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killer outfits and hijinks in drama about legendary designer Lagerfeld

June 7th, 2024

Telly has rivetingly turned its sights onto fashion this year. Hot on the heels of Disney+ show Cristóbal Balenciaga (gorgeous) and Apple TV+’s The New Look (slightly tedious) comes a comparatively more modern look at one of the industry’s most seminal figures, Karl Lagerfeld.

The German multi-hyphenate designer, played here by Daniel Brühl, might be most well known for his almost 40 year tenure at Chanel, calling Adele fat and his multi-millionaire Birman cat Choupette (as cosplayed by Jared Leto at last year’s Met Gala) but this biopic (based on Raphaëlle Bacqué ‘s book Kasier Karl) offers a more cavalier insight into who the man behind the highly starched collars really was. Or at least, where he was created from.

The six part series is set prior to his Chanel tenure (which he assumed in 1983), when Lagerfeld, then 38, was a jobbing designer, working freelance for Chloé and Fendi among others. The story charts the rivalry between Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, and their duelling affection for writer and socialite Jacques de Bascher.

Opening in 1972 to the flashy, disco-lit nightlife in the centre of Paris, the handsome neckerchief adorned de Bascher (Théodore Pellerin) storms into The Club 7 on Rue Sainte Anne, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones pumping.

In struts Lagerfeld in slow motion with his coterie of glamorous women flanking him: thick black bouffant hair and beard, tinted aviator sunglasses, flared trousers, Cuban heels and an attitude. “How do I get to meet him” asks the (temporarily) wide-eyed de Bascher, “They decide who’s interesting for Karl” quips a hanger-on pointing to the glamazon gate-keepers.

The seed of Lagerfeld’s ambition is being planted, “not a day goes by when I don’t dream of becoming a great man” he snarls to de Bascher. An invitation to Yves Saint Laurent’s 10th anniversary show allows for the Parisian fashion scene to be pitched. “It’s a nest of vipers” snaps Lagerfeld of the industry figures.

 (PR Handout)

(PR Handout)

This isn’t just style set pastiche though. When de Bascher quips his disinterest in “women and their fashion”, Lagerfeld retorts with the quiveringly on point, “Fashion has nothing to do with women. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many gay men in it. It’s a way of embodying the zeitgeist and telling society what it is. Every season, the winner is whoever finds the best definition.” Really, plus ça change.

Riled by rivalry, Lagerfeld pitches himself as creative director for Chloé , finally leading his own label after years in the background.

Lagerfeld’s lair is a black lacquered apartment where he lives with his mother, who says of de Basher during their fledgling affair, “He’s a lion and you have no whip.” The sexless union drives his non-lover into the drug-binging arms of Saint Laurent.

We are a long way from the polite salons of the haute couture atelier. Saint Laurent the tortured genius, and Lagerfeld the late-blooming challenger to his Parisian throne, ambition almost scuppered by a run in with Marlene Dietrich.

It looks fabulous. It’s heady, decadent, bitchy, envy-laden, high society, competitive high-stakes hijinks with killer outfits and lashings of Diana Ross on the soundtrack. Frankly who wants anything else from a fashion drama?

Becoming Karl Lagerfeld is streaming now exclusively on Disney+

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