Want to see the fashion world as it is? Watch this film by Lagerfeld

A new BBC2 documentary examines the life of designer Karl Lagerfeld (DDP/AFP via Getty Images)

A new BBC2 documentary examines the life of designer Karl Lagerfeld (DDP/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday evening, BBC2 screened Michael Waldman’s documentary about legendary Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld.

Fashion on screen is notoriously fickle. Serious radio rarely even bothers to record it, for some reason. Football and food are regularly presented for broadcast in their most ambitious light. I’ve always wondered why.

Lagerfeld’s Chanel was the noblest of the Houses to negotiate. Mr. Waldman walks softly behind the velvet rope to deliver his loosely framed missive on the mystery of what happened to Lagerfeld’s millions after the master’s death in 2019, with perfect camp bearing. He interviews friends, colleagues, relatives, a host of ludicrously sexy male models for whom Lagerfeld was bounty itself and the keeper of the designer’s beloved cat, Choupette, drawing some deeply personal testimony from all of them.

When he moved into his fantastic space-age apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine, Lagerfeld bequeathed to his neighbor, a very chic antique dealer, a pillow. Stitched into the fabric was the legend: “I never gossip twice. So listen closely,” a scathing epithet that sums up the film perfectly.

The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld is screen fashion executed with respect, good humor and intelligence. Look beyond the iconoclasm of a man who presented himself as one thing and often closely revealed himself as another. Lagerfeld’s bill at his favorite Parisian bookstore exceeded €20,000 in a single spree. But Waldman points out that many were bought as gifts. If fashion is about unveiling the best possible version of your outer self, Lagerfeld has also been a passionate guide in nurturing the inner life of his friends.

This could quickly turn into obsequiousness, but Waldman’s great editing skill is to keenly assess the fashion’s fun valve. He’s not pretending Lagerfeld was a saint here. Nor just a fun eccentric. I defy anyone to watch the show and not fall slightly in love with Lagerfeld’s belief in his art.

At some point in the 1990s, I accidentally found myself engulfed in the world of fashion magazines, one of the few industries where being gay was not only tolerated, but welcomed, even indulged. Thirty years later, some of my fondest professional memories have been amassed of seeing the magic of the fashion industry at play, seeing sublime images made with gorgeous dresses, skillful hairdos, ambitious hairdos, a fabulous haircut, and timeless models. At its most visionary, fashion is deeply serious work by some of the funniest people in the world.

This, ultimately, is Waldman’s great cinematic triumph. Formulates a fabulous new emotional model for how to do couture on screen. Let’s just hope that the most powerful commissioners notice.

A different version of Clapton

The Real Housewives of Clapton is not some quirky east London offshoot of the gripping US TV franchise, but a frankly hilarious Instagram account bent on softly destroying one hip postcode, one lifestyle cliché at a time. RHOC saves its ridicule for the consumption of biodynamic wine, Perello olives, anyone who wears Gore-Tex, eats at small restaurants, or demonstratively walks a trendy dog.

Anyone who remembers the nineties zine The Shoreditch Twat will recognize its tongue-in-cheek wrath, even though it has since moved three miles east. RHOC challenges a certain preconception that all Northerners in London have, that while we may laugh at ourselves, Southerners only point fire at each other. The self-laundering under the bile is barely concealed. This account is 100% the work of someone who wears Gore-Tex, drinks BD wine, and had to teach himself, against all the laws of human nature, not to hate olives.

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