February 20th, 2019 / posted by paularath

Photo by Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

Yes, there were moments when I shared a space with the late great designer Karl Lagerfeld. But of course, he took up all the space, and most of the oxygen, in the room. He is as magnetic and mesmerizing as the world’s fashion writers say he is. They also bear witness to his misogyny and the complex legacy he lived, and now leaves behind.

My moment was during a trip I took to Paris and London with the University of Hawaii Fashion Design and Merchandising students in 2001. We had been treated to a private tour of the (then new) Musee de la Mode. After the students left to go shopping, Karen Kamahele, who teaches fashion technology at Honolulu Community College, and I hung around to enjoy the museum some more.

We had it all to ourselves, so we made another round of the amazing couture creations from Madame Gres, Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and other fashion innovators of past decades. We marveled at the originality, complexity, dignity and grace of these garments.

When we came to the Chanel exhibit, we were surprised to see there were no garments on show. Instead, it was a collage of marketing materials, such as TV screens, posters, fashion photography, invitations and ad layouts. Not a single Chanel fashion creation. “Oh my,” we exclaimed to one another. “What would Karl Lagerfeld think?”

Little did we know, we were about to find out.

Karl Lagerfeld was renowned for his highly original and over-the-top fashion shows held in venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We were sitting at the museum’s computers, watching a series of historical fashion shows parade past our eyes, when the doors opened and in walked three burly men in black suits, severe frowns and arms akimbo. Behind these imposing body guards was Karl Lagerfeld. We did our best not to stare, or at least not to allow him to see us staring.

But there he was, larger than life, wearing his signature black tailored suit with ultra-starched 4-inch tall shirt collar and black gloves. Impeccable and imposing!

As he walked slowly through the exhibition, we could hear soft murmurs in his lilting French: “Ah, oui, c’est jolie,” “Tres belle,” “Magnifique.”

Karen and I gulped when he approached the Chanel section. “OMG! What will he think when he sees electronics and photographs instead of couture and Chanel tweed?”

Lagerfeld walked back and forth in front of his, the largest section of the show, and nodded politely. He was smiling and commenting, but sadly he was beyond our earshot, so we’ll never know what he said. Or, for that matter, what he really thought. But I suspect, since Lagerfeld is known to have been outspoken and brutally honest, that he really was happy with the portrayal of his Chanel in this marketing manner.

No, we never tried to break through the barrage of his body guards and entourage to meet him. We were content just knowing that for a brief moment we shared a space with Karl Lagerfeld.

So, what do you think his heavenly conversations with Coco Chanel might be like? Would this clash of fashion titans create sparks and lightening or would they become the best of fashion buddies?  Let your imagination soar and please let us hear from you!

– Paula Rath

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