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CNBC Transcript: Tania Bryer speaks to Karl Lagerfeld

Following are excerpts from the latest episode of the CNBC Conversation with Tania Bryer and Karl Lagerfeld.

TB: Karl your collaboration with Fendi is the longest in…

KL: In the history of fashion I know yes… it should be in the Guinness Book, uh?

TB: It should be, yes. But when you started with them Karl could you ever imagine that it would have lasted this long?

KL: Nobody could myself included you know. This goes back to nineteen hundred and sixty five, the world we live in today is not the same world any more. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed more than the world of fashion.

TB: Can you remember though when you first met the Fendi sisters?

KL: Of course I can, very well. There were five sisters who had a new salon because before they were in a shop in the Viale Plaza and they wanted somebody who could add a little young touch to a special collection of young fur. I don't know how young fur can be, but, you know, this period was about youth obsession even worse than today. And I said you have to make a different label and in three seconds I did the two 'Fs' 'Fun Fur'. It wasn't Fendi Fur. It was Fun Fur. But after two years it became the logo for everything Fendi.

TB: And how did it evolve over the years Karl, the collaboration between the two of you?

KL: The whole evolution of the whole thing uh? It is difficult to say this, this this…Then they started the ready-to-wear 1977 and also we mix the ready to wear with the fur and all that. There was one idea they didn't like but in the end we did it later but much later when the business [inaudible]… to mix fake fur with real fur. It is still an idea everybody is scared of, not me because I'm scared of nothing.

TB: You're not scared of anything?

KL: No, of myself a little bit, that's all.

TB: Where do you think that came from Karl, that you're not scared of anything?

KL: You know, if you're in this business and you are scared, then you better do something else. No - and they were open to it, especially Carla Fendi, they were open for everything new, every change, I mean this was full of energy. They had tons of energy and I think I had a little good energy too. So it worked, it was great. The 70s were great, the 80s... After that it was a little different because you know the world of fashion changed so much that in the end it became a LVMH business, which is very good, because when Bernard Arnaud really invested in it, and look what Fendi is now. He really made a huge thing out of Fendi huh? And I think the top of the top of the evolution of Fendi was the show on the on the fountain of Trevi, what is a moment you can never repeat.

TB: It must have been incredible at the Trevi Fountain?

KL: I said it was a magical moment for Fendi and for me also and for everybody involved all the people who worked for, even for the girls on the water knew that they were doing an iconic moment that will not come back every day because there is no other fountain like that. And it's not easy to do that uh?

But you know I don't think in terms of anniversary you know the year before that was me working 50 years for Fendi. I don't look at my old work. I mean they made nice books, the books were made without me the one from last year and the one from this year. I personally I'm not interested in my own past. I'm only interested in today perhaps tomorrow.

TB: But you've done so much, there's still so much left to do but when you look back would you not think of learning from things or nothing like that?

KL: No there is a famous song by Billie Holiday said easy to remember and hard to forget. Me is easy to forget and hard to remember. But I'm easy to work with because I'm quite polite. No, because some are not hmm?

TB: Oh really?

KL: Oh apparently. They are nice conserved for the outside huh? And you know I don't do a computer, I don't have a studio, twenty people sketching. I sketch myself everything and I'm pretty good on it because I wanted to become an illustrator at the beginning. I believe in sketching because there is something very sensitive in sketching, you know, in sketches that you don't have out of a computer that looks the same like everybody, even if later on the dresses are OK but I like to sketch and I like to see trails made after my sketches that look the same. It is you know, what I like.

TB: Do you think there are not enough of the younger designers Karl - none of them seem to sketch, they are all on computers..?

KL: Yes but you know today it's very different, first of all some of the younger designers are not that young. And also you know they are art directors, I'm not an art director, so they have people and then they make a choice and then they go out after the show and make believe they did it all. It's the way every studio is organized today. But not mine.

TB: And Karl are their particular designers that you think are very good?

KL: Yeah many.

TB: Who are some of your favourites?

KL: I like Miuccia Prada because I think she is… [inaudible] And in France there are several people I like, you know it's also difficult to say because I'm friendly with so I don't really know their clothes. I like Riccardo Tisci from Givenchy a lot, I like the girl who does Chloe, what I did for over 20 years. I like Phoebe from Celine - no. no, there are many people I like uh…I like Comme des Garcon even if it's not wearable in the classic sense but I think there is a spirit and things like this.

What I don't like are designers who are fake intellectuals and who call themselves 'we are very intellectual'. No, no, no dressmaking is dressmaking. Philosophy is philosophy but you don't have to mix it.

TB: You think sometimes they take themselves too seriously?

KL: Beyond! Beyond! And I don't give you names because it wouldn't be nice, I couldn't care less.

TB: There are none that you can actually name Karl?

KL: No, no because… I don't want to - but the list is not that short!


TB: Karl you had Kendall Jenner open the show at the Trevi Fountain and you photographed her for the 2016 collection….

KL: Yes and we did also the catalogue and the advertising with her. No, no, we worked a lot with her, not for the first time huh? She's a nice kid you know.

TB: What is it about her that you like so much do you think?

KL: I thought she was right for Fendi you know. And I like her personality. There's something very sweet about her.

TB: And you also photographed her sister Kim Kardashian…

KL: Yes but not for collections…

TB: No for Harper's Bazaar. Yes. How were they Karl. How did you find them?

KL: I photographed them before and I knew both of them for a long time. So there was no problem at all because if you have to photograph famous people - and I will say something pretentious - if you are vaguely famous yourself it is much easier. If they are in front of an unknown photographer, they would not relax like they do in front of me. I had done for another magazine when she was pregnant and I met her several times. Him I knew even longer. Normally I don't have problems with people.

TB: And with Kanye West, his attitude, do you think he's very brilliant at his strategy. Or people can find him arrogant?

KL: Yes but when you know him you see it all differently and the mother is very funny, I like the mother. She is so funny.

TB: Karl of course you spend a lot of time in Rome and also in Paris too.

KL: I go between the two cities because I have a plane….. I may be commercial but I don't fly commercial! No but I you know I cannot because people bother me to a degree you don't have an idea. Ah! They want selfies and things like that. It's my fault. I'm too easy to recognize.

TB: Does it bother you though… You don't want to be?

KL: Bother no, but there's a moment you are tired of it. Especially if you have to go to those gates, you check in and they take some photos…no, no, no, no, no, no. That's in my contracts uh.

TB: Can you go anywhere Karl do you think without being recognized?

KL: No I go nowhere. Nearly never.

TB: But does that upset you that you can't go anywhere?

KL: No I always have bodyguards and things - ridiculous. But you know, you can't have the butter and the money for the butter.

TB: Karl, can I take you back when you were growing up in a town very close to Denmark in Germany. And I just would like to ask you if you don't mind a little bit about your childhood...

KL: My childhood was very simple I only wanted one thing - to get out of there and to be grown up. I hated to be a child. That's why I could speak English, German and French when I was six. No I had a nice childhood in a period when the world was not that great. There is nothing I can say against uh? I'm not still recovering from an unhappy childhood. No. Everything was perfect.

I never played with children. I only was sketching and reading. And it was also a country estate, quite isolated. No I didn't even have anything to do with my sister and half-sister. I always was isolated from the rest uh? I was at the best of terms with my father and even better terms with my mother who thought it was perfect like this as long as I was not creating trouble because girls created trouble and were sent to boarding schools in the second! And from there they were married off. Because my mother had no patience. She was right!

TB: Your mother must have been very proud of your own success?

KL: No. She never mentioned that. And she preferred Sonia Rykiel dresses to what I did because it remind her to the 20s. No no no. She never saw a show of mine. She said no I don't go to see people my son works for. They were people from another era.

TB: And they let you go to Paris very young, did you enjoy being there by yourself?

KL: My father had offices in Paris we had a whole thing - it was easy even in those years for me. And then one day in the street I saw a huge poster for a contest for the international wool fashion office which was then very important Australian organization. So the poster was a sketch from… [inaudible] the poster said send a sketch in of a suit, of a dress, of a coat , something done in wool. So I made a few sketches, sent them, forgot them. And six months later I got a telegram because in those days you got telegrams saying you won the first prize for the coat and there were 200,000 people in the world who had done this thing. And then the coat was made by Balmain which was a very successful house then. And he asked me if I wanted to enter a studio.

TB: And what was Paris like in those days Karl?

KL: It was a very safe place but it was like an old movie about Paris you know. It still looked like a Paris from another era. No burka…

TB: Well I wanted to ask you about that Karl because the Burka is banned obviously in France, there's been a lot of controversy recently about the Burkini and the women on the beaches. Policeman saying…

KL: Yes but I don't discuss these subjects, they are not mine. I don't know how they will find a solution for that. I prefer not to think about it but it's a very unpleasant problem.

TB: But for women to be told 'you can wear this, you can't wear this'…

KL: No I hate this attitude against women because you know my life, and my work is dedicated to women, so I think it's horrible.


TB: I'm going back to all the collections that that you have for Chanel, for Fendi. You also have Karl Lagerfeld.

KL: Yes but it's a very different story, not the same price and it's very digital. It's completely different thing, things are less expensive. This is a very young funny thing because I don't want any competition and that is sometimes done mostly by assistants because they have to work on my personality you see .I couldn't do it myself sometimes, I mean I do a lot of things but all those Choupette things and all those funny things. That's OK, but that's another story. And Fendi and Chanel is very easy for me because Fendi is my Italian version and Chanel my French version. And I never mix things. I had never a problem that a Chanel thing looked like a Fendi thing or a Fendi looked like Chanel. I have no personality. I have two!

TB: And you were talking just a little bit before about Choupette because she appears in Karl Lagerfeld. What's the story with Choupette?

KL: Choupette is such a strange thing because I never thought that I could fall in love with an animal like this. A friend of mine gave it to one of my mates, saying I'm leaving for two days, could you keep it for two weeks. When he came back I thought I'm sorry Choupette is mine. I don't give Choupette back. And she became a world famous star you know. She has her own fortune for the things she did in Japan and in Germany for cars and things like that. And whenever I go somewhere children say to me, how is Choupette? But you know you have to see her you would fall instantly in love with her because she's unbelievable. With huge sapphire eyes and beautiful white fur. She's unbelievable huh. Very coquettish. But she's over-groomed and everything. She has several maids. She's never alone when I'm not there. Oh no no… Even if she sleeps she doesn't want to be alone. She's like a chic lady, like a kept woman with her personal maid. There's a lot of things to do, to wash her eyes five times a day, to brush her white hair and things like….oh no, she is a full time job.

TB: She sounds like she has a wonderful life Karl.

KL: It is a wonderful life, I think so too. She's traveling with me and her maid when I go to another country. She's never alone.

TB: How has she changed your life?

KL: How that changed my life? I never thought it could change that way. I think I became a better person.

TB: Really?

KL: Yes I think so, very strange huh? And she gives something magical that I understand the Egyptians from 4000 before Jesus Christ, for them the cats were the most important animal huh. I understand that. And she gives energy, it's very strange. When I have her next to me I feel like a telephone what is recharged!

TB: And you surround yourself with people that you trust?

KL: Oh yeah, no no.. Even my servants uh? They are spoiled like family. They get apartments, houses, cars and everything. You know they do more for me than anybody else. Except sketching, I don't know how to do anything I'm totally stupid. I don't know how to cook, I don't know how to clean. I don't know nothing huh. And my mother always said you have to learn nothing because then you have to make an effort to have always enough money that somebody is doing it for you. That was how I was brought up.

TB: But you achieved it Karl could you imagine at that age when your mother was telling you that could you think you could achieve all this?

KL: Yes in a way yes. But I remember as a child one day I sat in this special room in this country house and I said to myself, it was ridiculous, I think I will become a legend.

TB: Really?

KL: I was perhaps eight. I saw myself like a kind of fairy tale. I mean in fact more a horror story. But it's very strange. But. I remember the moment, but after that I never thought about it again.

TB: In your mind is that what you were working towards Karl…or you just let things…

KL: Yes sometimes but not all the time. I was enjoying what I was doing. And I was very lucky you know my parents gave me tons of money and cars and everything. I mean I had a very spoilt youth because in the fashion people didn't make fortunes, it's not like today uh.

TB: What's so interesting Karl is that you say your parents spoilt you, you had everything in your childhood but yet you had this work ethic, you know, to work so hard and achieve...?

KL: Yes lots of class but working class.

TB: Because normally people that can be spoilt they don't want to work hard but you never stop…

KL: No it's very bad to be spoiled, if you are not ready to be spoiled. If I think I would have not been spoiled, if I had not the possibility to do something, to be ambitious enough not to fall in the easy trap of the 60s …No never. I was never tempted. I was always an outsider. No alcohol, no drugs, no nothing… Nothing. Not because I'm against it, I just don't like it.

TB: I know you don't like the word Karl but marketing you know how does that …?

KL: Yes but I do marketing without doing marketing, you know. I never make meetings, you sit in the studio and we discuss a little with the president and the studio head and that is all. The rest they can do what they want but they do the right thing anyway.

TB: But revamping these brands and I'm thinking about the business side of things, do you get involved….

KL: You know the business is not mine and I work for a flat fee. So if they made a mistake it's their fault is not mine. But they don't, they do pretty well. No the people here are great and the people at Chanel are great. So I'm lucky, when I see how much it turns in other house, they change. Most of the people I work with have never worked for somebody else. So I mustn't be that horrible!

TB: And do you ever think about your legacy?

KL: No… I will not be around for that so… Who cares!

TB: You have given, and still give so much to the industry…

KL: As long as I don't repeat myself, then it's ok. I laugh about myself. I am my best cartoon.

TB: Well Karl, I know that you have a lot to do, so thank you so much for spending time with me.

KL: Thank you, nice to talk to you.