On Wednesday evening, BBC2 screened Michael Waldman’s observational documentary on the famous Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld.
Fashion on the screen is very hit and miss. Serious radio rarely bothers to register it, for some reason. Football and food are regularly presented for broadcast at their most ambitious optics. I always wondered why.
Chanel Lagerfeld was the highest of the Houses to negotiate. Mr. Waldman steps smoothly behind the velvet rope to deliver his mission, which is loosely framed on the mystery of what happened to Lagerfeld’s millions after the maestro’s death in 2019, with a perfectly camp attitude. He interviews friends, colleagues, relatives, a series of very hot male models with whom Lagerfeld was generous and the designer’s beloved cat caretaker, Choupette, coaxing from all of them very personal testimonies.
When he moved into his spectacular space-age apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine, Lagerfeld dedicated a cushion to his neighbor, a very chic antiques dealer. Sewn into the fabric was the legend: “I don’t gossip twice. So listen closely,” is a tart epithet that neatly sums up the film.
The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld is fashion on screen executed with respect, good humor and intelligence. It overlooks the icon of a man who presented as one thing and often revealed himself to be something else. Lagerfeld’s bill in his favorite bookshop in Paris came up to €20,000 in one splurge. But Waldman points out that many were bought as gifts. If fashion is about revealing the best version of your outer self, Lagerfeld was just as keen on leading the way in nurturing his friends’ inner lives as well.
This could come across as crass but Waldman’s great skill in editing is to accurately gauge a funny fashion shutter. He’s not pretending that Lagerfeld was a saint here. Don’t just eccentric funny. I defy anyone to watch the show and not come away a little bit in love with Lagerfeld’s conviction in his craft.
At some point in the nineties I found myself swallowed into the world of fashion magazines by accident, one of the few industries that didn’t put up with being gay but back then welcomed them, even straight. Thirty years later, some of my best professional memories are of seeing the magic of the fashion industry at play, watching sublime images being created with amazing clothes, eloquent styling, ambitious grooming, amazing haircuts and models without era. At its most visual level, fashion is a very serious work that delivers some of the funniest characters in the world.
This is, ultimately, Waldman’s great filmmaking triumph. It creates a great new emotional template for high fashion on screen. One hopes that the most powerful commissioners have noticed.
A different thought on Clapton
The Real Housewives of Clapton isn’t an oddity in terms of a very original US TV franchise, but a really funny Instagram account trying to gently erase a fashionable zip code, one lifestyle cliché at a time. RHOC saves its jokes for the consumption of biodynamic wine, Perello olives, anyone wearing Gore-Tex, eating at small plates restaurants or walking a dog are all statements.
Anyone who remembers nineties fencer The Shoreditch Twat will recognize his tonal story, even though he moved three miles east. RHOC doesn’t convey a certain preconceived notion that all Northerners in London have, that while we can laugh at ourselves, Southerners only aim to set others on fire. The self-laceration under the bile is hardly hidden. This account is 100 percent the work of someone who wears Gore-Tex, drinks BD wine and had to teach themselves, against all the laws of human nature, how not to hate olives.