The Met’s Karl Lagerfeld Exhibition Will Focus on His Sketching Prowess

Karl Lagerfeld’s inimitable sketching — his true passion and principle language of creative expression — will be the through line for the Costume Institute’s spring 2023 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

At a press conference in Paris Friday morning, it was also revealed that Tadao Ando, one of Lagerfeld’s favorite architects, will design the exhibition, sure to be a blockbuster given Lagerfeld’s rock-star persona — and the many famous fashion brands he rejuvenated in spectacular fashion, headlined by Chanel, one of the key sponsors of the show alongside Fendi, the Karl Lagerfeld brand, and Condé Nast.

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Opening proceedings, Met trustee and Condé Nast executive Anna Wintour noted that the exhibition was conceived shortly after Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019, with Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at the Costume Institute, leading the project.

WWD first reported on Aug. 1, 2019, that the retrospective was in the works, initially scheduled for 2022. However, the coronavirus pandemic impacted the museum’s exhibition calendar.

Titled “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” the exhibition will showcase about 150 outfits, most accompanied by sketches and stretching back to the German designer’s first fashions in the 1950s, when he arrived in Paris. His designs for Balmain, Patou, Chloé, Fendi, Chanel and his eponymous label will all be represented.

A white shirt by Karl Lagerfeld, adorned with his sketches.
A white shirt by Karl Lagerfeld, adorned with his sketches.

The display will take over the museum’s Tisch Gallery from May 5 through July 16, 2023, with the Met Gala, the mega-party to celebrate its spring fashion exhibition, scheduled for May 1.

Editors in town for Paris Fashion Week and Lagerfeld’s extended family were convened to assemble at Karl Lagerfeld’s photo studio, tucked behind his bookstore at 7 Rue de Lille.

While a somewhat solemn affair, with many still grieving the loss of the fashion legend, it was bulging with star power, exemplified by the presence of Pharrell Williams, a longtime Chanel ambassador who kept his dark sunglasses on during his short speech in homage to Lagerfeld’s signature accessory.

“He was an extraordinary visionary and there is no other life’s work more deserving to be enjoyed by all than his,” Williams said, revealing that he learned about Lagerfeld in the 1990s from rapper The Notorious B.I.G. “His creativity was always led by a narrative.”

About a dozen garments were installed on the mezzanine of the studio, lined from floor to ceiling with books, from spectacular intarsia Fendi furs to his famous “showerhead” and “guitar” dresses for Chloé. A trio of frothy gowns from the spring 1995 haute couture collection demonstrated his flair for light, ethereal designs.

The designers and chief executive officers of all three sponsoring brands were present: Virginie Viard and Bruno Pavlovsky from Chanel, Silvia Venturini Fendi and Serge Brunschwig from Fendi, and Hun Kim and Pier Paolo Righi from Karl Lagerfeld. Lady Amanda Harlech, who collaborated with Lagerfeld across multiple houses and projects, was also present and will be a creative consultant for the exhibition.

“I’m not sure Karl would approve of the exhibition,” Bolton confessed at the press conference, which surprised no one given Lagerfeld’s oft-stated aversion to retrospectives and his conviction that he was a craftsman and dressmaker, not an artist.

Bolton noted that the designer refused to participate in the Met’s 2005 exhibition about Chanel, where Lagerfeld was its couturier for 36 years, insisting, “I would rather look forwards than backwards.”

Yet the curator argued that Lagerfeld’s unique and precise sketches — which he described as a “secret language” between the designer and the heads of various ateliers — reveal an impressive range of expression as his ideas were transferred from 2D to 3D.

The exhibition is to explore his love of straight lines — reflecting his modernist, classicist and minimalist side — and serpentine lines, representing his proclivities for historical, romantic and decorative fashions, too.

It is to climax with examples of Lagerfeld’s “satirical line,” focusing on visual puns that reflect the designer’s razor-sharp wit, such as the showerhead dress.

Bolton then cued up dazzling footage by Loïc Prigent showing Lagerfeld sketching a variety of looks across decades and brands, the last stroke of his pen bringing the allure and silhouette into focus.

More than a designer, Lagerfeld was a fashion mastermind, one of the most prolific, admired and multitalented fashion figures of the modern age, credited with setting the modern template for reviving and animating heritage brands.

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