Karl Lagerfeld has an alleged affinity for Vienna sausage and Taco Bell. He owns dozens of iPods, scattered throughout his estates all over the world, to which he has transferred a collection of over 60,000 CDs. He admires prostitutes but hates feigned interest, and will stamp out longtime friendships for any perceived impediment to his morale. Karl Lagerfeld is the supreme weirdo enigma of the fashion world. Don’t believe us? Well, you should watch Lagerfeld Confidential, the new documentary by French director Rodolphe Marconi. (If you're in NYC, it premiers today at Film Forum.) Shot over the course of six months, Marconi was able to capture the intimate ruminations of the pony-tailed and paper-collared erudite. We asked him what it was like to slip into Lagerfeld’s cognitive nooks and crannies.
Vice: Obtaining in-depth access to Lagerfeld is something so many people have tried to do and failed at. How did you butter up “Kaiser Karl”?
Rodolphe Marconi: I got in touch with Caroline Lebar [the head of communications for Lagerfeld Gallery] to have an appointment with him and speak about my idea for a film, but she told me it was not possible. Hundreds have tried and he always says, “No, it’s not possible to make a film on me.” She told me it was not necessary to continue to try, but I was persistent. I had lunch with her and after three months of calling, she said, “OK, tomorrow you go to have lunch at Karl’s house.” So I went and I met him there and I stayed for five hours. Afterward, he said, “OK, when do you want to begin?” and I didn’t know. He said, “Tomorrow.”
What did you guys talk about? How did you convince him to let you shoot?
We began to speak about fashion, we spoke about actors, and after that we spoke a little bit about cinema. And after the lunch I began to speak about my project and I said, “I just want to be with you and to shoot for six months, and I don’t want to be like the other people who know what they want beforehand. I don’t want to manipulate something; I just want to see you and to shoot you like you are.”
Do you have a heavy interest in fashion, or was it more about Lagerfeld as a subject?
I’ve loved fashion for a long time. When I was ten years old everybody was reading all the magazines for people who are ten years old, but I always wanted my grandmother to buy Vogue. It was very strange. When I was 11, my drawing teacher told me, “Do you know Karl Lagerfeld? He will be the best.” From that point on, I wanted to find out more about him. I’ve always felt he was very funny and I like his face. I like his look: all his clothes, all his rings, and the style he has. It’s not very often when somebody is so important in his career—when they have reached big celebrity—that they continue to be very curious and very funny and very open to the others.
How did you prepare for this movie compared to your other films?
It was a big pleasure I never had during a shoot, because I didn’t have to say anything to an actor. It was strange because my favorite part of making films is to be with the actor and to ask them to do something when they play. So, I was just here to look, alone, without 100 technicians, without all my team. When he told me, “OK, we begin tomorrow,” I went to buy a camera and a microphone.
I want to ask you about the beginning of the film, when you’re first inside of his room. You see the rings, the iPods, all the paper collars he wears, and his huge library of books and art. Is he a collector, or does he consider these necessities?
It’s very paradoxical because he wants to buy everything and he wants to know everything and to read everything and to wear everything. I’m not sure he’s a collector, but it’s like this for everything: He has 500 jeans, 300 shirts, 200 rings. Seeing his personal effects was very special for me because nobody ever goes into his room, and I wanted absolutely to go into his bedroom. So I waited about three weeks, and I tried to knock on the door and he let me in. I put this scene in the beginning of the film—it’s for the audience—“You’re going to enter in his life.” The bedroom of Karl is the most private thing you can find.
Did you perceive any acting or posing for the camera?
No. I was always with him, but I couldn’t shoot all day and night, so sometimes I had the camera, sometimes I didn’t. It was very strange because he was exactly the same: the same words, the same voice, the same attitude. He doesn’t care. The two first days, he was a little bit strange, because sometimes he forgot there was a camera and would look at me and remember. But after a while, he completely ignored it.
Do you feel like you became friends with him?
He sent me a beautiful drawing yesterday. But, friends, I’m not sure… I don’t know. I think, yes… I hope. I know Karl very well today and, with all the friends he has, he doesn’t have time to get a cup of coffee or something. When you have a cup of coffee with him, or dinner, or lunch, it’s always because you have a project or a big reason to speak with him. He doesn’t have time to sit with you and say, “The weather is cool today. What will you do tomorrow?” He doesn’t have time for that, but I’m sure if you need something, or if you have something pressing to tell him, or if you feel bad, he’ll always be there.
In the film he talks about how tension is needed in relationships to keep them interesting.
Yes… I think he just wants to protect himself, so he always keeps a certain distance and elegance with people. He doesn’t want people to love him too much—his friends or whatever. So when he speaks about tension, I think he means a certain distance, a certain courtesy: You cannot tell everything to your friends and they cannot tell everything to you. You have to keep some things to yourself.
Does he consider himself old? Did he ever talk about death or leaving a legacy?
It’s forbidden for me to tell you how old he is… his age is approximately 70. He always says he doesn’t care; he always says in his head he will be still here in ten or 20 years. He has a lot of energy and I’m sure he will be here in 20 years, because sometimes we’d work for 18 hours and after he would want to continue to work—everybody’s dead tired, but he wants to continue.
How have people been reacting to the film?
I really don’t know, but so far all people who have seen it love the film and love Karl more than before. But I don’t know if you American people… I don’t know what you’re going to say.
INTERVIEW BY DARBY BUICK
PS: If you got this far, you definitely deserve to see this.