‘This is why I don’t do selfies. I hate selfies! It’s too wide, it’s too wide! Take the light away. Okay, I’ll go to the shelf over there," Karl Lagerfeld says.
We’re in a hotel suite in Mayfair, London, and I’m following him from one corner of the room to another as we search for good lighting and the right angle for the perfect selfie.
He gives my iPhone back to me.
"Please turn it. I can only see you. I can take a selfie of you, hmmm?" he asks. Karl then settles for a softly lit spot next to a bookshelf.
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He looks remarkably spry and energetic, considering he's just gotten off of a plane from Paris for a quick trip here to celebrate the launch of his first flagship store in the UK for his eponymous clothing line and his new perfume range, which is now available in stores globally.
He plans to fly back as soon as the parties are over. ("He doesn’t like to be away from Choupette for too long," one of his team members tells me.) But first, there is an interview to do and selfies to take.
"I think they’re electronic masturbation," he says.
But he does one for us anyway.
Metro: You’ve opened a new store and launched a new perfume. This is a big week for you.
Lagerfeld: This is a big week but I’m used to this kind of week, so I don’t consider them really big. For me, it’s a normal week. I do so many things at the same time. I do photos. I work on the collections to come, cruise and all that. For me, something like a launch in Paris is almost like recreation for me. Because it’s different from the normal daily discipline and work.
What makes London the best city for your second store?
For a simple reason: there are two big cities in Europe — I’m sorry, the others are okay, but there is really only Paris and London. London is the biggest so we had the shop here. London has worldwide visibility for the English-speaking world, more than Paris in a way. And London is connected to the rest of the world.
Well, I think that in addition to bottling your perfume you should bottle your energy and sell that in your stores.
Yes, but I need it myself so I can’t sell those bottles, hmm? My energy, in a way, improved with age. When I was very young, I had very low blood pressure and was tired all the time. Now, I’m just tired to go to bed and sleep. But I’m not tired in the rest of the day. The only thing that tires me is when I’m bored. Boredom is the most tiring thing. Perhaps people have boring lives. I have no time for that, eh?
Speaking of boredom, there’s been a lot of talk this week about something called normcore. It’s the idea of looking plain or boring, but with intention and irony.
Some people don’t have to make an effort to look boring, eh? I don’t know how irony and plainness can go together. Me, I look the way I look. My look was not a marketing process. I had shirts with high collars already 30 years ago. I can show you photos from Helmut Newton in the '70s with shirts like this. No, I don’t want to have a plain look. But perhaps I should because I cannot cross the street without people following me and wanting to photograph me and things like this. But the word 'plain' alone is something that, even with irony, I prefer to escape. But I’d have to see photographs of this normcore and see it visually and decide.
You’re a photographer. And now, so is everyone else, thanks to Instagram. How do you feel about the selfie?
I don’t do it myself. I do nothing on the Internet so no one can say it’s Karl. But other people do it for me. I had selfies but only when somebody can pose it because with selfies, you get the worst angles. You can make a fake selfie.
Can I convince you to take your first selfie if we pick a really good angle?
It’s not my first selfie, but I hope it will be my last, eh? I hate the distortion of them. You know, I call selfies electronic masturbation. It’s a kind of narcissism of the poor. I know people do it all the time during the day and they send it out and they look horrible. And normally people don’t hold it right and they look terrible. No head up here or huge head down there and no chin at all. I don't like the angle of it. Let’s see. [Karl takes the phone and proceeds to walk around the room.] Make a good choice.
I’ll let you choose the filter!
This is why I don’t do selfies. I hate selfies! It’s too wide. It’s too wide! Take the light away. Okay, I’ll go to the shelf over there.
Okay, shall we continue the interview during our photo session? The word bossy has become a big topic now that Sheryl Sandberg has started a feminist campaign to ban the word. What do you think of it?
I hate that word, bossy. I don’t know, I think it’s horrible.
Does it hold women back?
Nobody is bossy. You know we don’t need the flash, can you remove the flash? You see I’m very bossy, eh? It’s a horrible word. You have to turn the camera again. Now I can only see you. I’ll take a selfie of you.
You set the Chanel show in a supermarket. When was the last time you went grocery shopping?
In a photo shoot for ELLE magazine. You see, it’s a part of daily life today on every social level. Everyone goes to the supermarket. That’s why I had in the center of the show the chic couple with the Chanel bag, because also they go there, uh? It’s like a modern pop world. But I don’t shop. The show was unbelievable. And people stole everything out of there. Even the food, eh? And the food was supposed to go to the poor.
Your clothes are obvious hits on the street style circuit. What do you say to those who argue that street style culture has gone too far?
This [street style debate] is a fake problem. Everything changes. I think in today’s world, there’s also big change in magazines and in the collections. We live in the middle of change. Look at how the world has changed since this and all that. The computer has changed it all. Fashion is about change and the world is about change, too. The changes in the world are not as quick as the changes in fashion. But we are in the middle of a huge change. I say, don't compare the present to the past if you want to survive happily in the next period. You have to adapt. Times don’t have to adapt to you. And then you start to say, ‘Oh the good old days.' And then you’re over.
While we’re talking about change, Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes have just left the New York Times. What do you think this means for the newspaper?
I think it’s a very sad thing because Suzy knew the business better than everyone else. She went to every show. She discovered things. She was a real trouper. It’s a big miss because, look, Cathy Horyn and I had quite a good relationship but no one reads her in Europe. There were many houses that didn’t want to see her. And none of these houses went out of business. People didn’t care for her. I mean I saw her because it was nice to talk to her, but I’m not even sure I ever saw her articles. People look at them and make their own opinions. If there is a writer that [readers] don’t really know, why should they read that because they don’t know the standards and ideas of that person. People knew Suzy Menkes. She had the knowledge. She was great at her job. Not many editors at her level went to so many shows. And that became really physically exhausting, eh? I read Suzy Menkes and I read Bridget Foley because they know what they are talking about. They see the stuff and they like fashion and they have a fashion eye. I’m only interested in editors when they like fashion. Fashion editors who don’t like fashion should do something else.
Before we go, any dos and don'ts for habitual perfume wearers?
I wear several perfumes at the same time. You know why? Because if you only use one, you don’t smell it anymore. And then you put so much on that other people nearly faint when they see you, while you don’t think you smell at all. So it’s good for the nose to change. And then there are perfumes that I like to put on sheets and curtains.
Where do you normally like to wear it? Behind the ear, on your wrist?
Only on the clothes. Never on the skin. That’s not the best thing to do. Even today, it’s less dangerous than in the past. In the past it was dangerous, you know? In the past, if you used bergamot and then went into the sun, you got sun spots. That’s why women used to put it behind the ears because it’s a place that the sun won’t touch. I hate to have sun spots on my hands, that’s why I wear the gloves. You have to take care of these things, you know? You don't have this kind of problem, but I have.
Karl! You’ve done so many things.
You once said that you would never put your name to toilet paper.
I haven’t been proposed with that kind of project yet and I don’t think it’s that chic, but it’s stuff everybody needs so that could change my mind.
What kind do you have at home?
Very soft and white. It has to be perfect and clean. The days of people using newspaper paper are over, eh?
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