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.
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.
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.