MAY 3, 2005 - By the time Monday’s gala opening of the Chanel Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had drawn together fashion’s elite, a rather lengthy history had already been written. Strained relations between Karl Lagerfeld, Artistic Director of Chanel couture since 1983, and the museum’s staff had frustrated a previous attempt at a retrospective. And so it was not particularly surprising when the world’s most polished couturier told reporters what he really thought. "I like today," he said. "I am not interested in the past. My task is to anticipate for Chanel what will be in fashion tomorrow."
A theme of modernity is the thread that runs through Karl’s designs for Chanel and Lagerfeld Gallery, and while he is an undisputed expert on fashion history, it’s the power of the here and now that fuels his creative imagination.
When he stepped out onto the runway in a surprise visit before the last Chanel Ready-to-Wear show in early March, a hoard of reporters and paparazzi immediately spun about him into a gigantic cocoon of flashing mayhem. Once he assured an editor from Warsaw that Polish was one language he did not speak, he turned his attention to the fall collection soon to be unveiled. “Coco Chanel was always influenced by men’s codes,” he said. “And so what I’ve done is to use the same idea to develop the men’s pieces shown in this collection.” The pearl necklace that peaked out from beneath one guy’s sleeveless vest aside, the look for the most part spoke to the way Generations Y and I dress today.
Observing today’s youth, it’s hard not to notice that the codes that once separated the sexes have merged. Or as Karl put it “Boys and Girls have two arms and two legs. The rest is just a question of proportion.”
Among his other endeavors, Karl is the proprietor of s a bookstore on Rue de Lille in Paris, located around the corner from his Rue de l’Université Hôtel Particulier, where a handwritten note on the window announces that the shop will be closed on certain mornings. And it’s on these occasions, when Karl, and sometimes Hedi Slimane, Artistic Director for Dior Homme, sequester themselves in the photography studio located in the rear, pouring over their respective archival photography: shots of young people taken around the globe - youth in movement, style in evolution.
Fashion moves always forward, and while the roots may draw from tradition, the real challenge is finding a way to speak with a fresh voice. And that is where Karl Lagerfeld is a consummate master, and why his long-running relationship with the House of Chanel has been so successful.
But perhaps his most succinct statement came not at the Chanel show, but two days earlier backstage at Lagerfeld Gallery, a label now owned by Tommy Hilfiger. “Fashion is on the move,” Karl said. “It’s got to have the power of youth.”