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In the (Fashionable) Frame

Last month, Shanghai welcomed two exhibitions connected to fashion powerhouse Chanel. A long-time favourite with the city’s luxe-lovers, the French label was at the centre of an exhibition at MoCA chronicling the life of its creator, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, and then a week later 18Gallery launched a photographic exhibition detailing the work of Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s current head designer and creative director. TALK caught up with “Kaiser Karl” in the lead-up to the opening to find out what he loves about photography and what makes great art.

At the opening day of the Culture Chanel exhibition at MoCA, streams of young Chinese people flooded into the building, noses pressing against the glass casings containing clothes, jewellery, letters, pictures and more. Each display designed to demonstrate how Coco Chanel’s life inspired her art, and how her art is continuing to inspire fashionistas around the world.

Included in the exhibit were many works designed by Lagerfeld, who has been the creative powerhouse behind the label since 1983. With him leading the charge, Chanel has made great inroads into the Chinese market and psyche over the past decade and the immense interest generated by these two events, which melds the worlds of art and fashion, shows just how powerfully the brand’s mystique resonates with the local market.

Both Coco Chanel and Lagerfeld have been hailed as creative geniuses and the impact the latter has had on the worlds of art and fashion over the last four decades is difficult to overstate. The indefatigable fashion impresario has a gargantuan workload, designing for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous Karl Lagerfeld line. Contemporaries and critics alike have marvelled for years over Lagerfeld’s ability to continuously tap into the international zeitgeist with a success unparalleled in the fickle world of fashion – an ability which also translates to his photography.

This sideline started almost by accident, when Lagerfeld began shooting Chanel’s ad campaigns in 1987. “At the beginning we just needed documents and photographs for the Chanel press releases and the photographers who were shooting them were either newbies or has beens,” he says. “After three shootings my assistant said that if I was not satisfied and so picky about the photos I could do them myself. So we rented a camera and some lights and it just started.”

In both fashion and photography, Lagerfeld says he finds inspiration everywhere and draws on everything he has seen, read and learned over his lifetime as part of the creative process. “I have an incredible visual memory,” he adds.


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