When it comes to fashion’s most enduring figures, Karl Lagerfeld is undoubtedly top of the pile. Synonymous with style – his life encompassed roles at Chloé, Fendi, and, most famously, Chanel – the German designer has transcended the hallowed halls of Paris’ haute couture salons to become a true household name (with an equally enduring look to match).
Now, a new Thames & Hudson-published tome, Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Houses (£75, available Waterstones) offers the reader a rare glimpse into a lesser-seen side of the designer’s life, charting the glamourous array of homes that Lagerfeld resided in across his career. Each one is constructed with the same meticulous attention to detail and liberated, eclectic eye for colour, print and design as his fashion collections (which could equally be inspired by the crinolines of Marie Antoinette as the vivid postmodern lines of Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group).
Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Houses
The wide-ranging, glossy tome – which features texts from authors Patrick Mauriès and Marie Kalt – steps inside Lagerfeld’s extraordinary portfolio of homes, from Paris to Biarritz, as well as residences in Rome and Hamburg. As expected, each features not only memorable design floruishes – a matching striped couch and wallpaper, surrounded by 19th-century portraits in his Roquebrune-cap-Martin home, adorns the cover – but also hundreds of precious objects which he collected on his travels.
The rooms no doubt also provided spaces for him to dream up his fashion collections, not least in his famous libraries, where the self-confessed bibliophile gathered thousands of books on floor-to-ceiling shelves (as at 8 rue des Saint-Pères in Paris) or scattered over tables. A single page in these was enough to spark a collection, which he would design via drawings that were then sent to the Fendi and Chanel ateliers to be fastidiously recreated. ‘I hate tourism. Travel for travelling?’ he told Wallpaper* when he guest-edited the October 2009 issue of Wallpaper*. ‘No thank you, my dear. I’d rather stay at home enchanted by my books.’
That said, architecture and interiors were a continuing fascination for the designer, who also sought inspiration from palaces, castles, apartments, galleries, city buildings and private residences around the world (some, he said, were only visited in the pages of his library). In the same issue of Wallpaper*, he noted that his tastes could change on a whim. In 2009, he was in the throws of a love affair with 18th-century interiors, having recently tired of Memphis. ‘Nobody else did a total house in Memphis. Nobody. I loved it, but you can't live with it for long,’ he said. ‘After a few years it was like living in old Courrèges. Ha! I'm a fashion person. I can’t spend the rest of my days living with the same old style.’
One of his favourite homes – which is photographed in the book – was a residence 51 rue de l’Université in Paris, where he lived for 30 years from 1977. This past fashion season, the extraordinary home hosted shows by Marni and Victoria Beckham, the first time the house has been used in this way. Just afterwards, it would play host to the first edition of Design Miami/Paris.
In the book, each of the homes is introduced by a short text by Marie Kalt that also catalogues the various objects each home contained. These span an apartment in Saint-Sulpice, Paris, inspired by art deco, an opulent 18th-century mansion, Hôtel Pozzo di Borgo (as the book notes, his friend and collaborator Amanda Harlech said he had a ‘Versailles complex’), an apartment in Monte Carlo, a French countryside pile, and ’Nordic villa’ in his native city of Hamburg.
Together, it provides a satisfying look through the keyhole of one of fashion’s most influential names, alongside continuing clues about the oftentimes enigmatic figure’s aesthetic fixations, and unconventional – but impossibly glamourous – life at home.
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Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.
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