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Karl Lagerfeld's real and imaginary life in books
Karl Lagerfeld, when not being designer royalty, reads, collects, creates and sells books. Reading is his greatest luxury and concerns about copy and book projects prevail over couture. “I am not a collector of anything,” he says, “except books. They are like another world.” It’s not just an imaginary world either. Lagerfeld is a publisher and bookshop owner and like many of his ilk, he’s contemplating the future of books and reading. “In an age of screens, books have to be better printed and better written than ever,” he says. This year’s arrival of Apple’s seductive iPad has spurned countless column inches about the fate of the printed word - and its death - as increasing numbers of publishers migrate online with content. But just as the Internet failed to destroy print and reading – as forecasters predicted it would 15 years ago - so the iPad isn’t about to banish books or newspapers. What it will do is enliven the landscape; the electronic tablet will force publishers to up their game. Lagerfeld thinks increased competition means only books of the highest quality will survive. “That is a real challenge for publishers and printers today,” he says.

Lagerfeld runs book publisher Edition 7L in Paris with Gerhard Steidl, which they jointly founded in 2000. His unlikely interest in the business stems from an auspicious encounter they shared in 1993, when Lagerfeld received the highly coveted Lucky Strike Design Award from the Raymond Loewy Foundation for his contribution to the realm of global aesthetics and design.
Karl Lagerfeld
Lagerfeld’s prize included the opportunity to have a book printed. Wherein stepped Steidl, boutique bookmeister of rising renown with an eponymous publishing house and printing works in Germany. At Steidl’s suggestion Lagerfeld’s personal album of black and white photographic stories culminated in Off the Record in 1995. The two have been close friends and collaborators ever since.

Lavish and lovingly crafted, every Steidl book since the firm’s founding in 1972, functions as a platform for some of the world’s most influential photographers, visual artists and writers. “Gerhard’s main ethical law is to produce beautiful work,” says Lagerfeld, who uses the word ‘beauty’ in connection with books at all times. “He is always striving towards the new: new writers, new photographers and new machines to produce or reproduce their work to perfection.”

It comes as little surprise that Lagerfeld understands publishing and print as well if not better than the world of fashion and fabric for which he’s famous. They act like fashion’s antedote; enduring and substantive. “The appreciation of books should be relaxed and tranquil. Concentration and isolation is what we need in an agitated world like ours and only books can help us to achieve that,” he says. They are also his imaginative leap: “an expansion of one’s real existence. We should have two lives: one in the world of books and one where we really live.”

The Steidl link allows Lagerfeld artistic license to create new worlds through photographic explorations of physical and architectural forms. Steidl has published all Lagerfeld’s photo books including Casa Malaperte, Aktstrakt, A Portrait of Dorian Gray, Metamorphoses of an American, Palazzo, Room Service, Chanel’s Russian Connection and his latest   The Beauty of Violence. Lagerfeld also illustrates many Steidl books, such as the newly released Landpartie, by aristocratic German fiction writer and dramatist Eduard von Keyserling.

Some of the artwork with which Lagerfeld adorns books for Steidl will feature in an exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris from November 9 into December:  Steidl. Quand la photo devient livre, De Robert Frank à Karl Lagerfeld. It features book projects with photographers such as Jim Dine, Robert Frank and Lagerfeld - from original concept to finished photo-book and all aspects of design and manufacture in between. “Beautiful books take time to become what they should be,” says Lagerfeld. Just don’t expect to see his or Steidl’s coming to an iPad anytime soon. - Stephen Short
Illustrations by Karl Lagerfeld