As published on The Globe and Mail April 9, 2015.
Provocative, playful, intellectual and irreverent, Karl Lagerfeld is a colourful study in creative prowess – a multi-tasking renaissance man who's arguably the planet's most recognizable and prolific designer. Recently, the genius behind Chanel, Fendi and his own eponymous Lagerfeld label boarded a private jet for Toronto, his beloved cat Choupette in tow, for a first-time meetand- greet with Canadian media. The trip was occasioned by his new collaboration with Freed Developments and CD Capital Developments, the Toronto developers who've commissioned the Kaiser, as he's often called, to design two residential lobby spaces for the new Art Shoppe Lofts and Condos going up on Yonge Street south of Eglinton Avenue. With a handful of his own self-decorated homes around the world and a couple of hotel projects to his credit – including two suites he has been enlisted to design for Paris's famed Crillion Hotel, which reopens this year – the ageless Lagerfeld (he was born in 1933 or 1938, depending on who you believe) is no stranger to interior design, although he claims it's not a job he's really after. But he is constantly intrigued by new challenges and going where he's never gone before. On his arrival in Toronto, I caught up with the legend at the Four Seasons Hotel for a conversation about drive, living in the moment and why his cat is the perfect muse.
This new Toronto project you're designing is a communal space, so you have to make it palatable to everyone.
It's for all the people who own an apartment in that building but, at the same time, the minute you enter you have to feel that you are in a special place. Most of those places all look the same, so it's up to me to find the idea and to get the version of something that's different, that's special. What will make these lobbies different from the other buildings the minute you enter them? And you can use modern architecture, modern furniture … things I'm really interested in.
What excited you about the prospect of a project in Toronto?
Because I have never been to Toronto. I did a hotel in Macau too because I had never been to Macau. You know I'm not a tourist. I only go to places where I have something professional to do. If not, I'm not interested. I have no time for that. I like to discover cities and countries where I see the people who are doing something we're involved in. Otherwise, it's not for me.
Did you have any preconceived ideas about Toronto?
I only have ideas. That's the only thing I have!
But what was your idea of Canada? How did you perceive it?
Well, I came to get an idea of what it really was. I have Canadian friends, I know Canadian people like you and I love Xavier Dolan's movies and things like this, so I vaguely know about Canada.
You seem so in touch with your inner child. I think of your curiosity, your wonder about the world, as being kind of childlike.
Yeah, you can say I'm childish. I like the idea. I never wanted to grow up.
Is it a struggle for you to remain childlike, because of adult pressures?
No, you get used to everything. I'm very much against designers who do things and then say, ‘Oh, it's too much pressure!' Then they should not accept the job, you know? Fashion is becoming tougher and tougher, because there are more and more seasons. In the past there were four collections a year; I remember when I signed my contract for Chanel, it was for four collections. Now I'm doing eight. And it's me who told them you have to do that, because of the way business is going.
But it's crazy-making. Don't you worry that everything's getting watered down?
You're putting so much stuff out there ... As long as I'm not getting watered down myself. I couldn't care less about the others!
And you never worry about the well running dry?
No, no, I don't even have time to have those kind of strange ideas.
You travelled here with your cat, Choupette.
Yes, the famous Choupette.
And why do you feel you have to have her?
Because, you know, everybody wants a muse and she's my muse. It's a good thing she's a silent muse, because I have other muses, but they talk too much.
You said to me once that you wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, having dreamed of dresses. Ideas keep you awake at night, I bet.
Yes, it's very strange. I have my best ideas when I don't think about having ideas. It's very strange. It's like an electronic flash – sudden! Also, they come during the daytime and in the bathtub. Sometimes I have the best ideas in the bathtub! It's very strange. But you cannot count on it, you cannot say, ‘Oh, I will have my electronic flash now!' You have to work at the same time, because when people say they wait for inspiration, well, I don't believe in that. Inspiration is a nice word. But the French say the appetite comes when you eat. And the ideas come when you work.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned with age?
I'm not old enough to answer that question!
Do you ever think of the kind of legacy you'd like to leave?
No, no, no. You know, it started with me and it stops with me. So forget about the rest.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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