I remember this morning so clearly. It was at the beginning of 2005 when Karl Lagerfeld sent a fax to my office saying he has dreamt up a brilliant idea of dressing eighty models in eighty archival Fendi looks–mostly one-of-a-kind fur pieces from the house’s earlier collections and his favorite ones that he designed in the 35 years he was there–to celebrate Fendi’s 80th anniversary. To up the ante, Karl decided not only to bring this idea to life by photographing it himself but to capture all eighty looks on The Spanish Steps in Rome. Being so close to the Fendi family dynasty for decades, especially Carla and Anna Fendi when he was hired to transform the brand as he worked alongside Anna’s daughter Silvia Venturini Fendi to create memorable collections together, there could truly be no better triumph. Of course, I thought that was an impossibility, considering if you’ve ever been to the Spanish Steps–that scenario would be like trying to do it all in the hustle and bustle of Times Square in New York. But, lo and behold, and in very Karl fashion, we found ourselves in Rome a few months later to make the dream come true for the pages of our September issue for that year.
I heard a knock on my door at 5:30 AM and it was Karl, fully dressed, summoning me to get ready for what was ahead of us. Just imagine Karl Lagerfeld waking you up and telling you that we had to be at the Spanish Steps in an hour because the models were now getting styled by Panos [Yiapanis] and we had to get the shots when the first trace of sunlight was coming up, and how that would be the most peaceful time on the steps to be alone and do this. And so it happened like most things in life–in such a magical, seamless way that when you look back years later, you just wonder how. How it was done and how we managed to pull it off. It is one of my most beautiful memories of Karl, and how his genius laid not only in design but in bringing visions and dreams to reality. Let’s just say, Karl was undeniably a master at manifestation.
Without even knowing it, his whole life became a nonstop series of dreams becoming true. He lived that dream at Fendi, often boasting that he should have been in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest house designer that a fashion brand has ever had, and having another dream come true in 1983 when he took over Chanel and revitalized that house along with everything he did for his own eponymous label. He is truly someone in fashion who “had it all” and lived every moment as if it was his last. As I just happened to be one of the few lucky individuals in this world to have witnessed his genius in real life, The Met’s upcoming exhibition dedicated to Karl is truly a celebration, and it enables everyone out there to witness his genius as well.
Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 5 to July 16, 2023.