I am on my eighth cup of iced lemon tea, seated in the cosy surrounds of the Empire Café at Raffles Hotel. It’s 2 pm and I am scheduled for an interview with Chanel’s creative director aka Karl Lagerfeld aka KL aka God—a first for me as it was a proper sit-down interview, unlike our previous encounters which were hurried affairs backstage. I am meant to talk to him during the accessorisation session. This is the session that happens the day before the actual runway show. It’s like the final run-through, with all the models prepped and ready. Lagerfeld will cast his eye on the models and add (or take away) any bits and pieces that do not work with the final look.
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Finally, at 4pm, I get my chance to go up the white staircase to the Casuarina Suites where the accessorisation session is held. I am led to the left, at the far end of the hall, past the rows and rows of shoes, bags and cricket bats! Right past the wall-to-wall tables brimming with rhodium accessories and camellias of every shape, colour and size. Right at the end, behind a long table sits the Kaiser. He and Pavlovsky are having a conversation in hushed tones broken up with giggles and lots of laughter. I am politely led to the “courtesan” chairs to the right of Lagerfeld—and there I sit for the next 90 minutes, observing the models being paraded in front of the Kaiser.
Sam McKnight, the famous British hairdresser and loyal Chanel collaborator, comes out immediately to adjust the wisps of flat-ironed hair. He looks concerned, and turns to look at the Kaiser—seemingly for his nod of approval. Lagerfeld fluently switches from French to English when he addresses McKnight. “I love it, it looks very chic,” he says and McKnight looks visibly relieved. Even someone of his calibre can get nervous in front of Lagerfeld. That’s the incredible power that Lagerfeld imposes in a room. There is no one else in the room that matters except the Kaiser.
Laetitia Crahay, Creative Director of Maison Michel and in-charge of costume jewellery, is flinging jewels around the room as if in a water dance. She adds an armour-like necklace on Chinese supermodel, He Sui, which Lagerfeld immediately declares as way too heavy. It’s promptly removed and replaced with two dangling drop earrings in her left ear lobe, He Sui marches down the room. “You look perfect,” says Lagerfeld in rapturous agreement, and with a single wave of his gloved hand, He Sui is wafted away. “Put your hand in your pocket and walk like this,” he gesticulates next, to catwalk darling Saskia De Brauw who is in a white vest and trousers, and man-style tweed jacket. She defines cool with one hand clutching her white bag on her right and her left tucked neatly into her trouser.
Nothing escapes his eye, hidden from view with large very black Ray Bans. Lagerfeld is dressed in his uniform of white high-neck starched shirt, a silver-buttoned navy blazer, paint-splash black denim jeans, high boots and a glittering diamond pendant. In front of him on the table are two iPhones, two iPad minis and a glass of Diet Coke. When Virginie Mouzat, Vanity Fair France’s new Editor, comes into the room, Lagerfeld goes into friendship mode, and the whole accessorisation process grinds to a halt. Xiao Wen Ju, He Sui and a bevy of other beauties stand in front of the table while Lagerfeld shares the latest pictures of Choupette, his supremely privileged cat, with Mouzat. Yet quick as a flash, he catches a glimpse of an exposed clasp on the back of a multi-strand necklace, and immediately asks Crahay to add a brooch to cover the offending object.
Virginie Viard, head of the studio, has her handsome teenage son modelling in the cruise show for the first time. He is dressed in a black lace jacket and white jeans with a crisp white shirt and a matching lace tie. But, it’s the way the tie is knotted that gets Lagerfeld hot under the collar. “Who knows how to tie a double Windsor knot?” booms Lagerfeld in French. A silence falls over the studio as everyone scrambles to find someone, anyone, to do that precise knot. An English waiter, who has been quietly doing his rounds, offers a hand, and starts to tie the most traditional of knots before a causally dressed Pascal Brault, Director of the Chanel Sport, comes rushing in and immediately takes over the task. Finally, Lagerfeld walks up to the model and starts adjusting the tie as how he sees fit. “It needs to fall like this, down to here and not too high.”
The next evening at Loewen Cluster in Dempsey, where the Chanel cruise collection was shown, that single earring that Lagerfeld insisted on suddenly made so much sense. It looked cooler than having two and didn’t look traditional. And that much-fussed-over Windsor knotted tie? It made the French teenager look immediately grown-up, and brought that nuance of an English public school upbringing when it was undone just so. With clothes and accessories so perfectly executed at Chanel, you need that nonchalance; that sense of imperfection, to make it hip and cool. Lagerfeld made some models walk with arms swinging and others with gentle gait and a boyish toughness. It demonstrated a rhythm he wanted. Play it with the boys for cool, tomboy chic and play it with the girls for a youthful exuberance. As Lagerfeld said, “I tried to capture moods from what she [Chanel]did in her early days… there’s nothing folkloric, nothing retro or vintage about this collection.” —by Kenneth Goh
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In conversation with…
A private chat with Karl Lagerfeld at the accessorisation session
What was the idea for this collection and how important is cruise?
KL: I like the idea of colonialism but not its actuality. The long lean lines of the skirt [Lagerfeld points to a white number, look 42, with a generous cut-out in the front], the modern opening—not a slit—but an opening in the front makes it very elegant. Cruise is not an in-between season collection. It is actually a very important collection. In Chanel, I design six collections a year and every two months we have a new collection, so that helps to keep the stores fresh, to have new offerings in the windows and displays, and new merchandise for customers.
What have you seen and liked in Singapore?
KL: I love the Raffles Hotel and the Botanic Gardens when I drove past it yesterday. They are all very beautiful but I haven’t seen much of Singapore. There are also some very ugly buildings here.
What’s the major difference between designing for women today and thirty years ago?
KL: I never look back. It’s about the now and the present. I always look forward and never back. The whole attitude and behaviour of women has changed so much. It’s a different world now. The women in Asia today all have this petite frame and body and are all so thin. So, this cruise collection today will work very well for their body.
What did you want to introduce with cruise?
KL: I didn’t want to use much colour. Mostly just black and white, blue and cream because the last collection [Paris-Edimbourg] had a lot of colour and I wanted something fresh and calm. Also, in that period there wasn’t a lot of colour.
Why did you pick Keira Knightley to front your movie Once upon a time?
KL: I thought Keira Knightley looks so much like Coco Chanel—she has the same features and dark hair. And she is a much better actress. I didn’t think Anna Mouglalis played her well in that movie on Chanel and Audrey Tatou, oh well, she was a disaster!
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