Fashion designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld talks to Spear's about British style, his love for Rolls Royce cars and why he now admires them from behind the camera rather than behind the wheel.
Karl Lagerfeld is always late, and he made no exception for the launch of his latest photography exhibition, A Different View, a series of images of his two Rolls Royce cars currently on display at Goodwood.
The delay had its desired effect — the crowd fell silent as Lagerfeld made his entrance: hair shock-white, collar four-inches high and perfectly starched, eyes unreadable behind dark glasses and in front of hundreds of raised iphone cameras.
The Rolls Royce is ‘the most beautiful car in the world’ and ‘the top of British style and luxury,’ he told me. I asked what he thought of British style more generally, but the man who last year said Adele was too fat and that he didn’t like Pippa Middleton’s face was on his very nicest behaviour, and wouldn’t be dragged in.
Fashion-lovers should feel thankful that Lagerfeld now admires his cars from behind his camera rather than behind the wheel. ‘I had two terrible accidents,’ he said in his unmistakable Germanic staccato, pausing for dramatic effect before deadpanning for the benefit of the Rolls Royce owners in the audience that, ‘It was in a Jag and a Mercedes. I fell asleep twice. I was not a good driver.’
He also once managed to write-off three cars in his father’s garage after leaving the handbrake on one of them off — something Lagerfeld and his mother found hilarious and his father less so. ‘My father would never forget that we laughed so much for destroying three cars,’ he said to a now-adoring crowd.
Lagerfeld’s sense of humour has always been something difficult to pinpoint, it rarely comes across in written interviews: it’s often too subtle to work in black-and-white print; it’s never quite clear whom the joke’s ultimately on; and his gags are never quite as funny when not delivered in his inimitable machine-gun-like intonation.
He is pointedly self-effacing at times: ‘I have a strange accent in whatever language I talk,’ he said by means of introduction (and it’s true). He described his photographs as ‘a kind of abstract art of something very concrete’ and then backtracked by adding, ‘But I don’t say abstract art, I just say something abstract, let’s be modest.’
Karl Lagerfeld poses with one of his photographs at the exhibition hosted by Rolls Royce
Don’t be fooled by the modesty though: he mentions the ‘Russian constructivist’ elements of his photography, clumsily quotes Voltaire and Wilde and — when it is suggested that his photographs, because they are screen-printed, recall Andy Warhol — his white hair quivers with indignation and he splutters with rage.
‘But the subject is so different! He had not invented the silk screening. Silk screening was already done by Toulouse-Lautrec and everyone else — huh!’ he began, his speech getting faster, and ever harder to follow, as he worked himself up. ‘Then nobody can make an oil painting because of all the people that have used oil? Non! It’s the last person I thought of. It is not enough to have the same white hair! Mine is mine.’
Lagerfeld has been shooting his own fashion campaigns since the Eighties. He chose to photograph this latest exhibition in black and white — because, ‘I love black and white. Look at me, I’m black and white!’ — and has decided to revert to analogue photography.
‘Today, very often many photographers will try again and again [to get the perfect shot] and I’m very much against it,’ he says.
In the images he takes he prefers the spontaneous moment, but when it comes to his own image, he's very much in control.
Read more by Sophie McBain