As a rule, fashion designers are not overly interested in looking back. And who can blame them? They’ve got more than enough to get on with dreaming up the future. In particular, Karl Lagerfeld – the most prolific of his profession of all – moves on from any given collection to the next almost the moment it is shown. He is not, it is well known, a man to dwell on the past.
Still, the rest of us are fascinated by the size, scale and brilliance of his oeuvre which spans more than half a century now, beginning with the yellow coat that won him an International Wool Secretariat Prize in 1954, through his feted tenure as designer at Chloé, 50 years at Fendi, his collections for his eponymous label and, of course, for Chanel.
Perhaps with that in mind, while the man himself focuses on the here, now and soon-to-be, his longtime collaborator Amanda Harlech has lovingly curated the largest retrospective of M Lagerfeld’s work to date. It’s currently on show in the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.
‘Karl reminds me of an Olympic athlete,’ Harlech says. ‘The more he does, the farther he gets. He never takes a holiday; he never turns his brain off, he constantly feeds it. He is at the height of his creative power and he keeps getting better. That’s the way it is with artists – the more they see and express, the better they get.’
Lagerfeld’s legendary sketches are on display – there’s a huge wall of them, all of which went on to become looks on the runway – as is a mock-up of the couturier’s desk. As for the clothes… The aforementioned designs for Chloé are as inspiring as ever. A sequence of Chanel suits is testimony to the ever-developing and always relevant nature of this great classic. The handiwork of the Chanel haute couture ateliers can be viewed up close. Fendi furs are among the most imaginative and pioneering of their kind in fashion history. Then there are bags, shoes, the press and advertising campaigns that Lagerfeld shoots each season, references to the set designs at Chanel in particular. Lagerfeld’s friend and collaborator Michel Gaubert has even created a bespoke soundtrack for the occasion.
"This project was a fascinating outing," says Amanda Harlech. "It was a little bit like when you fall in love again with somebody you think you know, but about whom it turns out you don’t know anything."
Karl Lagerfeld: Modemethode is at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn until September 13.