Karl Lagerfeld: Creative destruction

What drives me crazy about most fashion industry coverage is that it is often limited to soundbites, tainted with marketing spin, and driven by editorial objectives. This perpetuates the notion of the superficial designer and undervalues the contributions made by truly innovative creative geniuses like Karl Lagerfeld.

It is rare to have an unedited, in-depth conversation with anyone influential in this business– let alone Karl Lagerfeld. But, not only did PBS interviewer Charlie Rose have this rare opportunity, he seized it with gusto in this clip I recently found on YouTube.

Together with Harriet-Mays-Powell, Fashion Editor of New York Magazine, he deftly takes Mr. Lagerfeld through a wide ranging one hour conversation (no easy task!) which goes from his design process to the role of celebrity in fashion to the relevance of haute couture to how fashion reflects the modern zeitgeist. Lagerfeld also declares that second lines are “condescending,” “bridge lines are for the dentists,” and that fashion today is about mixing.

411ecfgd5dl__aa240_But, the most interesting insight for me was Lagerfeld’s appetite for technology and change and how this is what has kept his design and point-of-view relevant, even though he is decades older than many of his contemporaries. To boot, he was one of the first designers to use the Internet to show a runway collection. He has more than 100 iPods. And, he famously “lost all that weight to fit into a Dior Homme suit”, which is just one example of a bad soundbite that makes him sound shallow and stupid.

On the contrary, as he explains in this interview, through the weight loss he was aiming to destroy his past self and become someone new, citing French author Marguerite Duras and her book Détruire, dit-elle, or Destroy, she said. He says this is what enables him to stay modern. He is always looking forward.

As I heard him utter these words, it reminded me of an economic theory known as Creative Destruction, developed by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942, Wikipedia describes creative destruction as

The process of transformation that accompanies radical innovation. In Schumpeter’s vision of capitalism, innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power.

Creative_destruction Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, partners at McKinsey & Co, published a book expanding on this theory in their book with the same title, asserting that

rather than aiming for continuity, companies should embrace discontinuity, constructively destroying and re-creating themselves as needed (Publisher’s Weekly)

Lagerfeld seems to understand this intrinsically and has protected himself against it. The theory is particularly poignant in the fashion industry, which seems to move more and more quickly each day. Rather than become outmoded and irrelevant, he just changes himself and focuses only on the future. He doesn’t even keep any archives.

Be forewarned. It’s a one-hour long clip, but it makes for fascinating listening. Go grab a cup of tea and curl up in front of this one. It will provide much food for thought. I am looking forward to hearing what you think.

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  1. Interesting. I found Karl tremendously resistant to change when I talked to him at the TTalk panel a year ago. He seems said he viewed the internet as a waste of time. And yet he makes such a fuss over being forward thinking. It seems such a contradiction

  2. Very interesting, indeed. He wouldn’t be the first designer to change his perspective on the importance of the Internet! Do tell, what is the TTalk panel?

  3. Following our discussion into London College of fashion and after watching Lagerfeld’s confidential and the interview as well as Marc Jacobs documentary by Loic Prigent I cant stop thinking of one thing. Karl is a myth for the fashion industry and as he said fashion is a place with many deficiencies. What I expected for Lagerfeld that I ve seen more from MJ’s part, is to acknowledge these defects that the industry has and instead of cultivating and embracing them, to solve them. Fashion editors fighting with designers and brands (and will never support again), brands that would never pay their employees/permanent interns, persons who don’t know anything about fashion and suddenly overnight they become experts and on the other hand charismatic designers like Hussein Chalayan , Christian Lacroix, Martin Margiela , Hedi Slimane that either go bankrupt or fired or don’t get a hall of fame. I do love fashion and I do appreciate its workings that to me are statements of art, rather than daily wear, but most probably I am going to end up as one of these unpaid people (at least for several months) that regret for loving this industry with the military discipline as Karl recalls because none apart from certain exceptions try to do something. Don’t know who should be the one to make this industry better The business minds like Arnault, Pinault and Rosso that I personally admire for what they did with their businesses and the BUSINESSES they decided to support; The influential creative figures behind the brands like MJ, Karl or Tom Ford: or the fashion magazines editors (which I personally doubt). Comment on this

    Periklis from London, London, United Kingdom
  4. @Perikilis: That is a lot to digest and to be honest, it is not clear to me exactly what you are asking. I will say this, however: There are certainly issues in the fashion industry — anytime in the past when great strides have been made in the industry, they have been made by creative and business people working together. This is a business after all, and not an art. Both Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld understand that.

  5. You did not get my point exactly. I agree with you on your point about collaborations. Marc Jacobs is doing a great job working in collaboration both with Robert Duffy on one hand and also with Arnault and Carcelle on the other. And the same is true for Lagerfeld when he does Chanel and Fendi. I wanted to say that being the greatest couturier alive, I would have expected Lagerfeld to recognize some issues that the fashion industry has, in both his interview and his documentary, rather than talking about diets, technology and saying it is what it is after all.

    Periklis from London, London, United Kingdom
  6. who’s the publisher of this video clip? Where’s place of recording? Please help! I’m doing a bibliography of this video clip!

    Da Wang from Doncaster East, Victoria, Australia