E ine first address: 144 avenue des Champs Elysees, in the center of Paris. Karl Lagerfeld, a German fashion designer who is fortunate in the haute couture metropolis, is a long time coming before he makes the already difficult meeting. “I drew, time flies by,” he casually apologizes for his almost two-hour delay. You have to look after him, creativity cannot be measured with the clock. Then he gets going while servant ghosts serve iced tea and Perrier. In his flirtatious staccato sentences (“I know all the members of the Bugatti Club in Monte Carlo”), he fans out his views on the subject of the automobile. For him it is 'a fashionably amusing adventure'.What relationship does a person as fixated on aesthetics as you have with the car?
Karl Lagerfeld: Well, it's a commodity. And if you have a car that is also pretty, then you will soon have problems with it.Of which type?
Lagerfeld: If you don't live in Monte Carlo, the doors will be scratched. Do you drive a nice car here in Paris without a chauffeur who takes care of it all the time.Do you have such a nice car where people have done this before?
Lagerfeld: That's why I only drive an anonymous car here in Paris. But of course I have several cars.Which ones?
Lagerfeld: I mostly have German cars. I say that with no ulterior motive, but it's true. In the country I have a Mercedes G model and a T model. The reason is simple. You can't have anything else in Brittany. Or you have French cars, but they start to rattle after three days; French cars are terrible in this regard - after a year everything is noise. Or you drive a Mercedes because otherwise there is no proper workshop. In Paris I have two BMWs, a small 3 Series and a 745i. I have the other cars in Monte Carlo: a Mitsubishi Pajero, which is good for the luggage, and a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo.Are your cars standard?
Lagerfeld: No, the Mitsubishi, for example, is totally noir. Everything is noir there. Even the discs are noir. There's not a piece of chrome on the Bentley either. Even the grille is in the body color - chrome is totally old-fashioned; I hate chrome on the car. 15, 20 years ago it was great, chic, now it's over.Are automobiles also a fashion challenge for you?
Lagerfeld: Yes of course. They change as do the clothes. All cars that have chrome look totally out of date to me. You don't feel like doing it anymore. Princess Caroline's husband, for example, has a Mercedes, I don't know the type, it looks like a big Porsche, it's all black, it's very beautiful.Is a car just a question of its external appearance for you?
Lagerfeld: No. A dress is not just an outward appearance either. It has to look good, it has to fit, you have to feel comfortable in it. First comes the clothes, then the apartment, then the car. It's all something the body has to fit in. There is of course a development - what you don't find beautiful today, you used to find beautiful and vice versa. Only what is very old will be beautiful again tomorrow. For example, I think old Duesenberg cars are beautiful, but there is nothing beautiful about what was there ten or 15 years ago. It's all very mediocre. I remember one of my first cars, a Mercedes 190 SL, the Nitribitt car, which I thought was great back then, later I found it horrific, today it is almost pretty again. It had a wit and somehow that naive economic miracle charm.Keyword Mercedes 190. Your colleague Pierre Balmain says, a few houses from here in the Daimler-Benz branch, a Balmain 190 lined with expensive leather. When will there be a Lagerfeld car?
Lagerfeld: That doesn't depend on me, but on the people who haven't asked me before. But isn't that very high-handed? Courrèges and Cartier do something like that too, but they aren'tother cars. Everything remains technically. That is limited to two patches of color and a little different material. I'm not a body draftsman. They don't exist today like they used to. For example, people like Labourdette (Jean Henri-Labourdette was a well-known French coachbuilder, editor's note), who as a designer made entire cars on chassis.Would you like it to take on such a task?
Lagerfeld: I don't know if I'm capable of doing this at all.Don't you sometimes tingle your fingers changing something on a car?
Lagerfeld: Absolutely. There are such terrible cars. Especially horrible inside, with hideous plastic materials and stuffy plush. But there is little that can be changed. Because today, on the other hand, things like that are very perfect. An amateur can't do much with his advice.But the amateur could make cars more chic.
Lagerfeld: Oh, there are a lot of chic cars. The Mercedes of Caroline's husband, Stefano Casiraghi, for example, is perfect, you don't have to change anything.Because it's black?
Lagerfeld: No, but look at the Mercedes 15 years ago: They were terribly narrow-minded, right for the butcher who had gotten rich. Well, these cars were made for people like that. Even today there are cars that are tasteless. The new Rolls-Royce, for example. They have such a heavy rump and in the front this little doll on the cooler, it doesn't fit at all. The Bentley is something different, it doesn't have that narrow, pointed radiator and the lady on it.Do you feel well dressed with the Bentley?
Lagerfeld: You can't say that - I mostly use the Mitsubishi.Just for practical reasons?
Lagerfeld: No, there are so many people in Monte Carlo in the summer who want to cut open with their Rolls-Royce or Bentley that I prefer to leave mine in the garage. I take it to travel with it.
Lagerfeld: I don't drive myself, I'm too distracted. I want to see what happens here, what happens there. I'm too curious and have my eyes all over the place. But when driving a car you have to look carefully in front of you. And that doesn't interest me at all. Driving today is almost a profession in itself. I also don't feel like parking, or getting into my hair with policewomen ...... in Paris there are such nice policewomen you can talk to get in your hair now and then.
Lagerfeld: Nice policewomen? These are the special ones in August - for the tourists. What else is going around here are really tough, bitter numbers.Let's go through today's cars. How do you like the Mercedes 190?
Lagerfeld: I think that's okay. But it is inspired by many other cars. Mercedes always has something familiar to me. When I was a child, my parents only ever drove Mercedes and my mother even knew the Jellinek family, after whose daughter Mercedes the cars are named.And BMW - You have two yourself?
Lagerfeld: I have a lot of trouble with that, more than it should be with a BMW. And since all my cars are driven by the same chauffeurs, it must be because of the car. Especially the big one, the 745i, breaks down all the time. I'm considering parting with the BMW.Do you resent a car when it breaks down?
Lagerfeld: Well, Jaguar, for example, has such nice cars, but you still have to have an extra car because the Jaguar is in the workshop every three days.What kind of cars do you like, what do you choose your car for?
Lagerfeld: I like big, tall cars that have space to sit up high. That's why I like buses so much ...... do you sometimes take the bus?
Lagerfeld: No, never. But I think it's great. We occasionally rent a mini bus for taking photos - great. That's very amusing.Did you have a penchant for cars as a teenager?
Lagerfeld: When I was young It was of course great to have an open VW, then a 190 SL, then a Jaguar. It's good to have it when you're young. Then you can say to yourself, well, I had that, I know what it means, now I can think of something else. These are toys for young people. Unless you're a car fanatic. Wild for speed and such. But where else can you do that? It is nonsense to drive a Ferrari at a 20-kilometer pace along the waterfrontdrive.Has speed never fascinated you?
Lagerfeld: I hate speed. I'm more of a connoisseur, I want to see something. For speed you have the plane.Where do you see the value of a car?
Lagerfeld: I'm laying great emphasis on the interior of a car. It's like a little room. The seats have to be comfortable, the cars have to be nice, the air conditioning has to work well, the stereo system has to be good. It has to be comfortable. And there has to be a phone in it. In traffic jams, making phone calls is the only thing that can still be done sensibly.What does your favorite interior look like?
Lagerfeld: That depends. The Mercedes G, for example, is nowhere near as beautiful as the Range Rover I used to have. My manager really hates the car. He says he's a tractor that you can't use to show yourself around town. But I'll never buy a Range Rover again. Some of the people I know broke the steering of their Rover - they are all dead, of course. My manager loves the Break (the Mercedes T-Model). Despite the horrible plush inside.How do you rate classic cars like the VW Beetle or the 2 CV today?
Lagerfeld: They have become symbols, they are no longer cars. They stand for time, countries, people, esprit, an epoch symbol like the Coca-Cola bottle. They are good. But there are also gruesome symbols. The Citroën DS, for example. It's like a Jacques Tati movie. It makes you sick when you start driving, and formally I didn't like him either.What symbolic character do you attribute to Porsche products?
Lagerfeld: Strangely, I don't like the current Porsches, the 924 and 944, the ones with the tray on the back. I think the old ones are pretty good. But I've never felt the Porsche mythology.Do you like the current car offer?
Lagerfeld: It's way too boring on average. The French car market is a stew for me. Toon the R 5, which used to be really great, but has not evolved at all. It inspired so many people that it is anonymous today.And the German market; what about the golf?
Lagerfeld: The golf is very successful. It's almost a symbol.Are there cars that you can imagine you could dream of?
Lagerfeld : If I dream of a car, then I would have it.Which car color do you prefer?
Lagerfeld: That depends on where you use the car. In the sun of southern France, white cars are very chic, here they are horrible. Colorful cars are pretty in California. Here in town, the silver-gray metallic colors are best, the cars are almost invisible. That is practical. I love navy blue, although that is very mundane. It is also impractical because you can see every speck of dust that way. And black is also very funny - especially in the sun. There was once before the war the couturier Jean Patou, who had a white car with a black chauffeur in southern France and a black car with a white chauffeur in northern France. That had style - today it would be racism.What is car style for you today?
Lagerfeld: Original cars. There are imitation sports cars. I find it depressing. Mainly because you can't fool anyone with it. Not even yourself. They are absurd and ridiculous.Can you imagine a world without cars?
Lagerfeld: Can you do that? That’s happened once, but it should have stunk a lot more with the horse traffic. Worse than gasoline. And then the waste. Imagine a big city without cars! Of course, today's big city traffic is also ugly. The wagons are too big for the city. Think of the Mini, it would be great for the city if the other cars weren't that big. You always feel like you're in the other's exhaust. This is dangerous. Of course, some only have one car, and it has to be practical. There are also well-drawn cars. The golf, for example. But the others? Do the interiors of such cars have to be as tasteless as the wallpaper that such people stick on their walls?Do they have to?
Lagerfeld: Probably. People often have no discipline and no eye to see that they can often have tasteful things for little money. Not just the crap from department stores. They buy fake Louis XV furniture instead of real modern ones. It's not just a question of price. This new, sliced Porsche Speedster - it has a joke, twenty-year-olds can dream of it. The Opel Kadett and the Saab 9000 all have the same thingLine; how boring. And such a Lorinser Mercedes is simply terrible. It's stuffy, people want to show that they have achieved something. These are rolling living room sets.What do you think of the Audi 100?
Lagerfeld: What can I say about that - he is like the others; Coffee machines look like this too. Or BMW: I have the feeling that they are doing so well that they no longer do anything about design. It's starting to get out of fashion.Maybe it'll be chic again ...
Lagerfeld: But there are still several years of purgatory in between. I am considering selling my BMW and switching to Mercedes. The Mercedes people have modernized themselves a lot and overcome the stuffy economic miracle complacency.How do you find a car like the Ford Sierra?
Lagerfeld: I can't find it, I'll never find it again.What do you think of a prototype such as the Maya ( two-seater Targa study Ford Maya from 1984, editor's note) by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the creator of the golf?
Lagerfeld: Well, maybe he should try something else. But that's probably not that easy.