German designer Karl Lagerfeld, based in Paris from the 1950s until his death Tuesday, described himself as a “European”, hailing the interwar Germany he never knew as a “spiritual homeland” that was destroyed under Nazism.
Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born in the 1933 in the northern port city Hamburg, the son of a rich industrialist in the food sector.
He lived through the Allied bombings that devastated the city towards the
end of World War II, but also learned French and English from a very young age.
“I was brought up as a European, I spoke three languages at age six:
English, French and German,” he told Gala magazine's German edition in 2014.
After seeing a Dior fashion show in a Hamburg hotel in the early 1950s,
young Lagerfeld decided to become a fashion designer and set off for Paris with his mother's words — “there's nothing to do here, Germany is a dead country” — ringing in his ears.
From then on his life would become focused on France, Italy and the United States.
“For me, Germany is a spiritual homeland where I can take the good from its intellectual life and culture but whose everyday life, its unpleasant, disagreeable and shameful things have nothing to do with me,” he told broadcaster France 3 in 2015 — his French still tinged with a German accent.
'German, but in the old style'
“I'm a typical German, but in the old style, like during the Weimar
Republic, everything which existed before 1933 (when the Nazis seized power),” he told Gala.
“You can keep everything else,” he added.
Lagerfeld later sold the family home in Hamburg, seeing it as “dragging him back to the starting line” of his life, where he could “hear the echo of his parents' voices in the garden”, he told Vanity Fair.
But his “spiritual homeland” was always within arm's reach, as he kept a
whole room in his grand Paris house filled with furniture and paintings dating back to his childhood.
Another space had walls plastered with advertising posters dating back to
before 1914 and World War 1, while Lagerfeld also collected German periodicals and furniture from the pre-1933 period.
The designer also turned his literary bent to the publishing trade in
Germany, selecting personally the works to come off his house's presses
including unpublished manuscripts by Nietzsche, a biography of Coco Chanel and poetry collections.