As published on National Post April 17, 2015.
In person, Karl Lagerfeld's lips are in a perma-pout, just like they are on screen.
The Paris-based fashion legend, who is the creative director of global design brands Chanel and Fendi and his own label, also fulfills all other expectations of eccentricity: His silver hair is swept into a ponytail like a colonial American periwig and he's wearing his customary costume of black glasses, high starched collar and fingerless gloves.
Lagerfeld looks remarkably fresh, despite, moments ago, being shepherded by bodyguards through a pressing flock of groupies. Some coolly held back, while others crudely surged forward, beseeching Lagerfeld to spin in their direction for a selfie.
Away from the horde, the door shut, we meet inside the model suite at the Art Shoppe Lofts and Condos (artshoppecondos.com), which is located at Yonge and Eglinton, and is being developed by Peter Freed of Freed Developments and Todd Cowan and Jordan Dermer of CD Capital Developments. Lagerfeld has been commissioned to design the lobbies. It's his first project in Toronto and his first time in Canada.
A can of Diet Coke waits for him next to a glass. He sits on a stool, spry, like it's no big deal. He's 81 or 82. No one knows for sure.
"It's a nice little rest here," Lagerfeld says of the suite.
"So you're not into parties?" I ask.
"Not really, but it's part of the game. You get used it. You get used to jail if you have to … I didn't know Canadian parties were that wild. It's strange. I got a massage going through the crowds."
Lagerfeld has a comedian's timing — he's his own one-man show, preternaturally skilled at hurtling one-liners. Without prompting, he announces that his high-maintenance Birman cat "is the most famous cat in the world. The famous Choupette. She's a personality. She hates other animals. She hates cats. She hates children."
Snarky as she may be, Choupette's followers are faithful: 47,900 on Twitter, 59,700 on Instagram. Last year she earned three million euros in modelling contracts.
Cats are ideal companions for solitary pursuits, Lagerfeld says. When he's home in his herringbone-floored Paris apartment, among his 300,000 books "not to be stupid looking at the TV," but "to work or to read or do collections. [Cats] don't talk and they're not dirty. They don't have to be walked in the streets."
He doesn't have time to stroll with his pet anyway — the guy is busy. Apart from unveiling his Chanel Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 Metiers d'Art Show in New York City, he's just finished the Fendi Château building in Miami and has been planning a 270-room hotel in Macau that will entirely be designed by him.
Interiors are inextricably connected to fashion, Lagerfeld says. "Our first thing is clothes and then the next step is the apartment — the walls, where we live, so it's part of fashion in a way too because apartments change, styles change. And I like that. My life is about change."
It's too early to say what exactly he will do in Toronto for the lobbies at the north and south ends of the architectsAlliance-designed Art Shoppe Lofts and Condos; occupancy is expected for early 2019. But Lagerfeld does stress, "the most important thing in a lobby is that you have a good feeling when you enter, friends [will want] to meet you there, like it's a hotel."
It took him long enough to come here and he certainly has nothing against Canadians. "I adore Justin Bieber. I think he's great. I photographed him," Lagerfeld says. "If I go to a place, I need a professional reason — a fashion show or something [like the lobbies] where I am involved in the daily life of the city. I'm not a tourist. Tourists are horrible. Like idiots running around on buses."
A few days later on the phone, developer Peter Freed is still buzzing from the launch party. "I've never had a 1,200-person party in my life. I was very surprised at the frenzy," he says. "Canadians are usually very chill, even around celebrities."
Freed's condo projects in the King West neighbourhood saw such popular designers as Philippe Starck and Javier Mariscal in town, too, but "there's no comparison to the intensity and level of interest with Karl," he says.
It's not as sexy as couture, but the city's $5.3 billion investment to bring a rapid transit along Eglinton has also snagged Yonge and Eglinton lots of press lately.
"It's one of the few places in the GTA where rapid transit and subway will intersect, Cowan says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be part of a premier site with such a huge frontage on Yonge Street."
"We usually have a postage stamp of land to work with," Freed says, "but the Art Shoppe is an entire city block on almost two acres of land."
(You may remember its iconic front windows, featuring those forlorn furniture vignettes that at night looked like an Edward Hopper painting. The store was a Toronto fixture for 75 years; the owners have since relocated the shop to the Castlefield district.)
"Because the site was so big, we also had a special opportunity to do retail," Cowan says of the building, which will consist of a 28-storey tower to the north stepping down to a 12-storey podium. Non-lobby common-space interiors are by Cecconi Simone and gardens by Janet Rosenberg.
"A lot of downtown condos may have a coffee shop or dry cleaner," Cowan says. "We have a full-size grocery store, major destination retail and restaurants."
While the shopping — not to mention Karl's lobbies — will likely be great at the building, the view from above will be spectacular. The condo will sport the largest — probably in the country — infinity-edge rooftop pool. The bikini-ed and the Speedo-ed can hang in Miami-style cabanas on daybeds before heading home through retractable walls that breezily merge the indoors with the outdoors.
The Art Shoppe Lofts and Condos is an exciting addition to Toronto. As Cowan puts it, "We want people to appreciate this building for a long time. When you travel to London, New York and San Francisco, there is great culture, museums and restaurants, but the buildings also resonate. The fact that Karl Lagerfeld is designing the lobbies helps raise awareness of Toronto as a city, and leaves a lasting impression."
And that's certainly nothing to pout about.
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