Backstage With Karl Lagerfeld At The British Fashion Awards

‘Always daring, never boring’

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 ‘My mother used to say, “It’s OK what you do, but you could have done better!”’ said Karl Lagerfeld backstage, after being awarded the industry’s top honour of Outstanding Achievement at last night’s British Fashion Awards.

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The designer, dressed in a silver tuxedo by Saint Laurent (‘I don’t call it Saint Laurent, I say Hedi Slimane’) and a pendant necklace featuring a portrait of his cat Choupette, said he was surprised and flattered by the award: ‘Because I never had the feeling they paid that much attention to what I do.’ London, he added, was a great source of inspiration as a place where designers are some of the most creative in the world (‘always daring, never boring’) but that for him, the biggest inspiration was British women, from the models he would dress in his days as an assistant designer at Balmain, through the 1960s when Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton ruled as models, to Grace Coddington in the 1970s and models of today such as Stella Tennant. ‘Just look at Amanda Harlech,’ he said of his British muse and collaborator who perhaps holds the most prized position within Karl’s inner circle. ‘She is an inspiration, the way she represents herself, the whole thing. You don’t have women like this on the continent.’
 
Anna Wintour, another great British female force, who Lagerfeld refers to as a ‘very, very close friend for 35 years’ (they always have dinner together on the first Sunday of every Paris Fashion Week), introduced the designer’s award. She described him as having ‘the urgency and daring of a new designer, even though he’s created collections for the last 60 years’. And that ‘he reads like the rest of us breathe’. (For he record, he’s currently devouring 10 books at a time, including The Collected Letters Of Katherine Mansfield and a new biography on Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza). Wintour also referred to him as ‘the mad physicist who somehow adds hours to his day’.

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Asked backstage what else he would be doing in London during his stay, he announced, ‘Nothing! I just came like this on my private plane and I fly back to Paris tonight. I have a collection to present in Rome in a few days, huh?’ His workload is as legendary as the man himself, straddling his own-name brand, Chanel and Fendi. ‘I am working class,’ he announced. ‘I love that idea, I am happy that I can work the way I work in conditions that are beyond perfect. I can do whatever I want, when I want… But I am a designer who really designs. I’m not an art director. I’m not there with 20 people doing stuff. I do the sketches, I do the fittings; it happens fast, like a flash. I’m not a second-option person!’
 
In his time, Lagerfeld has won just about every award going, but that is far from what drives him, as he put it: ‘I never even think about it, I don’t expect it. But it’s very flattering, you know, if not I would have turned it down!’ And what would his indomitable mother have said had she been here to witness it? ‘It’s difficult to say. I hope she would have been a little proud, but this is the woman who used to tell me “You look like me. But not as good”.’

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