Karl Lagerfeld was an extremely creative and prolific designer. Karl Lagerfeld should be celebrated. He designed for over 60 years, 54 of those years with the Fendi sisters and daughters, Chanel for 36 years, Chloe for many years, as well as at other brands. He briefly had his own label too. Lagerfeld worked best when he worked with someone who could edit him. Gaby Aghion of Chloe was know to channel his creativity to great effect. Lagerfeld played with the codes of Chanel on many levels, but the codes also channeled his creativity. His brief foray into a designer price eponymous label did not end well. With no one to reign him in, the clothes were heavy-handed and unwearable. The Kaiser, as he was also known, for famous for saying that fashion does not belong in museums. That can be debated. What cannot be debated is that this show does not celebrate the beauty that Lagerfeld created. The curator chose to over-intellectualize the art of designing clothes. He decided to show that clothing based on themes that he chose, not ones Lagerfeld promoted. The Kaiser was very famous for giving “good quotes”. Nothing he ever said, would lead one to think he even designed by “theme”. When you have 10 or more collections a year to conceive, there is bound to be some looks that do not succeed. They do abound. Karl Lagerfeld should not be celebrated for these missteps. He should be celebrated for the fountain of creativity that he was. Come on a tour of some of the looks in the A Line of Beauty exhibition in the New York. Afterwards you can look for Lagerfeld’s looks at Chanel, Chloe and Fendi with a NYC private shopping tour.
One of the first looks is rather simple. It is a sleek black dress with a rhinestone snake on the back. One of the biggest issues in the lack of color in the show. The curator likes reducing his exhibits to monochromatic exercises. That does designers a great injuctice, as fashion is so much about color.
In the opening sequence there are a few dresses from Chloe in art nouveau prints. Unhappily there are very few pieces from Chloe or Fendi in the show. The Lagerfeld Chloe years produced so many interesting looks. Karl Lagerfeld is not celebrated for his work with Chloe.
These two pieces are very Chanel, they certainly celebrate Chanel’s signature quilting. Karl’s sense of humor led him to riff on all sorts of amusing uses of Gabrielle Chanel’s signatures.
And I have no idea what this Fendi fur coat tried to say when it made its way down the runway. Ugly is a kind description. There were so many light, airy flattering coats that Karl created. Why this?
This is a gorgeous Chanel suit, classic Chanel with a twist. The workmanship is perfection.
But you really have to wonder about these two Fendi dresses. Not only are the prints hideous, but the shapes just don’t work. Fashion critics often laugh about runway looks that defeat even a supermodel. If the women who can wear anything and look gorgeous look like they shouldn’t leave the house in an outfit, how can a normal woman wear it. Every designer has produced looks like this, not just Lagerfeld.
And this Fendi coat continues the trend. Yes it mixes unusual furs, but why? The beginning rooms of the show show the looks on different kinds of dressmaker’s forms. The sort that designers use in their studio. This lets the viewer see it in its purest form. I wish more of the show was displayed like this.
One of the themes of the show is Lagerfeld’s prolific history of creating his designs with sketches, or croquis. Karl Lagerfeld is oftern celebrated for his artistic skills. The people who ran the various ateliers would bring the drawing to life. There are interesting videos at the start of the show giving insight into the process. There is also a recreation of one of his desks. Yes, it is messy, but many creative people thrive on clutter, and know where every piece of paper is. Lagerfeld revered books, and used them extensively in his research. He even launched is own bookstore on the rue de Lille in Paris. It is still there.
This delicate dress is a beauty. It is inventive, sophistcated and flattering. Everything that a dress from Chanel that costs as much money as this one did should be.
As are these two soft and fluid gowns, also from Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld is celebrated for his soft handed style.
This trio of Chanel dresses illustrates how displaying by “theme” dumbs down the show, and shows work that is not breathtaking. The theme is “Romantic”, the effect is heavy.
Not content with three heavy dresses, this one adds insult to visual injury. Lagerfeld had a thing for big sleeves and bigger collars. Not very Chanel-esque. And the endless repetition of black and white gets tiresome. The sets were designed by an Tadao Ando. They are stiking, but they are stuffed into a small gallery, and make it impossible to see all the details of both RTW and Couture. Peering up at a distant dress is odd.
There was also a selection of oriental embroideed dresses. Coco Chanel was famous for the Coromandel screens in her home. This dress recreates the screens in amazing embroidered detail.
This is another sophiticaed Chanel look. Sequined shorts and a tunic are highlighted by a white satin cowl and tie. Too bad we cannot see the back of the outfit.
Lagerfeld was famously in love with the 18th Century, architecture, furniture and attitudes. These two costumes draw on 18th Century references. The ensemble on the right is a bit too costumey. while the one on the left is more timeless.
One wonders why this look was included in the show. Lagerfeld was an extremely modern man, and this hoop skirt dress is unattractive and difficult to wear.
This dress from Fendi is interesting. The flowers that cover the dress are made of fur. It’s a bit heavy handed, if an unusual use of fur.
This outfit is also over-the-top. The cut is chic, but the decoration of angels induces head-scratching.
And these two looks illustrate perfectly the kind of runway pieces that defeat the supes. The technical aspects might be interesting, but the volumes in the coat and suit stiffle the wearer.
This is a gentle dress with delicate and intricate embroidery. Lagerfeld used his many books to find inspiration for the multitudes of embroidered garments he created.
This look underscores just how much fun, and how modern, Lagerfeld’s Chanel could be. A Chanel quilted moto jacket complete with double C’s as the zipper pulls, Chanel chains wrapping the waist and neck, and a logo Chanel belt. Paired with a peach silk skirt, it is a day-to-night look to die for. I was surprized as well that there were no bags shown with the garments. Lagerfeld was famous for piling on the accessories in his Chanel runway shows, just as Chanel piled on her jewelry.
These evening dresses were among the earliest Lagerfeld did at Chanel. The dress on the left has a giant red camilea on chains, the dress on the right has exquisite jewels embroidered on the body and sleeves. The dress in the center is a tribute to Coco Chanel. She was famous for piling on pearls, bracelets and chains. On this dress from his first Couture collection for the house, the jewely is actually part of his dress. How clever is that?
These two dresses are simple and glamorous. The golds are delicate and a nice change from all the black.
And this outfit really exposes the humor Lagerfeld brought to Chanel. The denim shorts have a Chanel patch, and the suspenders are branded too. Considering that this outfit probably cost close to $10,000.00 you would need a certain panache to propose a look as casual as this.
The sequin scuba suit is iconic. From the 1991 collection, it made news and magazine covers in taxi yellow and royal blue. This looks washed out and slightly dull in black and white. More color would have added punch to the exhibit.
Other famous Lagerfeld pieces include pieces from the Fendi Legends and Fairytale collection. Inspired by a reissued book of fairy tales and illustrations, this pale chiffon dress has accents of fur.
This fairy tale look from Fendi is printed with embroidery added to the prints. These looks were shown at a Couture runway show in the Trevi Fountain.
For his less expensive line, Lagerfeld marketed drawings of himself and hs cat, Choupette. He compared himself to a cariacature. The Kaiser was also famous for his quotes, witty and not so witty. They got him into some troubles. But one of his good ones is “Everything I say is a joke. I am a joke myself.” There is a small selection of personal things in the show, his shoes, some of his signature black gloves, and other pieces.
The show ends with some of his fun and original Chloe dresses from the 1970’s. This one has a trompe l’oeil guitar embroidered onto it. Other dresses had running showers, candelabras, light bulbs and more. The light bulb was always on in Lagerfeld’s head. I wish that this exhibit was as playful as the designer wasduring his life.