Becoming Karl Lagerfeld: “This series would have annoyed him, obviously!”

Director Jérôme Salle tells us behind the scenes of the Disney Plus series dedicated to the German designer. Less a chronicle of his Parisian rise than a sentimental fable about his great love story with Jacques de Bascher. Or how to think about the biopic differently.

Online since Friday on Disney Plus, the series Becoming Karl Lagerfeld offers a different look at the famous German fashion designer, who died in 2019. The director Jerome Salle (who signed three episodes), tells us how this biopic which is not really one was thought of, and the challenge of such a series on fashion. Decryption.

Karl Lagerfeld died 5 years ago. Is that where the idea of ​​making the series came from?
The idea comes from reading Raphaëlle Bacqué's book. I had known this story for several years and I had thought at one point of adapting it into a film, but I didn't feel justified in making it. Because I'm not a fashion expert at all. And then I didn't really feel capable of writing this love triangle between these three men. It's such a complex story between Karl Lagerfeld, Jacques de Bascher and Yves Saint-Laurent… Not to mention the professional competition.

It’s as much a series about Jacques de Bascher as it is about Karl Lagerfeld, right?
The love story between the two of them is the emotional driving force of this entire series. Jacques took up a lot of space as the series was written and developed. We were all moved by the character and his story with Karl. And then Jacques serves as a gateway to arrive at the character of Karl, who is a complex figure to write, to play, to film. He is a character who puts considerable energy into masking his emotions and feelings. Jacques acts as a counterweight. It's the opposite. He shows everything and sometimes too much. And at the same time, it also shows Karl’s sincerity. In talking with Daniel Brühl and Théodore Pellerin, I wanted to emphasize the fact that, even if their love is toxic and imperfect, we should never doubt the sincerity of their love in front of the screen.


Is this series really a biopic after all?
It's true that I constructed the first episode as a sentimental comedy. But the other leg of the series is also to explain who Karl was, what it is to be a genius, what it is to have talent, to have to create. We also wanted to show Lagerfeld's pain in the face of the overwhelming genius of Yves Saint-Laurent. He is friends with him, but at the same time he is deeply jealous of his success. He lives with immense frustration.

How did you approach the character of Yves Saint-Laurent in the series?
I had seen two very different films, that of Jalil Lespert and Bertrand Bonello. And our vision of Saint-Laurent is closer to that of Bonello. I wanted to push for a more toxic person. Undeniably, Yves Saint-Laurent was a person in perpetual suffering and a lot of things happened to him because he was this genius. I found it interesting to have a more acidic picture of the character that we usually see. Because we must also not forget that the statue of Saint-Laurent was erected retrospectively by Pierre Bergé…

Becoming Karl Lagerfeld

How do we avoid caricature when working on a biopic like this?
This is already the talent of Isaure Pisani-Ferry, who directed the writing. She didn't want to make a biopic in the classic sense. She concentrated the story over 10 years, during the 1970s. We are not in the classic codes of the genre, with the childhood trauma, the rise then the fall etc. Sentimental comedy offers us a real story that allows us to escape from that.

What do you think makes Daniel Brühl succeed in capturing the essence of the fashion designer Lagerfeld?
I immediately thought of him at the start. It's true that there aren't many German actors who can play in French, who were the right age and could fit the role… But honestly, I didn't rack my brains: I wanted work with Daniel. He was perfect for the role and not just because he speaks French or has a vague, distant resemblance to Karl – not at all obvious either. I think playing Karl is very difficult for an actor. Because he never clearly reveals his emotions. Plus, he's a guy who also knows how to be obnoxious. And for Daniel, it was a lot of pressure to play a German icon. Daniel Brühl found the key by understanding that Karl Lagerfeld was, in reality, a matador on heels, someone who was basically macho. And sometimes, you had to look for emotion at very specific moments. And in the direction, I brought the camera very close to him, so as to put the viewer close to his face. That you can almost feel his skin.

Physically, there is an evolution of the character, with the ponytail, the glasses, the fan… And there we come back to the title of the series: he becomes Karl Lagerfeld!
Yes because Karl Lagerfeld also built his character. When we meet him at the beginning, he is not there. He also has a beard. And it's only at the end that we leave him with the ponytail. The series shows how, little by little, he became this character, which was also a way of protecting himself from the outside world.

Becoming Karl Lagerfeld

How did you manage to represent the world of French fashion in the 1970s?
First of all, it’s expensive! And then it's a huge job and a huge pressure. Because we make outfits for Yves Saint-Laurent. You have to dress Karl Lagerfeld. We need to stage a Chloé fashion show by Lagerfeld. The real big pressure comes from the episode with Marlene Dietrich, where Karl creates an unsuccessful costume for her. And for the costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne, it was quite a headache! She said to herself: Do I have to create something like Karl, and be able to see it as being in bad taste? Now, in truth, the point is that we forget about the costumes. Because what interests us in the series is not the fashion but the people. The trap would have been to focus too much on the details of the period.

Did you collaborate with Maison Chloé or Maison Chanel to redo certain pieces?
We had lots of sketches that we were able to redo in Karl's style. We actually worked with Chloé and we had access to all their archives, to Karl's work. They were a great help and we needed them the most. Because the season ends when Karl arrives at Chanel. But if there is a season 2, then we will call on them.

What image would you like people to keep of him after this series?
I wish people would turn off the TV loving it. Let them be moved. Because he was someone who was full of flaws, but I find that there is something very touching about Karl Lagerfeld and I enjoyed filming him.

What do you think Karl Lagarfeld would have thought of the series?
That would have annoyed him, obviously. But it's a little more complicated than that. All the people who knew him explained to me that he was a very respectful person. He had no contempt for people, but a real desire to control his image and his emotions. And as a result, he could not have liked a series like Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, which enters so much into his intimacy. Or maybe secretly he would have been flattered, because it's a series made with love. There's a love for this character that comes through in the show and I hope he would have felt that.


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