London, New York, Paris, Linlithgow... Dani Garavelli reports on Karl Lagerfeld’s decision to stage this year’s opulent Metiers D’Art fashion extravaganza in West Lothian
WITH his long white ponytail, high, stiff collars, dark glasses and fingerless gloves, and his penchant for issuing ad-hoc pronouncements on the aesthetic inadequacies of others (most recently Adele), Karl Lagerfeld is the most instantly recognisable, eccentric and deliberately provocative of the fashion world’s many mavericks. He is also one of the most productive and influential. The driving force behind two fashion houses – Chanel and Fendi – as well as his own K L line; a highly regarded photographer, who shoots all his own campaigns; a master of four languages and a voracious consumer of high-brow books; his creativity leaves those in an industry which knows how to gush at a loss for superlatives.
For a man who affects disdain for intimacy, Lagerfeld also has the most astonishing coterie of famous friends. So great is his gravitational pull, princesses, presidents, supermodels and Hollywood A-listers are all drawn into his orbit. Even the least significant Lagerfeld event can attract names such as Eva Herzegova, Yasmin Le Bon and Amanda Harlech. But when the designer stages a major extravaganza, like his annual Metiers D’Art show – set up in 2002 to showcase the work of the artisans who craft the buttons, feathers, shoes and hats for Chanel’s haute couture collections – a dazzling array of the most sought after party guests of the era is virtually a given.
In the past, the Metiers D’Art shows have been staged in the great fashion metropolises of the world; Paris, Tokyo, New York, London; but this week Lagerfeld will be throwing his handful of glitterdust over the douce West Lothian town of Linlithgow. For the past few days, a team of up to 200 workers has been erecting a line of marquees in the grounds of the ruined palace – the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and the venue for the show – and constructing, rumour has it, a huge glass roof over the central courtyard to protect guests from the Scottish elements.
At some time on Tuesday afternoon, Lagerfield will stride into town like an immaculately tailored Pied Piper, trailing an assortment of celebrities in his wake (although this being an exercise in excess, they will be arriving not by foot, but in a fleet of limousines).
Already, anticipation in the town is mounting; at Brodies vintage tearoom on the High Street near the palace, owner Margaret Moyies is ordering in extra supplies for an expected influx of customers and pinning her hopes on catching a glimpse of Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, who are rumoured to be attending. “It’s all very exciting,” she says. “We have already noticed more customers coming in from outside the town to have a look at what’s going on and they’re all talking about the big event. We will be opening late and bringing our cameras in case someone famous pops in for afternoon tea or whatever.”
Further up the road at upmarket book and gift shop, Far From The Madding Crowd, owner Jill Pattle’s excitement is tempered by a little apprehension. “I’m just hoping it’s not going to cause too much disruption to Christmas shopping,” she says. “We have special events on this week. But in general everyone is delighted the town’s going to get the profile it is and hopefully there will be a legacy.”
The fine detail of the show – along with its starry guest-list, is a closely guarded secret, but you only have to look at last year’s event, with its Paris-Bombay theme, to get a feel for the kind of theatricality and opulence likely to be involved. Capturing the excess of a Maharajah’s tea party, it featured enormous chandeliers which hung low over tables set with gold-plated cutlery and huge candles. A silver train ran on a silver track round a fruit-laden centre table and models paraded round the runway in a succession of Indian-inspired outfits as guests ate.
“That’s how Lagerfeld does things,” says Tessa Hartmann, the founder of the Scottish Fashion Awards and one of the few Scots to have scored one of the 300 tickets to the show. “It’s not just a product, it’s a piece of art. Everything – from the candlestick holders to the flowers – will be part of a theme and will be thought through like the oil paints on a canvas. He will excite all of the senses, from smell to the visual aspect; he’s creating a production, the canvas for his collection.”
This time round, those in the know surmise, the show is likely to feature tweed, tartan and – given Chanel’s recent purchase of Barrie Knitwear, which produces its iconic two-tone cardigans – cashmere. The purchase, which saved 176 jobs, brought the company under Chanel’s Paraffection umbrella – a group of 12 ateliers, including hatmaker Maison Michel and glovemaker Causse, whose craftmanship forms the core of the Metiers D’Art show.
The guest list too can be guessed at by looking at previous shows; alongside Brangelina, Vanessa Paradis, Alexa Chung, Keira Knightley and – perhaps significantly – Scottish supermodel Stella Tennant, Lagerfeld’s muse for more than 20 years, have all been tipped as attendees. But though the people of Linlithgow are clearly revelling in their new-found fame and on tenterhooks to see who’s going to arrive, there is also a tangible air of bemusement. Given Lagerfeld’s previous use of iconic cities, why did he choose this small town for this year’s event? Is the excess associated with his shows appropriate in an age of austerity? And – beyond the brief shot in the arm the publicity will provide – what impact will the show have on the Scottish fashion industry?
When Hartmann interviewed Lagerfeld earlier this year about Stella Tennant who was being inducted into the Scottish Fashion Awards’ Hall of fame, she found him full of praise for a woman he regards as his inspiration.
“Oh, I don’t think he’d suffer fools,” she says, “But he was charming. He had a real presence. And when he talked about Stella, he didn’t speak about her in the stereotypical way you might expect, he talked about her personality and how that transferred to the photograph and how she was ageless.”
It is Lagerfeld’s longstanding friendship with Tennant which may prove the key to this year’s unusual venue choice. He picked her to be the £1 million face of Chanel just after she had completed her breakthrough shoot, Steven Meisel’s seminal Anglo-Saxon Attitudes for British Vogue, in 1993 and they have worked together ever since. Last year’s Paris-Bombay show culminated with the pair walking down the runway together, Tennant in a fur-trimmed silver, boucle jacket, bedecked in jewels and wearing a bindi on her forehead.
Coco Chanel, of course, had a long-term love affair with tweed and cashmere, cultivated during her long-term love affair with the Duke of Westminster with whom she shared a Highland hideaway. Lagerfeld too loves cashmere and tartan – he famously wore a full-length kilt in 2004; and the purchase of Barrie Knitwear will have played no small part in his choosing Linlithgow. But it is likely he has also been influenced by Tennant, who has a home in Duns and is fiercely loyal to her native land.
The palace itself is, of course, steeped in history; one of the principal places of residence of the kings and queens of Scotland in the 15th and 16th century, it gradually fell into disuse after James VI and I left for England. But it had its swansong in September 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie stopped off on his march south and it is said the great fountain flowed with wine in his honour. So important is the palace to the concept of Lagerfeld’s show, he has hand-drawn a picture of it for the invitations.
To those not particularly au fait with the fashion world, Lagerfeld is probably better known for his OTT lifestyle than his designs; compared alternately to Louis XIV (for his hedonism) and Kaiser Wilhem (for his imperious manner), he has reconstructed a Parisian townhouse where the different floors are dedicated to different eras, and owns a feted cat Choupette, who has her own Twitter account. He has also attracted controversy for hiring strippers for one of his shows (causing Anna Wintour to walk out) and for defending real fur.
In 2003, the once podgy designer lost 92lbs on the “Lagerfeld diet” and has felt free to comment on the extra weight carried by others ever since. Yet unlike many designers who have passed their peak by 40, Lagerfeld’s status has soared, not diminished over the years. The subject of many underwhelming reviews in his early days, he carved an impressive reputation as head designer at Chloe. But his success went stratospheric in the 1980s when he was asked to revitalise Chanel. He added his own contemporary (and often flamboyant) touches to the company’s traditional style and transformed it into one of the most profitable luxury brands in the world.
In 2004, at a time when others might have been slowing down, he became one of the first designers to collaborate with a high street store, launching a capsule collection with H&M; fashion-lovers queued round the block to get their hands on the outfits which sold within minutes.
The key to Lagerfeld’s success has been his prodigious output and his ruthless pursuit of the new. “He consistently has his finger firmly on the pulse of what is young, hip, happening,” says Mary McGowne, founder of the Scotland’s Style Awards, who has also been invited to Tuesday’s show. “It is difficult to identify any other creative who could straddle the polar opposite worlds of Parisian couture and cutting-edge culture with such force and vision.”
Those who have been granted access to Lagerfeld’s inner sanctum describe how those around him will jump to satisfy his every command, motivated partly by respect for his talent and partly out of fear they will be cut adrift as other intimates have been before them. With his shallow observations – “If I were a woman in Russia, I would be a lesbian as the men are very ugly,” he has said – and his obsession with obscure books (his studio is lined floor to ceiling with them) he comes across as a frustrating blend of contrived superficiality and equally contrived profundity.
There is little doubt the show will reap huge benefits not only for Linlithgow, but the whole country. “The Metiers D’Art show is less about fashion than it is a show of confidence in Scotland’s world-class textile industries,” McGowne says. “From the Scottish Highlands and Islands to the Borders, countless mills, factories and artisans compete on the world stage, year in, year out. The show will shine a global spotlight on Scottish textiles. One hopes it might encourage more home-grown designers and international fashion houses to appreciate the value in using Scottish textiles in their collections. It has worked with great success for the likes of Christopher Kane and Johnstons of Elgin.”
As the preparations continue, Linlithgow is giddy with the thought of the glitz and glamour heading its way. Meanwhile, those lucky enough to have an invitation are fretting over their outfits, although Hartmann has already more or less decided to wear a black, knee-length Chanel coat with gold braiding she bought 10 years ago. “It’s a classic piece – I think it would be rude not to,” she says.
With D-Day rapidly approaching, no-one is any the wiser as to what treats Lagerfeld has in store. But as the cold crisp weather brings a fresh layer of frost to the grass around Linlithgow Palace, it looks as if it will form the perfect fairytale backdrop to one of the biggest UK fashion events the year. «