Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Karl Lagerfeld

Here is a short extract from a piece I wrote early this year:

Variations on the general theme that things ain’t what they used to be are often heard but rarely taken seriously. And, as a general rule, the older the speaker is, the less seriously the claims are taken. Of course he would say that, the old codger. Life was so much better for him back then.

A couple of years ago the German-born fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld admitted to feeling that the world he had once lived in had ceased to exist. Paris, where he has lived and worked since the 1950s (when “it looked like an old French movie”), had never been as gloomy, dangerous or depressing as it was now.

As fate would have it, Mr Lagerfeld himself ceased to exist two weeks after my piece appeared. He was hospitalized on February 18th and died from complications associated with pancreatic cancer the next morning. In accordance with his wishes, there was no formal funeral, no ceremony.

My attitude to the industry in which Lagerfeld worked is not positive, and I have little knowledge of or interest in the man himself. What is most interesting is the phenomenon, the artifice, the public image – sustained over many years – as a kind of mask or act which was understood to be just that. Whatever his faults, Karl Lagerfeld had style and staying power. He also maintained a sense of privacy, showing himself to be (in this respect at least) very much a product of the lost world which he remembered.


  1. I am posting a comment written by Shaun Johnston...

    Stefan Zweig's "The World of Yesterday" seems to me to set a standard against which to measure one's experience of living on into a totally changed world. Another measure, take all the changes over the past 500 years and divide it into 7 lifetimes. By those standards I think what we have lived/are living through is no more than typical. That doesn't mean it's comfortable, but it suggests we're going through what, though surprising as one encounters it, it to be expected for our period of history.

    I sense that it raises the question for someone like you, what use can you be in such a changed world? For myself, I experience, even relish, the dissonance, without expecting anyone younger to care. My life itself feels like those remnants of the Victorian age falling genteelly into decay that I've always admired. I'm OK with that. But I guess you had to be there.

    1. Shaun

      I have not read Zweig's work so I can't say anything useful about it or him. I see that he died at 60 years of age (by his own hand) in February 1942, and that he saw the period in which he grew up (prior to WW1) as a kind of golden age. Seurat's depiction of La Grande Jatte could be seen as conveying a similar sense of this period. It is a time with which I am reasonably familiar from my general reading.

      The changes that concern me include all this. It is a long process: a rich and distinctively European tradition slowly unravelling and drawing to an ignominious close.

      The last, more personal, part of your comment relates to issues I have discussed elsewhere in a post with which I know you are familiar. I intend to repost the relevant section on this site quite soon and I may respond then to what you have said here.