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Karl Lagerfeld Exhibition Is Now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The 2023 spring exhibition "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty" at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is officially open to the public, and the Met Gala, a fashion event with the same theme, has also been held on May 1.

The exhibition commemorates the late German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (1933–2019), who led the creative work of Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, and other luxury brands, and will continue until July 16. Previously, from May 1st to May 4th, the exhibition was previewed and only open to members.

Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty

The exhibition was designed by world-renowned architect Tadao Ando, who first met Karl Lagerfeld in 1996. Andrew Bolton organizes, Mellissa Huber is an assistant curator, and Amanda Harlech is a creative consultant for the exhibition.

The exhibition focuses on Lagerfeld's design language, which recurs throughout his last collections from the 1950s to 2019. In the museum's 899 gallery, about 150 works by Lagerfeld from this time period are exhibited, most of which are accompanied by the designer's design sketches, which show his complex creative process and his cooperation with the tailor.

Karl Lagerfeld's design images

The exhibition is launched with the theme "A Line of Beauty", rather than the traditional retrospective format.

The exhibition opens with an introduction to Lagerfeld's early career, including winning the International Woolmark Prize in 1954 and his time as a design assistant at Balmain and art director at Patou, during which time he continued to perfect his unique sketching style. Design drafts are Lagerfeld's main way of expressing creativity and communication, and tailors are regarded as Lagerfeld's "architects", responsible for transforming his two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional garments.

The exhibition opened up another space to present a series of interview videos about the cooperation between the two parties, including Nicole Lefort, former textile artist at Chloé; Anita Briey, former chief tailor of the Karl Lagerfeld brand; Stefania D'Alfonso, head of the Fendi fur studio; etc.

The video was shot by French filmmaker Loïc Prigent, who followed and documented Lagerfeld's production series from 1997 to 2019, including the shows of Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, and Lagerfeld. The exhibition serves as a way to demonstrate the importance of design drafts to Lagerfeld's creative practice.

Andrew Bolton said in a statement: "The exhibition explores Lagerfeld's complex working methods and traces his fashion evolution through the transformation from two-dimensional design drafts to three-dimensional clothing pieces. He recurred in fashion, linked his designs at Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, Patou, and his namesake label Karl Lagerfeld to create a diverse and rich collection unparalleled in the history of fashion."

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld

The rest of the exhibition unfolds with "lines" as clues. The title of the exhibition "A Line of Beauty" is inspired by the 18th century artist and writer William Hogarth's book "The Analysis of Beauty", in which the author described his understanding of the beauty of lines. That is, curves represent movement and vitality, and straight lines represents stillness and rest.

This coincides with Lagerfeld's understanding of straight and curved lines, and he also draws inspiration from these two lines. In Lagerfeld's design, straight lines and curves represent opposing and complementary forces. Straight lines represent the tendencies of modernism, classicism, and minimalism in his designs, while curves represent his historicism, romanticism.

Beneath the straight lines and curves, the curator divided the design into nine sub-lines to present the duality in Lagerfeld's design: softness and masculinity; romance and cruelty; rococo style and classicism; history and the future; decorative style and structure; artistic, classic and rebellious; handmade and mechanical; floral and geometric, and figurative and abstract style. In the "explosions" section, clothing works that fuse these binary and opposing aesthetics are presented.

Chanel 2019 spring and summer haute couture collection and design draft
Chanel 2019 Spring and Summer Haute Couture Collection and Design Draft
"Explosions" Part Chanel 2014/15 Autumn Winter Haute Couture Collection and Design Draft
"Explosions" Part Chanel 2014/15 Autumn Winter Haute Couture Collection and Design Draft

These dual aesthetics reveal the complexity of Lagerfeld's designs as well as the breadth of his influences, including art, film, music, design, fashion, literature, and philosophy.

The exhibition ends with Lagerfeld's "satire", which consists of two parts: one is the use of irony, playfulness, and unconstrained embroidery, which shows Lagerfeld's sharp intelligence, and the other is Lagerfeld's famous black and white "uniform", represented by different forms. The work reveals the late designer's self-image.

"Satire" At the End of the Exhibition Karl Lagerfeld Autumn/Winter 2004/05 Collection (Left) Autumn/Winter 1985/86 Collection (Right)
"Satire" At the End of the Exhibition Karl Lagerfeld Autumn/Winter 2004/05 Collection (Left) Autumn/Winter 1985/86 Collection (Right)

In the final room is an 81-iPhone video device by filmmaker Baillee Walsh that plays Prigent’s never-before-seen images of Lagerfeld, paying homage to the designer’s key ways of creating and communicating.

The exhibition is supported by Chanel and Fendi, with additional funding from Condé Nast, the parent company of Karl Lagerfeld's eponymous label, and magazines such as Vogue and GQ.

Fendi also selected a series of Lagerfeld's design works from the brand collection, including several original sketches, and placed them in the window display of Fendi's 57th Street boutique in New York, paying tribute to Lagerfeld's design views and his unique working methods.

Lagerfeld Designs Displayed in the Window of Fendi's 57th Street Boutique in New York
Lagerfeld Designs Displayed in the Window of Fendi's 57th Street Boutique in New York

Max Hollein, Director of the Museum Marina Kellen French, said: "Karl Lagerfeld, known for his outstanding design, boundless creativity, and legendary personality, is one of the most fascinating, prolific, and recognizable forces in fashion and culture. This time the immersive exhibition dismantles his artistic practice, inviting the public to experience the most important aspects of Lagerfeld's boundless imagination and passion for creativity."

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