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Karl Lagerfeld is still a perfectionist

His newest collection shown at Fashion Week is tougher and more urban
/ Source: The Associated Press

Karl Lagerfeld has made countless fashion statements over his 50-year career. And he’s always talked in the native — and very refined — language of others, especially Chanel and Fendi, two legendary brands that he modernized without adding too much of his own accent in an effort to honor those brands’ heritage.

With the runway debut of Lagerfeld’s new namesake brands as the finale of New York Fashion Week, the world’s most celebrated designer finally spoke in his own tongue.

Lagerfeld’s look is tougher — more urban. The models wore outfits that one could picture Lagerfeld himself wearing, down to the detachable wool fur cuffs that someday might replace the designer’s signature leather driving gloves.

Not that Lagerfeld, 67, sketched every single skinny, metallic jean, slashed sweater or combat boot on the runway. There’s a design team to whom Lagerfeld gave directions about the overall tone.

Lagerfeld seems to direct everything that goes on around him, even if he doesn’t say a word. Just before Friday’s catwalk previews of the luxurious Lagerfeld Collection or the jeans-and-T-shirt Karl Lagerfeld label, a team of whispering men in dark suits trailed behind him as he surveyed the models, makeup and runway before the show.

This made Lagerfeld seem intimidating, larger than life — and stiffer than those starched white collars he always wears. Never mind that he’s been a force in the industry since winning a contest and then a job at Pierre Balmain when he was 17. And, don’t forget, fashion is just one of his talents, he’s also an accomplished photographer and publisher.

‘He dictates with his own special charm’During an interview, though, Lagerfeld was downright warm, speaking in his thick German-French accent. (Lagerfeld was born outside Hamburg, Germany, but moved to Paris at age 14.)

“This New York show is about another mood, another world from Paris. It’s an evolution style,” he declared. “For me, New York is comfortable, not strange. And I don’t feel like a stranger. I have more friends in New York than Paris.”

He also has a lot of American fans. His show was the hot ticket of Fashion Week.

“There’s no question that Lagerfeld is always a major force in the world of fashion,” said Avril Graham, the Harper’s Bazaar executive fashion and beauty editor. “He dictates with his own special charm what we should and shouldn’t wear.”

Graham noted that there was that same cutting-edge feel to the new Lagerfeld lines as there was in the collection he did for Swedish clothing chain Hennes & Mauritz last year — albeit at very different price points. “Whether we’re looking at the Karl line that sold out in days at H&M or super high-end Chanel couture, we can only marvel how he can turn his hands to both ends of the market,” she said.

Lagerfeld said he’s superstitious and won’t let anyone — including himself — wear anything from a new collection until it debuts on the runway.

Is he a perfectionist? Is that how he gets this reputation as both the most famous and feared man in fashion?

“Hmmm. We can call me a perfectionist — a little one,” he said.

The fact that these new collections bear his name aren’t important, he said. It’s just convenient because, yes, he is well known. If he were a true egomaniac, he would’ve created more of a global Lagerfeld empire instead of working for someone else. “It’s a job. I’m not obsessed with my name, I’m obsessed with the look.”

Tommy Hilfiger Corp. actually owns the two Lagerfeld collections.

But no one owns the runway like Lagerfeld.

Model Mariacarla Boscano, who almost never struts the New York catwalks anymore, did a turn in a dark gray coat with a black leather tank and black leather pants — the uniform of any self-respecting Lagerfeld urban warrior.