STYLE: An Evening Honoring Karl Lagerfeld In Conversation With Jessica Chastain (Recap)

by Elie P

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“I love to be asked mean questions because then I can have fun”

The evening started with some of Karl Lagerfeld’s closest friends walking across the red carpet black carpet in Fendi and Chanel; all beautiful and chic couture. Mr. Lagerfeld was accompanied by Academy Award nominated actress, Jessica Chastain, and when a media personality asked Karl if she may ask him some questions, he wittingly replied “I love to be asked mean questions because then I can have fun”. Lagerfeld’s night was set for an hour-long interview with actress, Jessica Chastain who played the role of moderator for the evening.

Ms. Chastain’s questions weren’t mean at all, if anything her questions were a bit personal. When Chastain asked Lagerfeld what type of pajamas does he wear to sleep in, he politely declined from answering the question. I found it amusing by the way, that he doesn’t know what sweat pants are. The 80 year old designer was quite forthcoming and as the discussion progressed throughout the evening he became more serious with genuine insight into his life and personal interest.

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Before I get into detail about this evening I think I should highlight Mr. Karl Lagerfeld’s one liners. After all that is one of the many things he is known for:

Jessica Chastain: Did you like going to school?

Karl Lagerfeld: I was never interested in going to school with the rest of those idiots

Jessica Chastain: What do you do for fun?

Karl Lagerfeld: I admire people who destroy themselves.

Jessica Chastain: Do you like reading on your iPad?

Karl Lagerfeld:  No, for me paper is the most important thing in life.

Lagerfeld is surprisingly a funny guy. As he mentioned, this was a skill he developed being raised by his mother. “My mother was tough the way she talked to people” he says. “She was mean but so funny, I’m not sure I’m that funny.”  Lagerfeld said that with his mother growing up, “I had to answer quickly and it had to be funny…. If I thought of something 10 minutes later, she would slap me.”

Lagerfeld then went on to discuss his beginnings within fashion. He got his start by being interested in the history of costume. “I wanted to become an illustrator, so I studied every book of costume from any kind of period and tried to make illustrations,” he shared. Eventually, he ended up getting into fashion, though he was worried there wasn’t much money involved in it. Lagerfeld said, “It was hard to imagine someone could make a decent living in this business. Fashion now is something completely different, then it was not at all trendy to be in fashion. But I was always interested in what people would wear, I loved clothes.”  He also recalled his first big break into the fashion world. Lagerfeld entered the 1954 International Wool Secretariat, where he designed a sketch of a coat. He won the contest, where he was chosen out of 200,000 participants. Lagerfeld says, ” I was chosen out of 200,000 people, which to me was not that bad.” As part of the prize of being chosen, the French couturier Pierre Balmain produced Lagerfeld’s coat. Pierre Balmain then invited Lagerfeld to join his couture practice as an assistant sketching.


After working 3 and a half years with Balmain, he was then asked to become art director at the house of another French couturier, Jean Patou. There, he remained as an art director for five years. Lagerfeld mentioned, “I was tired of being an assistant, I wasn’t born to be an assistant… If you are an assistant endlessly there is no hope.”

Around the 60’s in the fashion world everyone started to realize that French couture had no longer represented for the future of fashion, so Lagerfeld started working on ready-to-wear at Chloe; where he would be on-and-off for about 20 years. In 1983 Lagerfeld joined Chanel. He was told to not touch Chanel and that it was dead. “Now people are good at revivals, but those days when a label was dead, it was suppose to be dead forever, there was no chance of coming back” he says.  But Lagerfeld wasn’t discouraged about what other people had to say, “When someone says don’t do it, it’s hopeless, then I think it’s interesting. Apparently it worked.”

To this day, Lagerfeld still sketches his designs for Chanel and keeps a  sketchbook next to his bed. “I keep a sketchbook near my bed because when I dream of a design I sketch it first thing in the morning so I won’t forget it later.” Lagerfeld isn’t interested in using computers or going to studios. “I do everything myself because I physically like the work of sketching.”

As we can tell already, Mr.Lagerfeld is very much into fashion and has worked for many powerhouses of the fashion world. So one would be surprised as to why he doesn’t put more into his own namesake label. Lagerfeld’s reason for this, “I am not obsessed by my name, I don’t care… What I like is my job,  the ego trip comes later.”

One of the few topics I enjoyed about this evening with Karl Lagerfeld was the discussion him and Chastain had about his love for literature and silent films; something both Lagerfeld and Chastain have in common. Lagerfeld was a bit hesitant to talk about it, saying “It’s bad for this conversation, I don’t want to look like a cultivated intellectual, the audience wants a fashion person.” His personal library holds over 300,000 volumes. Lagerfeld is much into fiction and poetry from writers such as Emily Dickinson, Racine, Balzac, Rilke, Virginia Woolf, and many more. His favorite silent film is The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari; a German horror film made in 1920.

Interestedly enough, Lagerfeld had some opinions towards Photoshop and it’s role in today’s fashion. “We are easily in a period of re-touching,” He said. “Some models end up looking as if they are coming out of a funeral parlor, all life taken out of the face, I hate that.”

Chastain briefly mentioned Lagerfeld’s beloved cat, Choupette. “I was hoping Choupette might make an appearance this evening.” Lagerfeld said. “Choupette is in New York, but she is too young to be out this late.” Then he smiled and said, “But I have my iPhone, I can show her later.” Choupettte has played an important role in Lagerfeld’s life. As we all know and have heard in the past, Lagerfeld has been known to be intimidating and mean at times.  Lagerfeld said, “She’s helped me to become a nicer person…There’s something very touching about her. Even though she is spoiled.”

Overall, it was an evening with a fashion icon that shares many similarities to your everyday fashion worshipper. His handwork and dedication is apparent in his sketches, while he continues to grow as a developer of fashion even as a seasoned vet. As he taught me on this special evening, if it’s done with love then it isn’t work.