense of humor.

Q: Do you have a good sense of humor?

A: I hope so.


Q: Is there a place for humor in fashion?

A: I donít think that most of the designers have a very quick sense of humor. They take themselves very seriously because they want to be taken as artists. I think we are artisans. Itís an applied art. Thereís nothing bad about that. If you want to do art, then show it in a gallery.

Q: So you donít consider yourself an artist?

A: No, no, no, no. Iím a designer, I do photos, I do books, Iím a publisher, but I donít have the self-proclaimed label ďartist.Ē I hate that. Very pretentious. If other people say it, itís very flattering, but if you start to say it yourself, you better forget about it.

Q: Speaking of photography: You shoot the Fendi campaigns, the Chanel campaigns, even some Dior Homme campaigns, and for magazines. Why? Is it a pleasure, or just a different type of work?

A: If it was not a pleasure, I wouldnít do it. Second, itís quite important. If you do only collections, you end up in an ivory tower. You finish the collection and you are isolated until the time to get to the next one. That would be very boring. Itís very bad and unhealthy to get isolated. Already I donít walk in the street, so I have to do something, somewhere.

Q: You donít walk in the street because youíre too famous now? People stop you?

A: Exactly, all over the world. We live in the world of selfies.

Q: Do you like selfies?

A: I donít do selfies. But other people do, and they all want to do selfies with me. No, no, no. Thank God, Sťbastien, my assistant, heís mean to the people in the street, mean and rude. Iím a nice person.

Q: Do you keep an eye on the work of other designers, your competitors?

A: Yes, I look at many things. I donít see it like competition. I like when there are many people who do good things because you work better if there is competition than if there are only third-rate people. Paris cannot be Paris only with one. But from me to you, there are very few who have, in terms of craftsmanship, the craftsmanship of high-quality couture. For me, the best ó I wonít talk about Chanel, because they have the biggest operation, with 250 workers for the whole couture ó is Dior and Givenchy. The others, I prefer not to comment. I am not a fashion journalist.

Q: Have you begun to work on the haute fourrure?

A: Itís working in my mind, but now I have to get rid of the season of the ready-to-wear, so I have to do Fendi, then Chanel, then we have to do the cruise, then we have to do this . ...

Q: Is it difficult to design for so many labels?

A: When Iím at Fendi, I donít even remember what I am doing somewhere else, and if I am somewhere else, I forgot what I did here. What I do for Chanel never looks like Fendi. I have no personality. Perhaps I have three.

Q: Do you foresee a time when you might stop?

A: No. I would die on the spot. Chanel died in the middle of a collection when she was in her nearly 90s. I have time! In fashion, you think about six months, six months, six months. Now itís even three months, three months, three months. The world is different. Thereís no faraway future, itís no futuristic thing. Fashion is something people are supposed to consume immediately, not in 10 years.