Rodolphe Marconi talks of Karl Lagerfeld's greatest regret, and the side of his personality he kept from the public
Rodolphe Marconi, director of a renowned documentary about Karl Lagerfeld, is remembering the late fashion designer as a complex figure whose iconic persona masked the full dimensions of the man.
In an interview with RFI (Radio France Internationale) Wednesday, Marconi said the man he got to know while making Lagerfeld Confidential was surprisingly warm, despite his public reputation for cutting remarks and dismissive comments (i.e. "Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.").
He was really warm, really.
"One day I asked him, 'Karl, why do you pass yourself off as someone who is unsympathetic?' And he said, 'You’re exactly right. That helps me avoid all sorts of parasites. That’s my secret,'" Marconi recalled. "People who know me know who I am. Everyone else, who cares."
Marconi added, "He was really warm, really… He helped many, many people without drawing attention to it."
Lagerfeld died in Paris on Tuesday at the age (according to most sources) of 85. The New York Times called him "the most prolific designer of the 20th and 21st centuries." In addition to founding his own fashion line, Lagerfeld, he had served as creative director of Fendi since 1965 and creative director of Chanel since 1983.
The Times also described Lagerfeld as "a man whose career formed the prototype of the modern luxury fashion industry," a reference to his capacity to reinvent legacy brands for contemporary consumers. He was also a noted photographer and directed video features for Chanel starring Nicole Kidman, Kristen Stewart, Pharrell Williams and others.
As famous as he was -- his signature look of dark sunglasses, leonine white coiffure and gloved hands was instantly recognizable -- the designer was not celebrated for developing an unprecedented silhouette, unlike some other fashion greats.
In his RFI interview, Marconi recalled telling the designer that Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent became known for styles they had invented whereas "when people think of Lagerfeld, they think of Lagerfeld."
"[That] was his great regret, I think. Is there a Karl Lagerfeld style as there is a Saint-Laurent style? I’m not sure," Marconi commented. "It was his persona" that stood out foremost.
Marconi related several anecdotes about the making of his documentary, including his attempt to get Lagerfeld to share some photos of his childhood. They don't exist, the designer insisted. But months after making that declaration, Lagerfeld showed up with a photo album packed with family pictures.
He guarded his past, preferring to create personal myth instead of strict biography.
"There are so many versions of his childhood, his mother and his history. We don’t know what’s true and what isn’t," Marconi admitted. As far as stories of his mother went, Lagerfeld embroidered on reality "to render her perhaps not sympathetic but interesting and funny."
The RFI host asked the filmmaker if he and Lagerfeld spoke in depth about fashion.
"No. It’s bizarre," Marconi replied. "People thought Karl was really the Kaiser of fashion. But for him, fashion was just a part of his life. Of course he designed every day because he had collections to do for Chanel, for Lagerfeld. We talked a lot about art. He dreamed of being a portraitist, caricaturist. I think in fact he dreamed of being an architect."
Lagerfeld Confidential is available on DVD. Watch the trailer below.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.