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Perspectives Fashion

On Karl Lagerfeld

The renowned architect reflects on the life and legacy of his friend.

Jun 29, 2023

Sketch by Tadeo Ando.

It was in the early nineties when a large, foreign package arrived at my office. Signed, with a distinct stroke, was a name: Karl Lagerfeld.

“Could it be the Karl Lagerfeld?” I pondered as I opened the envelope. Contained inside were many books and a letter written in the same distinguishable handwriting. It was indeed a request from Lagerfeld for me to design a house and a studio; his passionate words expressed his sincere appreciation for art and architecture.

Architectural drawing by Tadeo Ando

Sketch by Tadao Ando for Studio Karl Lagerfeld

Subsequently, he invited me to his place in Paris. It was a grand stone mansion unified by vintage French furniture. Upon arrival I felt an apparent dissonance between my sensibilities in concrete architecture and Lagerfeld’s taste. But I soon came to abandon my doubts as we delved deeper into conversations about our professions. “As an artist I am better at creating what is ephemeral,” he said. “Good fashion is created by constantly destroying what exists. By contrast, the architect’s job is to create eternal spaces. I myself create things that are transient. That may be why I like architecture that lasts for eternity.”

 Two sketches by the artst Tadeo Ando.

Sketches for the proposed exhibition design for Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty

Lagerfeld described his work as fleeting, yet his feats in the fashion world communicate a universal sense of beauty fundamental to humanity. His humble personality, well-informed thoughts, and inspired approach to design moved me to accept his commission.

The residence I proposed to Lagerfeld was composed of a long, flowing geometry that gently rested on the topography, becoming one with nature. I had imagined it as a frame within which the creative works of his daily life could awaken. Lagerfeld was ecstatic when he heard the idea. However, the development of the land in Biarritz, France, was not approved, and the project did not come to fruition. Nevertheless, the residence remained on our minds for some time. Even after several years, Lagerfeld noted in an interview that he was “working on a house with Ando.” I also mention the project when asked about my relationship with the fashion industry and with Lagerfeld. In fact, within my monograph Studio Karl Lagerfeld stands alongside my realized works. It will forever remain a significant project in my mind. 

Recently, I received a commission to once again design for Karl Lagerfeld. It was from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and their request was to create a space for an exhibition that gives voice to Lagerfeld’s legacy. In approaching such a daring endeavor, I found inspiration in the vast collection of drawings he left behind. The palimpsest of lines told a story of an astute observer of the present who also revered and delighted in traditions of the past. I remembered his pure and free sensibility, born out of his youthful spirit, and the calm and collected intelligence that gave life to his audacious yet sophisticated personality.

Concept 3D image rendering by the architect Tadeo Ando.

Plan of the proposed exhibition design for Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty

The design of the exhibition, embodied by the intersection of a serpentine line with a straight line, is a manifestation of Lagerfeld’s multifaceted nature. The serpentine line symbolizes his bohemian and dynamic character—his free will—while the straight line illustrates his preference for serene rationality, a trait of a serious designer. The two lines cross, overlap, and crush against each other, creating tension and expansion that amplify the experience of the space, offering a glimpse into the introspective world of Karl Lagerfeld.

I wonder what he would say if he were here today.

I wonder what he would have done with this space.

Working on this project offered me the opportunity to talk with an old friend one last time.


This essay was originally published in the exhibition catalogue Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.

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