Karl Lagerfeld is something of a polymath. An ardent photographer, he is most known world over for his fashion genius. Lagerfeld is a wizard with materials and textures. At the age of 81, Lagerfeld is renowned for his work with Fendi, Chanel and his own fashion labels. It is his work with Fendi, perhaps, for which he has become a legend. Largerfeld has been Fendi’s creative director for half a century. He recently spoke to Mint Indulge, via email, about his association with the world of Fendi and the universe of fashion. Edited excerpts:

What are your earliest memories of working for Fendi?

My first memories of working in Fendi are linked to my first visit to the five sisters in Via Frattina in Rome, in a former movie theatre, that was just transformed into a huge Fur Salon, with a kind of Visconti-like set.

At that time, I did not know the five Fendi sisters. An acquaintance we had in common recommended me as I was in Rome in that moment and I went there. I saw the five sisters and thought it was kind of an interesting mix of five women.

Do you think the Fendi sisters were courageous in the past to hire a very good but young designer?

It was great and there was no combination like this in the world in terms of ideas, especially in that period when all the things were not as popular as today. Carla was kind of a genius.

Lagerfeld with the five Fendi sisters.
Lagerfeld with the five Fendi sisters.

I loved Adele Fendi, the founder of the house…she was really a matriarch, a woman with incredible charm.

Can you recall your first visit to Rome?

When I was a child, we went from Hamburg to Rome, stayed a day and went to Sicily, in Taormina, to the San Domenico Hotel and I caught a cold and stayed in bed all the time. I hated that place.

But after that, I liked Rome very much. I think that Rome, after Paris, is the city I know best. I have been there very often, more than 400 times. I even had apartments in Rome in the past; now I don’t stay there anymore. The way it’s organized today, I can send the sketches even by telephone. In the old days, there was no post, no fax; you needed three weeks to get something to Italy because Italian post wasn’t well, so I had to stay in Rome and I liked that.

Can you give examples of how things have changed/evolved and what you think Fendi style means today compared with when you started?

When I met the five sisters, they were known in Rome for expensive and beautiful furs, very rich, bourgeois, but heavy, typical of those times. Fur was the first step for social recognition.

I had a modern vision and so they asked me to create a small collection with furs worn in a different way… The bourgeois furs disappeared. Fendi became a modern fur house that created a revolution in the way fur was seen, made, handled and worn. And this story still continues today with amazing furs, very modern and incredibly well done, realized always with an eye projected towards the future.

Since then, quite a long time has passed. The world has changed a lot too in half a century. If we were still in the “nostalgia" of when we started, we would be nowhere. Since LVMH took over, Fendi further evolved, representing beautiful craftsmanship, and becoming more and more modern.

What is Fendi for you?

Fendi is my Italian version of creativity. It’s Italian to its core. It is not only Italian, it’s Roman.

What is your work at Fendi?

I give ideas. I design clothes and beautiful furs… I am totally free, and in Fendi, everything is possible. I think it is great that in life you can do something you want to do because you like doing it and not being bored.

Who is the Fendi woman and how has she evolved during the years?

It is very difficult to identify a specific woman. Our job is to propose collections hoping that many women will appreciate what we do. Saying “it’s for this kind of woman and not for the other" is too sharp a remark.

What are your feelings on celebrating a collaboration that has lasted for half a century?

My 50 years’ collaboration with Fendi is the longest collaboration in fashion. Nowhere, even designers of their own, no one lived long enough to do it for such a long time and I am not tired of it at all. I even think that I work better today and have a clearer head. My work is a bigger priority now than when I was younger and it’s a good thing. I never had the feeling that I was married, so it was like a freelance, open-marriage situation. I kept the passion because there is no exclusivity. I need the fresh air from the outside to see what’s going on. If you put me in the cage, I am worthless.

How is the approach between designing, fashion and taking pictures different?

It’s the next step. I photograph a lot of clothes that are not designed by me. It is to give a visual impact to clothes. It all depends on how you see them and what you do with them. The mood of the girls you are photographing is also crucial. What you want to express can be based on millions of different reasons and can be developed in completely different ways.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion is about the “moment". The best thing that can happen to a dress is that it gets worn. Fashion is not about museum exhibits.

How is a Karl day like?

That depends. I like to stay at home in the morning and sketch. I get the most done in the morning and attend all my appointments in the afternoon. Even in the late afternoon…because a day is so short for me. My motto is “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today". We live in a world where, for this kind of business, we have to be quick and fast.

Do you live by the clock?

I am well known for never being punctual. I am late because I do so much and I never look at the clock and say, “I have to go now." I hate being a slave to my diary. (Arthur) Schopenhauer once said that “whenever you buy a book, you should also buy the time to read it". Time is the pinnacle of luxury. Not looking at the clock is my greatest luxury.

Is there something you really don’t like?

I hate amateurs. I hate unprofessional people.

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