The wind in Hamburg is whipping across the water, making bare branches sway on the shore and even the Christmas trees in the streets bend in the stiff breeze. But Karl Lagerfeld feels right at home as he brings Chanel to Germany, his birth country.
ââI come from the North, near to the Danish border, so I was lucky, I escaped everything,â says the designer about his childhood. âMy father had bought the estate because he knew that war would come.ââ
Lagerfeld left Hamburg for Paris when he was 17 years oldâalthough his age is always a subject of debate. He moved to France in 1952, starting with Pierre Balmain a career rooted in couture that has flourished into this weekâs exceptional Chanel show, held in the newly built Philharmonic orchestral building.
The swooping geometry of the buildingâs architecture is drawnâas is every single one of his fashion designsâby Lagerfeldâs own hand, to create the âParis-Hamburgâ invitation for todayâs show.
But true to his vision of never looking back, the designer has not devised a collection based on nostalgic memories of the past, as he weaves in the skills of embroiderers, knitters, milliners, jewellers and shoe-makers that the Paris fashion house has nurtured through the new millennium as âMÃ©tiers d’Artâ.
Instead, Karlâs focus is on the sea and its far horizon as mighty boats come into Hamburgâs port, which is now, the designer says, âone of the biggest harbours in Europe which has changed completely the mood and the view.ââ
âIâm not a person who has nostalgiaâjust ideasâand the inspiration is container shipping, the geometric look of the containers,â continues Lagerfeld, whose flow of conversation is interspersed with instructions to his team to place a clip âthere, at the base of the collar, behind the bowâ; to shorten a pair of trousers by half a millimetre; or to alter stitching to smooth a minuscule crease.
His aim, as always, is to create a modern ambiance for classic designs and to give a sense of super-high quality to anything from a hand-knit dress to a sailorâs cap that is veiled in silken chiffon.
Beside him is Amanda Harlech, his inspirational supporter, whose book of misty black and white photographs of the boats and harbour area have a mysterious beauty.
Karl says that his decision to come to Hamburg is not to do with his past nor any suggestion that Coco Chanel had a connection with the city, as has been the case in previous places chosen for the shows. Instead, the concept was inspired by the wave-roof building of the new concert hallâstill under dispute in the city for its high cost.
âI think itâs the most interesting new building in Europe in terms of designâHerzog & de Meuron, they are geniuses,â says Lagerfeld of the Swiss architectural duo behind the Elbphilharmonie.
Always looking forward is the essence of the Lagerfeld attitude, yet he suggests a faint aftershock from the recent deaths of his two great fashion sparring partners: Azzedine AlaÃ¯a and Pierre BergÃ©, partner to Yves Saint Laurent.
âDo you know, in the past three months my two arch-rivals have passed away,â he muses. âAzzedine hated me, even though we never knew each otherâI saw him three times only, in Milan. He always disliked me and criticised me for not actually making the clothes myselfâalthough he could not draw like me. Pierre BergÃ© is another story. Once we were friendsâ40 years ago. But when he died, my flower shop called and asked if I was sending something. I just said ânoâ. Then she said: âwe could have just sent a cactus!ââ
The love of Karlâs life suddenly appears: Choupette, the fluffy white Birman cat who has accompanied him (along with a personal maid) on this trip to Hamburg. The models, seamstresses, hair stylists, make-up artists and music-makers all stand still, as though royalty had entered the room.
Choupette looks the part. And, like the thousands of books on every kind of subject that Karl keeps in his homes, the cat is here as a very best friend.
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