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Becoming Karl Lagerfeld review – an absolute feast for the eyes
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Becoming Karl Lagerfeld review – an absolute feast for the eyes

A common criticism of those attending the Met gala is their failure to adhere to the theme. The internet was appalled by many interpretations of 2019’s theme of “camp”, and this year Anna Wintour apologised for making it too confusing with “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”. But 2023’s Karl Lagerfeld theme was adhered to with aplomb. Lagerfeld was such a distinctive figure that from the fingerless gloves, pearls, sunglasses and black and white tailoring to his beloved Birman cat Choupette, there was ample inspiration for attendees to make themselves unmistakably Lagerfeldian. And while Daniel Brühl, the star of Disney+’s Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, bears little resemblance to the German designer, he too compellingly embodies one of fashion’s most distinctive icons.

As the title suggests, this is an origin story rather than a biopic and its six episodes span the era before he became head designer at Chanel. It starts in 1972, when Karl is a social butterfly and freelance designer in Paris, picking up work for Fendi and Chloé and navigating the “nest of vipers” that is the 1970s fashion industry. As well as having grand ambitions for himself, he has a bitter rivalry with Yves Saint Laurent (Arnaud Valois), made all the more complicated by their competing affection for the dashing young writer Jacques de Bascher (Théodore Pellerin).

Back then, Lagerfeld had not adopted the monochromatic uniform he’d become best known for. We see him wearing purple silk scarves, cream suits and even some tasteful yellows. But even at this stage, Brühl captures the unmistakable swagger of a man who, long before he became a global icon, was a legend in his own mind.

He is a master of his own image, not only surrounded by fawning women who he’s dressed to the nines, but in the love triangle between him, Yves and Jacques, Lagerfeld maintains an aloof dignity even when he’s hopelessly in love. As his mother puts it, “he’s a lion and you have no whip”. Heartbreak, we learn, is no excuse not to be chic.

It’s an undoubtedly flattering interpretation of the younger years of a controversial figure who is on the record saying some eyebrow-raising things. (The noted controversies occurred long after the show’s timeline concludes.) Here, he never crosses the line and instead makes mischievous quips that allude to his problematic tendencies, such as: “Fashion has nothing to do with women, or there wouldn’t be so many gays in the business.” The only person truly unimpressed by his antics is the actor Marlene Dietrich (Sunnyi Melles), which briefly jeopardises his career.

But much like the Met gala that was a tribute to him, it’s easy to overlook his flaws when what he produces is so, well … pretty. While not as exquisite as Disney+’s Cristóbal Balenciaga show, it is still an absolute feast for the eyes, with the 70s costumes, hairstyling and set detailing in Parisian nightclubs, rural chateaus and swanky fashion events in Rome and Monaco. As a portrait, it’s a slight one, more concerned with aesthetics and artifice than the tortured interiors of couturiers. But that ultimately works to its advantage because Brühl portrays Lagerfeld as a carefully curated construct who was all about surface. In the few moments where we see his mask slip, and his deeper anguish emerges, it is always in solitude. His greatest vice (beyond being an inadequate partner to Jacques) is carbs, in contrast to Yves’ penchant for any illicit substance or cocktail on offer. Lagerfeld is a control freak, so to paint a picture of him filled with histrionic chaos and emotional angst would be disingenuous. But the series is not jarringly over sanitised, and his penchant for cruelty and manipulation does work itself to the fore, as we see the damage he visited on those closest to him.

For those who know nothing about this world of high-fashion and designer rivalries, it’s an accessible introduction, and you don’t need to know much beyond their names to take in all the gorgeous gowns and keep up with the acerbic wit. Even if you wouldn’t want to befriend Brühl’s Lagerfeld, let alone have a love triangle with him, you do at all times long to be dressed by him and share his passion to make the world a more beautiful place. Judging by this series and all the things Lagerfeld said on record, that’s a theme he would be happy with.

Source: theguardian.com