The following is an imagined conversation between myself and the fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. From this point forward he shall be referred to as “Pretend Karl.” The real Karl Lagerfeld had nothing to do with this, and this interview is complete nonsense based entirely upon my outdated and uninformed perceptions of the man.
PK: Hi Linda Lay.
LL: Hi Pretend Karl. This is so exciting for me. I've admired your work for a long time.
PK: Really? How long?
LL: Well ever since 1990, after George Michael released his song, Freedom 90 and the video that featured all those famous supermodels. That led me to reading fashion magazines and watching Style With Elsa Klensch on TV every Saturday morning.
PK: You discovered my fashion from magazines and that television program?
LL: Yes, and George Michael. You know how back then the magazines featured these wonderful spreads of each collection?
PK: Of course I do, I’ve been a fashion designer for longer than you’ve been alive.
LL: Exactly. I used to love the August issues that featured the fall collections. The clothes back then were so brightly colored and glamourous. I guess they say that’s what happens when the economy is bad; fashion gets glamorous because we want to pretend we are doing better. In any case the models were such stars back then and they walked with such confidence, which was something I needed in my life. They really were role-models for me. Not when they spoke though, just the way they carried themselves. I hated when they spoke because their ideas and voices didn't match the image I saw (or perceived) on the runways and fashion-spreads. I remember you being quoted as saying those women were like silent film stars and I think that was true.
PK: Yes, I said that, but what does that have to do with my fashion?
LL: Well the way you handled Chanel, at the time, really impressed me. I did a research project on Coco Chanel in high school, before watching Style or that George Michael video, so I was familiar with her fashion and aesthetic. The way you took something so distinct from our culture and honored it by staying true to her legacy while making the line your own was incredible to me. I am still very impressed.
Also you had a lot of gold chain stuff at the time and I loved it. Combining the traditional Chanel purse strap with these chains- like, “glamorous biker.” It was so chic.
PK: You yearned for glamour?
LL: Well I yearned for more than what was offered me by my family and our financial position, but what I found in you was an artist I admired. You were/are prolific and super-solid in your presentation. You made me understand how fashion could be perceived as fine art and I valued that, because we need clothes and when you’re poor spending more on clothes sometimes makes sense. A painting doesn’t. You were being useful and I guess that suited my world more than fine art did, which is a shame.
So yeah, I yearned for art and although my dad drew a lot and my mom sewed and made collages they never took me to museums or galleries so I learned about art, fashion and culture through TV and magazines. Sometimes through movies like Slaves of New York.
PK: Thank you for noticing that I am prolific. Did you want to be fashion designer?
LL: Kind of, I mean it seemed like an option once I discovered fashion, but I went to beauty school.
PK: So you wanted to be a hairdresser?
LL: No, what I wanted was to be a fine artist and I was told that I couldn't become one because it wasn't practical or realistic, but all my roads seemed to point toward being a full-time artist, all roads aside from the one based in reality.
PK: That is funny, “become one,” it’s really not a choice, is it? Did you work as a hairdresser?
LL: Your right, it’s not and no, I dropped out of beauty school. I wasn't very good at being a part of that particular service industry.
PK: So I inspired you as one artist to another.
PK: Did you design clothes?
LL: Well, I sewed. I was taught how to mend at an early age. My mother shopped at garage sales and thrift stores. She used to sew a lot of my clothes from scratch and she'd make adjustments to patterns and change pieces. I was inspired by that. She had a good, instinctive sense of style. Now I design and sew clothes. Mostly I make new things out of old things. I even sell them sometimes.
PK: You learned to be resourceful.
LL: Yes, sort of. I am a maker, a crafter, so that side of me responded to the sewing. When it came to clothes and fashion, I spent many years wanting the terrible clothes that was fashionable by the kids in my home town. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be happy. People with a lot of clothes seemed happier than I was.
Someone came into my life that acted as a second mother and mentor when I was seventeen and she was/is a business woman who made her own success. She wasn’t born rich. She exposed me to fashion as something avant-garde and something I could possess with or without a big budget. Meeting her was a huge “game changer,” as they say.
PK: So there was more than George Michael, magazines and fashion programs on TV.
LL: Yes. Also, it's Important to mention the affect MTV had. Andy Warhol had a show about his fifteen minutes thing. I think it was called, Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes. Also I loved Debbie Harry (who was on at least one episode) ever since I was seven. She was my first role model.
PK: She was very fashionable and was able to make unique looks on a budget.
LL: Yes, but I didn't know that then, at least not on an intellectual level. She impressed me with her confidence as well as her style.
PK: Like the models
LL: Yes, but with a bit more substance. No offense to models but you know, she made music and talked about art. It was good when she talked. She developed her identity and it felt like she truly owned all of it. I guess it was the punk/DIY part of her, or maybe I simply perceived her as being that way because I was a kid.
PK: Do you wish you were a pop star?
LL: That’s a great question. Kind of. I was always drawn to pop music but never instinctively drawn to the art of making music. I’ve always understood that pop stars had an entryway to a creative life and I've always been creative.
PK: I am also a fan of pop music.
LL: Right, I mean, it’s all around us and the pop stars are more than the songs they sing, whether that is good or bad… maybe it's because I grew up in the age of Warhol and advertising and because art was only something I was exposed to via marketing, but I understood how that world held power and I knew I needed to find my own.
PK: Did you find your power?
LL: Depends on how you define power.
PK: How do you define power?
LL: I hold onto a few different definitions, depending on who I'm dealing with and what I need. The older I get the more I am sure that I can't truly answer that question. I have some power. My favorite kind of power is the kind I have when I’m feeling a sense of harmony with nature. I also really like the feeling of power I have when I am presenting something I’ve written publicly; when I see people laughing or interested in what I’m saying or when I can create a sense of joy and enthusiasm to a group of people on a dance floor. When I can make people lose their inhibitions and have fun- that feels like a good power and I know how to access it. Money is also power but it’s a social construct and so I don’t trust my feelings of satisfaction when I feel power from having it. I like money a lot because it can give me a type of freedom, but there have been times when I've had enough to make me relatively comfortable and it didn't give me a feeling of existential completeness or connectivity/harmony. I felt fearful, actually, in regard to managing it. That being said, money no longer scares me because I'm better at handling the way it comes and goes. I certainly feel powerless in this world when I’m out of money though, so it’s weird. It’s totally weird.
PK: Interesting. I have a lot of money.
LL: Yes, you do. And I think it is very interesting, even though I also think it's greedy and bad; the way you can charge thousands of dollars for costume jewelry and people buy it because it’s made in limited quantities and it has your name on it. I am interested in that kind of power though, I won’t lie. That is the same kind of power fine artists whose work is collectible have. That's how I feel when I sell my art, but on a smaller scale. I feel like it’s a kind of alchemy, to turn something regular into something “valuable.” My feelings are complicated, but I admire your ability to do that. I honestly do.
PK: It helps to have a big ego and to truly feel entitled to a ridiculous outlook on life and superficial things. To live life in a semi-sociopathic way.
LL: Yeah, I guess it’s important to “sell it,” right? Hmm... You have to believe it so everyone else does. I think I’m pretty ridiculous but I don’t want to be a sociopath. I really don’t.
PK: Okay, well I said “semi,” anyway I have to go now, I have an appointment to get my hair powdered and then I'm heading to the hand-held fan factory while drinking a lot of Diet Coke.
LL: Okay, have nice day and maybe stop using fur for fashion because skinning animals alive is really super terrible.
PK: Okay bye!
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.