It’s 5 p.m. and Karl Lagerfeld was due to arrive at 3:30 p.m. So his press team and I, sitting in his private office on Paris’ Left Bank, munch on Magnum ice cream bars (Lagerfeld directed commercials for the brand). I try not to drip chocolate as I carefully leaf through biographies on Chagall, Duchamp and Dali, just a few of the titles that make up four white walls of pristinely organized books.
A staffer offers me a pink bottle of Diet Coke emblazoned with a miniature ponytailed Lagerfeld and designed by the man himself. I pour the soda into a sleek, cube-shaped Orrefors glass created by, you guessed it, and then sip my drink underneath a giant, crystal, antique chandelier.
Finally, Lagerfeld arrives, looking impenetrable in dark glasses and leather, but he has the sniffles. Welcome to Karl’s world, a contradictory mixture of the old-fashioned and thoroughly modern, the rarefied and the mass market, the untouchable and surprisingly vulnerable.
Nice to see you again. Have you read all of these books?
Yes, but you know most of the books are books you look at. This is not a library with reading books. My reading books are somewhere else. I haven’t looked at every book. I don’t buy them by the meter to make a wallpaper, hm? But you can spend hours looking at these. So when I’m late, I think people have so much to look at, to learn, that I don’t feel too guilty. But it’s not my fault because when the first appointment is late, you’re late after all the time. I had an appointment at 11, they arrived at half past 12. What can you do, huh?
It’s good to know that you’re human.
I look the part. But I’m not that human, hm? But more down-to-earth than me, you will never find. You cannot be more down-to-earth.
You’re about to relaunch your Karl Lagerfeld brand as two collections, both of which will be sold online and one of which is very affordable. Why now?
These days, it’s easier to use decent fabrics for not so much money. Really great. When I did H&M, which was seven years ago — I cannot believe it — I had a kind of appeal for people who buy inexpensive. I don’t say cheap because people are cheap, but clothes are not supposed to be cheap, they are supposed to be well designed and not expensive. There’s a very big difference, ah? So [the Karl Lagerfeld launch] has the top and [then also] the top of the inexpensive. I don’t say low because there is nothing low. When I did H&M, everyone said don’t do it. And it worked. When I took over Chanel, everyone said to me, don’t do it, it’s dead, it doesn’t work. It worked beyond. So I [had] better not listen to people and follow only my instincts.
Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet?
Yes. I spend a lot of time — no, time passes so quickly that nothing is ever a lot of time.
Do you ever shop online?
Not personally; I don’t do it because I don’t have the Internet. But everyone around me does it for me. I buy things from the Internet, but it’s not me personally. I don’t give the number of my credit card and all those things. Excuse me one second. Why do we have a visitor? I didn’t know we were going to have a visitor. [Speaks in French] This is why I’m late you know, because people come who don’t have an appointment and say they do.
Life with Karl Lagerfeld.
Yeah, but it shouldn’t be, you know? [Laughs] I don’t make meetings, it bores me to death. I never make meetings. You know what I call meetings?
Salary justification. That’s why people meet for hours. Whenever they want to talk to me, they meet for hours.
What is your response to people who say you do too many collaborations?
I couldn’t care less. It depends if I know the people. If unknown people say this, they should send me a note and explain why. The limit is up to me to decide.
You’re known for constantly moving forward and really capturing the now. But are there any moments from the past that you hold especially dear?
I’m not a vintage specialist, for nothing: not for my life, not for my work, for nothing. I have no archives. Maybe the houses keep archives. I have nothing. I’m not interested in what I did. I’m just interested in what I’m doing, what can be inspired.
You live in six different places — where are those six places?
I have one where I live and sketch. Here is my private office, then I have a townhouse for entertaining, my photo studio. I have all of this on the corner here, and then I have two apartments that are guests’ houses, because I don’t want people in my house. I don’t care so much, but they have to go home. I don’t want any promiscuity, I’m not into that.
Speaking of promiscuity, do you have much of a sex drive?
No, I’m not very much interested in that. But it’s not a question of time, people can make quickies, you know. [Laughs] If you ask this kind of question, you get this kind of answer. [Laughs]
Quickies can be fun.
Good, good, good! I find you talk like Europeans. [Laughs] I think sex is an overrated subject.
It’s the French way, though.
You know, I’m not French. I’m a bloody German.
When was the last time you were in love?
I don’t know. I like freedom.
Do you find relationships too constricting?
Relationships happen for everybody, it can never be a problem. But it’s not really my main thing.
If you had a child or a pupil or someone who you had to pass down words to live by, what would you pass down?
That’s why I don’t have children, hm? There’s nothing to pass down because everybody has to invent his own thing. I don’t believe in this because what I learned, saw and all that happened in other periods is different now. I have a godson, who is small, 3½ years old, genius. He’s got real personality and his parents have no authority. He loves clothes. He wants everything like me. He sleeps with his gloves and goes to school with black glasses on. It’s so funny. But I believe you have to find your own way. What I hate about children is that they put you in a generation mode. I don’t want to be anyone’s father generation, grandfather generation. I’m of no generation. I’m from every generation.
Have you ever had a pet?
Yes, but they die so I don’t like them. The drama is I had two I really liked, and after they died I don’t want another one. That’s too depressing.
Are you afraid of death?
I couldn’t care less. [Percy Bysshe] Shelley said, “Death may be a waking up from the dream of life.” But if you ask me, it’s like a sleep where you don’t wake up. You don’t remember before, you don’t remember after. The only thing is, I don’t want to be seen dead, huh? So anyway, over, over. The battery is finished, huh? Pfft.