March 25, 2014
Under Armour in The New Yorker

The March 24th issue of The New Yorker magazine includes an insightful profile of Under Armour, where Martens & Heads placed Leanne Fremar as Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director for Women’s in 2012 (read more).

Leanne is mentioned on page 53 of the article:

"The company also opened a New York office and showroom, in Chel­sea’s Starrett-Lehigh Building, where it installed Leanne Fremar, recently hired away from Theory, as the creative director of women’s products. The culture there is much less macho than the one in Baltimore, which is shaped by Plank’s belief in hard work and hard play. In Plank’s office, there is a huge television flanked by bottles of Dom Perignon; Fremar’s is decorated with art books and vases. The idea of the Chelsea office is to prove that the com­pany belongs in the fashion world, and that it has learned from its bad old days. "The company was started by a bunch of aggressive, Type A males who played football and lacrosse," one former executive says. "We didn’t really have a woman’s voice."

Read the full article at The New Yorker.

March 10, 2014
Kate Benson speaks at SHE-E-O

On March 6, our very own Kate Benson, President at Martens & Heads, spoke at New York Institute of Technology’s “SHE-E-O: A Woman’s Guide To Life After College” event. She was part of a panel discussing networking, self-marketing, and negotiating in the post-collegiate marketplace.

Visit the event’s Facebook page by clicking here.

January 10, 2014
Our tenth anniversary.


2014 marks the Tenth Anniversary of the founding of Martens & Heads.  We hope to celebrate with the many clients and friends we have made in the last decade of Search With Imagination…

December 18, 2013

November 11, 2013
Maxine Martens Honored by World of Children

Our CEO, Maxine Martens, was honored by the World of Children last Thursday night.  As a member of the charity’s Board of Governors since 2008, Maxine has worked closely with World of Children in its mission to fund and recognize life-changing work on behalf of children around the globe.  Below, Maxine speaks to the assembled audience at the Gala Awards program, following her introduction by Joshua Schulman, President of Bergdorf Goodman.


On Sunday, November 10, the New York Times’ Style Section featured pictures of the event:


We are very proud of Martens & Heads’ continued affiliation with such an important and inspiring organization.  If you would like to learn more about World of Children, please visit their website:

World of Children

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners of the World of Children Award!

October 16, 2013
Martens & Heads Cocktail Party in Milan

On the 15th of October, Martens & Heads held a cocktail networking event in Milan. It was a night filled with delicious Italian food and bubbly drinks. Top executives, including CEO’s, Creative Directors, and Heads of HR gathered in a traditional, quaint Italian Restaurant in the heart of Milan and mingled into the night. The night was filled with laughter, fun, and networking as old friends reconnected and new friendships were formed.




May 10, 2013
AMEX Publishing’s Luxury Conference Recap

Luxury: The Remix 2013 was the theme of this year’s American Express Publishing’s Luxury Conference held April 21 – 32 in Dana Point CA.  Held at the beautiful St Regis in Monarch Beach, Maxine and I were living the good life in CA sunshine for a few days. 

 Interesting and timely topics including change, fast moving wealth, technology and innovation were all discussed in great detail by iconic industry leaders such as Sir Richard Branson, Robert Chavez, Domenico De Sole and Jane Lauder. 

 What we love about the AMEX conference is the diversified field of attendees – we get to mingle and network with people from hospitality, retail, automotive, beverage and media – all focused on selling to and servicing the luxury consumer.

 Aside from the networking we also get to learn a lot.  As a fellow attendee commented to me “I always leave her smarter – the content is amazing”. 

 We found out that the cycle of wealth has never been so fast – 1/3 of all millionaires today weren’t millionaires’ 3 years ago.  And they are traveling.  For example we learned from Robert Frank about a Lamborghini dealership in Miami who sells a car every few days – but has not sold one to an American in 2 years.  These people are dubbed the TLC – Traveling Luxury Consumer – and if you are a brand, and are not getting their attention – you are in trouble. 

 Frits van Paasschen advised the audience to “Focus on Trend lines – not Headlines” which is something Bill Clinton told his management team at Starwood when he spoke to them last year.

 From a retail perspective the Design District in Miami seems to be the hottest real estate in the country – with residential development starting to be focused on. 

 Some things haven’t changed … we’ve heard for a few years now that consumers are spending on things that mean something to them.  Experiences – travel and second homes sales are increasing.  Investments are also doing well – jewelry as a category is on an upswing.  Heritage – collecting items is no longer what matters to most people.  General consensus is that if you are going to spend the money there needs to be a certain reason – craftsmanship and service leading the way. 

 Dominico De Sole said “Quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten”.  No matter how wealthy people are looking for a sense of value and the key to a successful brand is the ability to tell a story.  Stores should be a temple to a brand – which is how they have built the Tom Ford business – limited, steady growth.  

February 28, 2013
2013 WWD CEO SUMMIT- Lazaro Hernandez & Jack McCollough from Proenza Schouler

WWD: You’ve been in business now 10 years, after a meteoric rise. What’s been the single biggest surprise for you along the way?

Lazaro Hernandez: I guess the biggest surprise was maybe the success of the leather goods. That took us by surprise. For the first maybe five years, we were focused exclusively on defining the ready-to-wear, and then we had an idea for a bag. We were like, “A lot of these designer companies have a really successful bag business; let’s attempt that. Let’s try to take this to another level.” We wanted to introduce a very specific bag. Just one idea, and that really hit.

WWD: Talk a little about the PS1. It’s very interesting to me that when you were starting out, it was at the height of an “It” bag moment. 

Jack McCollough: We didn’t want to put a bag out there until we had something to say with bags. As you said, it was at a time when it was very much about an “It” bag, and aesthetically those bags were very much covered in hardware and buckles and logos, and we kind of wanted to do something that was the antithesis of an “It” bag in a way. Something more stripped down and incognito, easy wearing. Something that could stand the test of time and not just be of the moment. And we chose not to show that bag [on the runway]. We wanted to keep it not of a season. When you show a bag it kind of becomes old news the next season, and we wanted to do this classic item.

WWD: Do you think there’s a cool classicism to it? That’s what made it click?

L.H.: We had just come off that Target thing and that did really well. I remember the Target people saying it was one of the most successful collaborations for them. They were really psyched about it, and that showed us, all the press that we had gotten, that people were really interested in the product. So if we offered something that was more accessible, such as an accessory — one size fits all — hopefully that would stick, and that was directly after the Target thing when we started to develop the bag.

WWD: When you came out of school, you came out to tremendous acclaim. Barneys bought your senior projects. Many of us mark your ascent as the beginning of this next generation. Why you? Was it a combination of timing and talent? Why do you think the moment was right?

J.M.: I think it was very much a mixture of timing and talent. It was at a time when all the different generations of fashion were shifting. The Calvin Kleins and the Donna Karans went from designers to these megaestablished brands. Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs became the establishment and it opened up a gap. People were just ready for some new blood in the game. 

L.H.: You were the first person to come to us in our apartment. We were still in school. We had wire hangers. No wire hangers! So it’s a question for you, I guess. You were seeking out new talent.

WWD: Talk about your creative partnership. I’m always fascinated by designer partners. I think, Lazaro, you once said, “If one of us wants black and one wants white, we do gray.” How does that work?

L.H.: It’s such an abstract process. No one designer works in a vacuum. Every designer has a team of people they have a dialogue with through the season. We’re no different, we’re just sort of a public duo. Our collections aren’t about equestrian one season and hippie the next season. It’s not so basic. It’s a six-month process. We try to engage in the world as much as possible and absorb as much information individually. Throughout the season, we bring different ideas to the table that end up merging and becoming one thing. If I was doing it alone, it wouldn’t look like Proenza Schouler. If Jack was doing it alone, it wouldn’t look like Proenza Schouler. What makes it look like Proenza Schouler is the combination of our two ideas.

J.M.: I think the seasons where we’re arguing the most or a little off tend to be the most successful collections. It’s more layered. It’s not so one-dimensional. It’s about the mixture of many different elements that create something that hopefully no one’s ever seen before.

L.H.: We work so much together and we’re always traveling. We’ll be like, “Remember that car we saw in Nepal last year? That pink color? Yeah, that’s the color.”

WWD: You are the creative partners. You’re the front people, but there’s another partner. Talk about Shirley Cook’s role and this idea of younger designers finding the right business partner to work with.

J.M.: Shirley has been with us since the very beginning. We met Shirley through Kate Fleming, who we went to Parsons with. She was roommates with Shirley, who was going to NYU. She was a religion major. She graduated a year before us and was doing p.r. at Helmut Lang. After we graduated and Barneys bought our senior collection, we had to kind of scramble and get this thing rolling. I think our strengths are our design and, especially back then, in the beginning we had weaknesses. Shirley was a good friend and would come over after work at Helmut and help us organize receipts, or Barneys gives you this big book of all these things you have to follow in order to ship, and we were like, “What the hell is this?” Shirley helped us figure it out, and eventually she left Helmut and joined forces with us. She’s our ceo and our right hand. It’s so important for a designer to have someone like that on your side.

WWD: The escalation of your business has been incredible over the past few years. Let’s talk about the growth of the business. I know Shirley brought on your first backer and now Andrew [Rosen] came on in 2011. Talk about your various backing situations and why you feel Andrew Rosen and John Howard are the right fit. 

J.M.: In the beginning Shirley brought on this guy Markus Höfels. He came in on a personal level, and we have a lot of respect for him. We were right out of school and had nothing to show.

L.H.: He was a true angel investor.

J.H.: He helped jump-start the business and get an influx of cash, and then we got to the point where we wanted to take this to the next level, and he just didn’t have the means. We started talks with Valentino, which was really instrumental in growing our manufacturing capabilities in Italy, specifically.

WWD: When you started it was Valentino and then it was sold to Permira.

J.M.: Yeah, it was a great relationship, but we got to the point a year or two ago where we were ready for investors who were here and who we could have the day-to-day with. With Permira being over in Italy, there was a bit too much separation. We were also interested in people who were on a completely other side of the business.

L.H.: Permira is a huge private-equity firm. When we signed on with Valentino, it was different ownership, and soon it was sold to this big private-equity firm. We were this fledgling fashion brand, they were like, “Who the hell are you guys? You’re in America.” There wasn’t this intimacy. Like Jack said, they helped us incredibly with Italian luxury manufacturing, which we had a hard time with. We were producing everything in New York at the time. Now 50 percent of our ready-to-wear is produced in Italy and 100 percent of our leather goods. That stemmed from that relationship.

WWD: Andrew Rosen has been in the business so long and knows it so well.

L.H.: That’s when we started talking to Andrew and John Howard. Both have been so supportive and understand what we’re trying to do. We see Andrew all the time. He comes to see us, and we talk to him about what’s working. Now we have a board, which is the weirdest thing for us. We have a boardroom. We’re lucky to have Rose Marie Bravo. For those who don’t know, she was the ceo of Burberry for many years, and now she’s the head of our board. 

J.M.: She turned Burberry from an umbrella and trenchcoat business to what it is today.

WWD: Let’s go back to fashion. We all know New York Fashion Week is extremely long and has its peaks and valleys. Your show has become one of the absolute editorial highlights, and you have increasingly pushed the editorial quotient, the fashion quotient. You’ve put to me in the context that now you have pre-collections that allow you to push the runway. Talk about that.

J.M.: Before we didn’t have these pre-collections, and we didn’t have a commercial collection. We didn’t have the funds to develop these huge collections, so what we showed on the runway was what you were able to buy. We had to stay commercial in a way on a show level. We couldn’t push it too far so it could be salable. But it was pushed a little too far so it wasn’t all entirely commercial. Now as we develop the business, now that we have more funding, we can be more editorial, create the mood and have commercial collections to fuel the business.

WWD: Psychologically for you as designers, what does it mean for you to have that separation, to have that outlet to do what you do on the runway?

L.H.: It’s why we started to do what we’re doing. We went to art school, we were art kids. Fashion was a creative outlet, and we approached it as such in the beginning. It was only a couple of years into it we were like, “Oh, this is a business, too.” That became very important to us, and the whole pre-collection thing — every designer hates pre-collections. First of all, there’s no time. But at the end of the day, it’s a blessing in a way. Pre-collections have become a commercial endeavor. It’s based on sales. We work closely with merchandising. The shows allow us to dream and let us do what we do we do best. For us fashion is not just a business. It’s a dream. It’s a fantasy. It’s creativity.

WWD: It seems to me that all the brand building, and that idea doesn’t get in the forefront enough or get talked about enough. Ultimately, nobody needs any of it, so you have to sell that idea, that it is a dream. 

L.H.: People have a lot of what they need already. We’re in the business of inspiring people. Someone coming into our store, yeah, they have a million jackets, but this jacket speaks to them. It takes them to a place where they can dream. It’s an emotional thing.

WWD: A great deal of the fashion for you is on the surface. You have become virtually obsessed with fabric, and I know you develop all of your runway fabric in-house.

J.M.: In the last couple years we’ve been obsessed with new fabrics, new textiles, things that don’t already exist, that are created from scratch. Especially in a day where things are getting knocked off left and right, it’s interesting to us that you can’t just buy it off a header. We have a couple of mills in the Como area of Italy, and we work with them on fabrics. We’ll say, “We like these yarns, but let’s put leather through it and photo-print it.” We’re obsessed with 2-D texture and innovation. It’s how we move these collections forward.

L.H.: At the end of the day, the human body has two arms, two legs and a torso. A lot of the shapes that can be worn have already been created. It’s not about three sleeves or three pant legs or anything like that. For us, it’s about the surface. That’s what the future of fashion is. It’s technology. How do we use technology to create new fashion? We found all these mills are upping their technological possibilities tenfold every year. We can create novel texture to create basically simple clothes out of.

J.M.: At the same time, we’re really interested in craft and old techniques. Like, last season we got this plasticized leather and sent it over to Madagascar and it was hand-crocheted together. 

WWD: There are so many iterations of technology, so many areas of marketing. For your last collection, you referenced the randomness of the Internet. Talk about that.

L.H.: I don’t know. We were just getting really into Twitter and Facebook. We got a stat yesterday that we’re the number-nine fashion company in the world with Twitter followers, out of all the Burberrys and Versaces out there. We’re the only sort of not-big-advertiser.

WWD: Do you do Twitter yourselves?

J.M.: We have someone on staff. We’re too busy.

L.H.: I think you have to be in your 20s. We hired someone who’s, like, 20 years old to do it. She’s very savvy.

10:03am  |   URL:
Filed under: WWD ceo summit 
February 26, 2013
2013 WWD CEO Summit- Christopher J. Burch

For a self-described anxiety-ridden, bed-wetting total disaster of a child, J. Christopher Burch has done pretty well. 

The self-deprecating entrepreneur and investor said, “The only skills I really have are creativity and intuition. That intuition has allowed me to kind of link to the consumer.”

C. Wonder is a product of Burch’s approach to retailing. “I look at things through the eyes of a little boy,” said Burch, who is chief executive officer of Burch Creative Capital, adding that it’s all about happiness and color and music, especially the Sixties-era tunes played in stores.

C. Wonder operates 13 stores, including three seasonal pop-ups. There are two units in Manhattan, in SoHo and in The Shops at Columbus Circle at Time Warner Center, and a temporary holiday store in the Flatiron District is being converted to a permanent location. 

Burch plans to open 50 to 100 stores next year, 20 to 30 of which will be international in Japan, Germany and Dubai. C. Wonder could ultimately open about 110 stores in the U.S. Worldwide, the brand could have 300 to 350 units, Burch has said.

While C. Wonder has grown rapidly, there have been bumps along the way. “Our first rtw season was deplorable,” Burch said, referring to quality. “Initially, there were a lot of problems. About 50 percent of what we did was a failure and 50 percent was good. My systems looked amazing from the outside, but didn’t work well at all. Our first two stores outside New York City were disastrous locations, so we’re learning a lot about real estate.” On the plus side was packaging, which consists of a bold, stylized “C” logo.

Then there was the headline-grabbing lawsuit Burch filed on Oct. 2 against his ex-wife, Tory, claiming her board was hindering his efforts to sell part of his stake in the company they founded together. Tory Burch countersued, alleging that her former husband used his role as a director at and consultant to her company to develop “copycat” products for C. Wonder. The lawsuit was settled last month, with the terms undisclosed. 

Asked if he was happy to have the lawsuit and its attendant publicity behind him, Burch said, “I’ve been getting so much good press. I mean, everybody loves me,” he said of the media. “Who wouldn’t like a 60-year-old guy? They’re going to love me a lot more than a beautiful 32- or 42-year-old woman.” Under his breath, he added, “Well, actually, Tory’s 39.” Burch continued: “Tory’s an amazing woman. We built a great company together. I’ve moved on.” 

Burch comes across as outspoken and antic, saying the idea for C. Wonder came to him during a contemplative moment at Costco. “C. Wonder came from my anxiety,” he explained. “When I have a bad day, I go to my favorite store, which is Costco. I eat little samples of the food, as you can tell from my waistline.” Looking out at Costco’s center pad between nibbles, Burch saw the apparel housed in bins and thought, “There needs to be a concept that has a taste level, that’s cool.”

Burch has one simple rule when it comes to retailing. “All we care about is our customer,” he said. “Other speakers talked about how important fashion is and the product. I actually think the [store] environment and voices of the customer are more important. When you have no rules or regulations, you can tell your sales staff, ‘You can do anything you want to make them [customers] happy.’ We train our sales staff to break their own rules. When a customer returns something, we usually give them a pair of $39 earrings. We don’t embrace change, we kind of demand it.”

Value to C. Wonder customers is of prime importance. “Our girl wants the look of a $2,000 handbag for $195. How do we deliver? It goes back to the factory, it goes back to the sourcing.” To Burch, after the customer, the vendor is most important: “If there are any factories here, I love you to death.”

For this reason, Burch and his team made 175 trips to China in the past two years, searching for factories off the beaten path. “Everything’s hidden there.…You find these little jewels with unbelievable pricing,” he said. “We’re at a big disadvantage because we have only 20 stores, so our minimums are a disaster.” With wages rising in China, the key to keeping costs down is “to keep getting closer to the end manufacturer,” Burch said. “We always work on 80 percent margins. We don’t believe in the high-low thing. You have to get the sourcing right to do that.”

In an interview with WWD in October 2011, Burch discussed launching “one retail concept after another” with a string of high-profile ventures that could lead to 1,000 stores nationwide. In November, Burch said he would focus on his first two brands out of the gate, C. Wonder and Monika Chiang. 

Monika Chiang has been doing “OK,” Burch said. “It hasn’t caught on. We keep fighting. Monika is the toughest thing because there are too many competitors.” Burch said he always looks for the opportunity to launch a brand, which he calls “the gaping hole in the market. The hole [in footwear] wasn’t gaping enough. It’s unbelievable pricing for the quality. I’m actually begging everyone in this room who owns a store, ‘Please, I’d like to sell some wholesale.’ We’ve sold to a few stores like Intermix. We need a Nordstrom and a Neiman’s to get the brand going. But we’re not giving up.”

Burch has an affinity for physical stores, especially for C. Wonder. “There’s too many malls, obviously,” he said. “It’s very hard to build a brand online without brick-and-mortar. You have to feel and touch. We’re very big online, but I love that experience [in stores].” 

He’s breaking his own rule with his newest concept, however: Poppin, an online office supply store that again puts his color theory to use. “Poppin actually is working well right now,” Burch said. “Poppin is a home run.” 

Burch has an arsenal of retail concepts up his sleeve, including Electric Love Army. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a home concept, No. 9 Christopher, that’s close to his heart. “I’ve worked on it for six years,” he said. “We have 600 pieces of furniture designed. Everything’s ready to go, but it’s a difficult, difficult business. That’s my most exciting brand.” He said it may take another six to 10 years before the public gets a glimpse of it. 

As for how he picks concepts to launch, Burch has a simple mantra: “I see big gaping holes in the market where people should go,” he said. “I go after big gaping holes.

8:56am  |   URL:
Filed under: WWD CEO Summit 
February 26, 2013
2013 WWD CEO Summit- Karl Lagerfeld

The Paris spring haute couture may be less than two weeks away, but Karl Lagerfeld didn’t let that stop him from flying to New York for the WWD CEO Summit. After all, as he put it with a nod to his penchant for the private aviation sector, “There are traveling conditions and traveling conditions, so it’s not that difficult.” Nor, it seemed, was it for him to attract a glossy entourage for the occasion, which included Sarah Jessica Parker, Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour and Stephen Gan, as well as Lagerfeld regulars Brad Kroenig and his son and sometime Chanel model Hudson.

They came to see WWD’s executive editor Bridget Foley sit down with the designer to discuss a wide range of topics, from his fashion impulses — “I listen to my inner voices, like a French male version of the Joan of Arc” — to the relevance of couture, his relationship with the Wertheimers, who own Chanel, and his views on France’s recent political shift to the left.

WWD: Karl, I know you are not one to revel in past glories.

Karl Lagerfeld: My own past. Other people’s past, what I had known or I don’t know, is interesting. I am not really interested in my own past, because I know everything about it.

WWD: Well, one thing you know is that this year will mark, if not celebrate, your 30th anniversary at Chanel, and you have been longer at Fendi. Recently we have seen a number of changes at the creative helm of houses. What makes for a successful designer-house relationship?

KL: Some people say I am a hired gun, and I am very flattered to be one because the label is there. Ms. Menkes recently wrote a very interesting article about this in The New York Times. The label is there before, it has to be after. It’s not the star system of a person for a certain number of years and then…who knows? I think the important thing is to be behind the label, and not use the label for something that pushes your own fame. I cannot cross the street, but Chanel also [did] a lot to help me make Chanel what it is now. When I took it over, everybody — even the people from the business — said to me, “Don’t touch it, it’s dead.” Mr. Wertheimer said, “You can do whatever you want,” and I did, and apparently it worked because I am good when the work conditions are perfect. The people who don’t make an effort on things they know better get less. It’s very strange but the best get the best.

WWD: What were the conditions? Chanel was doing very badly when you went in.

K.L.: Ten or 11 years after her death, it was a sleeping beauty with one idea: respect. The good thing about Chanel is that her whole life was not that flawless that, “Yes, we have to be respectful.” The other side, that’s about fashion. Only doing an homage really gets nowhere. That’s boredom incarnated.

WWD: How do you balance the two — staying true to the Chanel identity that you, at this point, have nurtured and created, and with the proper amount of irreverence to make it modern?

K.L.: You have to have your eyes open. It’s easy to make Chanel into something fashionable for every period. First of all, there are so many elements. In a way, my job is to make believe that something’s very Chanel even if that was something that was never done at Chanel. It’s like a game, and maybe I am not too bad a gambler.

WWD: What is it that you have learned from your relationship with Mr. Wertheimer? 

K.L.: Without that, it wouldn’t exist but he never interferes. I have nothing to do with the perfume, but in our world, we do the fashion we think is right. Me, Bruno Pavlovsky, Virginie [Viard], the creative studio director of everything, we don’t do meetings, we don’t talk about marketing. Maybe they have marketing people but I never saw them. I have never gone to a meeting in 31 years. In fact, 30 years is not true. It’s 31. The first collection was in January 1983 but you don’t do the collection the week before and I started in 1982. But as I am not into anniversaries, I will not be touchy about the subject.

WWD: Your work ethic is legendary. What drives you?

K.L.: If you accept a job or it’s something that is your own business, you do it decently, or you forget about it. I am beyond. I can do whatever I want, in the most perfect conditions, and it works. In a moment in the world where not so many things are working that well, I am very lucky and hope that this reflects in my work. Work conditions are important. I mean, I don’t want to run a company myself. I have nothing against business. My father was a businessman, but I like the creative freedom.

WWD: You said you don’t do meetings, and you don’t get involved in the marketing, but you make no bones about being a commercial designer. Do you think about how things will sell and performance when you’re designing?

K.L.: No, thank god, because then it becomes marketing. I hope it will, but I don’t formulate it. I think that’s a very unhealthy thing. I am a commercial designer. As Carrie Donovan used to say, “Fashion is what people wear,” and I don’t think that’s changed. I am happy that so many people in the world like Chanel. The other day, the owner of another big group asked me, “Do you have permanent sales at Chanel?” Why? “Because the shops are so crowded all the time.” I am saying we are pretty lucky. They may say I do the right thing. Somebody may do it better, but I don’t know who for the moment.

WWD: You have successfully done something so many people have tried. You have cross-generational appeal. Real women; young girls who want the first Chanel jacket; young actresses who can’t wait to wear Chanel on the red carpet…but you haven’t lost the core of the lady who really has the money to buy Chanel. How do you do that?
That is a mystery that I don’t try to analyze because that would be very unhealthy. I just work like this. I am not such a serious person. I don’t ask too many questions. I try to give kind of the right answers. I don’t listen to my voice, I listen to my inspiration.

WWD: What inspires you?

K.L.: Everything. I am what people call a voyeur. I look at everything. I remember everything. I can redo things my way because a bad idea of somebody else can give you a good idea. I am like a building with an antenna that captures everything. I want to know everything. I read every magazine. I want to be informed. I think that’s exciting about fashion. You look at paintings from whatever century, but you can only date them by the clothes. That means fashion is important.

WWD: Are there artists you are particularly interested in right now?

K.L.: My favorite is Jeff Koons, because I think that’s the right spirit of our times. I like the spirit, the proportions, the person, the whole thing. When I like something though, I don’t ask myself why. I only like it, that’s all.

WWD: What are you reading right now?

K.L.: As I, more or less, speak three languages, I read a lot of books. I have two publishing operations in Germany with Gerhard Steidl, one for reading and one for photo books. I read what’s new in English, what’s new in French, what’s new in German, though there’s not much. For the moment, I am reading “Back to Blood” by that man in the white suit [Tom Wolfe].

WWD: You photograph other people’s clothes, you photograph fashion. Are there any genres that do not interest you? 

K.L.: You never know where good photography is. I love to do architecture. It’s interesting for a designer to do photos, because if not, you are isolated in your studio after you do a collection. Doing photos, doing advertising, you meet with other people. You are not isolated. The worst thing in fashion, which was the case with couture in the past in France, is the ivory tower. I think that’s like a cemetery. I am very much against it.

WWD: What’s the role of couture today?

K.L.: Somebody once said that couture was dead when someone closed their house. Apparently, it’s not really true, because, in fact, there are more clients for couture than there were 20 years ago. The clients look like models. They could buy ready-to-wear and buy it because some of the rtw today has the prices of couture in the past. There are so many new worlds and so much new money. They’re interested in it because they discover it.

I think couture has a real reason to exist in a limited way, like Chanel or Dior, because they have a real couture house organization. Small designers who don’t have a real organization should do expensive rtw, because couture is not just the same dresses made-to-order, but it’s also the presentation, the fittings, the whole thing that goes with it. There is something mythical about it that cannot be improvised. You can make very good clothes at home on a limited scale but a real couture organization…there are very few left.

WWD: Are the new clients mostly in what are the newer markets or is there a remaining significant core in the West?

K.L.: Today, the private jets. Most of the clients don’t even see the collection in the salon. The collection goes to the country, it’s shown to the women after they make a vague choice on the video. It’s a different world from the past, because of private planes. Many of the rich people of the past are poor people compared to the richness of today.

WWD: You have also taken various rtw collections — not the major collections for spring and fall, but the pre-collections, the special collections — [out of Paris] and just did a big show in Scotland. How important is it, do you think, to leave Paris for a collection?

K.L.: It’s very important to do it in a very special way, because today, everything is shown on the Internet and on television. When you have a show with only a girl coming out of the door, crossing a runway, it’s OK for fashion freaks but the public get bored very quickly. There has to be some magical surrounding. That’s why I went to Scotland to this castle where Mary Stuart was born, and it was quite a magical moment. To do the opposite, next time, in a year, I will go to Dallas. You know why? First of all, I love Texas. I love Texans. There’s another reason. When Chanel reopened, the French press was beyond nasty. The only press that understood it immediately was the American press, and Neiman Marcus gave her the Oscar for her collection, so I think it’s a nice thing to go there.

Normally I try to find a vague connection. For Scotland, it was easy because her lover was hunting with her in Scotland and it’s is how she discovered tweeds, even if our tweeds have nothing to do with her tweeds of the past, but that’s not the subject. She went to Venice a lot, that’s why I did a show in Venice. She had a Russian lover, and loved Russian art, and so I did it in Russia. I try to find a connection, but the connection is often very vague. With Texas, it’s a detail, but with little detail, you can make a whole story. I am a storyteller for that.

WWD: Do you like going to different client bases? Do you like meeting with clients?

K.L.: I never meet clients. I never go to the salon. I am not a coutourier from that school — who goes downstairs to the salon to see if the dress fits. I don’t do this. I only do collections.

WWD: But what about the parties, when Chanel has a party in Scotland or Dallas?

K.L.: Yes, I go to them, but I am not really a party freak and I don’t have so much time. For Chanel alone, my contract…if there is a contract. In fact, it’s just a little paper between me and Mr. Wertheimer. It’s nothing. I don’t read contracts longer than one page because it’s boring and unnecessary. When people are supposed to work together, you don’t need a contract. I try to find the right way; what the company needs. Chanel, with all the shops in the world, needs not four collections as the contract says, but six. That makes eight with the couture. I do eight collections for them because I think Chanel is one of the few, if not the only company, where, every two months, the windows are totally renewed.

WWD: You say fashion freaks might enjoy a girl coming out of a doorway….With Chanel, we go in anticipating an extravaganza. How do you come up with the ideas?

K.L.: I thought a basic show was boring. One has to do something to make it more memorable. Also, the way people look at shows, on the television or the Internet, was very different 10 years ago. Look at the show in Scotland. Mr. Pavlosvky told me it made 100 million euros in free advertising only by going through the press and on television. Do you know many other things where you get 100 million euros of advertising for free?

WWD: In the past decade, we have seen some designers leave the landscape and many more, certainly in the U.S., come up, Do you pay attention and whom do you think has the potential for major success?

K.L.: Major success is very fragile in this business. You can have a huge success and, three seasons later, you are killed or fired, or you leave or are retired, or you have a problem. I am not talking about myself and so I don’t know. Of course I pay attention because I am interested in fashion. 

I think we live in an interesting moment in fashion. People always say it was better before. That is ridiculous. First of all, one shouldn’t compare. Circumstances are different, and I think there are very many gifted designers in the world today. The funniest thing, in France, all the people who have artistic director jobs in important companies are no longer French — an American at Vuitton, English at Celine, Belgian at Dior. Isn’t that a strange thing?

WWD: This past season, with Raf Simons at Dior and Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent, there was a lot of buzz about the season. Did you feel increased competition?

K.L.: Is there something healthier than competition? If not, you fall asleep and think success, and what you did, is granted. Nothing is granted in fashion, and this is what I love about fashion. 

WWD: What irritates you most?

K.L.: What irritates me are people who create complications because they think they are professionals by creating complications. And then people who make things messy to look serious and in fact try to justify the salary. I hate this.

WWD: You said you don’t want to talk about French politics but I am going to ask anyway. Do you feel a difference since the last presidential election?

K.L.: A difference? It’s another planet. If you read the papers — and I am not French, so I can say it — you cannot believe what you read. The story between Putin, Hollande and Depardieu. Things like this should not exist in politics. I think it’s funny what Mr. Putin did because he doesn’t want to be lectured by the French.

You know, I never voted in any country. Politics is interesting if you are in politics. If not, forget about it. I stay in countries where I think it’s OK, the minute I don’t think it’s OK, I go. I am a free European, I am linked to nothing. I pay taxes in France but I wouldn’t pay one cent more. There’s no reason to, because I have no social security, I ask for nothing. I have a flat fee given by the left wing government 15 years ago. They respect that, I respect that.”

WWD: Indulge us in a little bit of nostalgia. Tell us about Paris in the Seventies and Eighties and fashion.

K.L.: The Eighties were very different from the Seventies. I prefer to forget about the Eighties. In the Eighties, I lived in Monte Carlo most of the time…because Paris with Mitterrand was not the most exciting place, either. The Seventies were great in a way because it was careless, it was free… as long as you were young. It had something unpretentious. It was not about money. You never heard about money. Today you hear too much about money. We need it, but as a subject, it’s not very funny. There was no red carpet, there were no 200 bodyguards for famous people. The cool thing was light, young, improvised and fresh. Today things are all overorganized.

WWD: You said there was no red carpet. I was reading some old interviews. Ten years ago, we talked about celebrities’ impact on fashion. Ten years later, that’s proven not to have been a passing fancy. What do you think the celebrity impact has been on fashion? Has it been good on fashion, bad for fashion? 

K.L.: I don’t know if it has had an impact on the fashion department for the clothes, but certainly for the beauty and the fragrances, because the girls are great. You must admit. I can understand that everyone wants to look like them, but here’s another thing: You talked about couture. If you give an actress a couture dress a woman had ordered, they cancel the dress in a second. Perhaps they are afraid that the husband compares and thinks that Nicole Kidman looks better in the dress, but I don’t know. That’s a very strange thing, no? The public who looks at television is impressed by the red carpet. The women who are in a kind of competition on the money side, who buy the dresses, don’t see it the same way. But that’s only limited to couture. 

WWD: But do you think that is, sort of, the world’s runway and by playing to such a broad audience, the fashion itself gets watered down?

K.L.: We propose, the selection is after. That is not our problem. My problem is to show collections I think are right for the moment and for the label. But I don’t think it’s bad or good for fashion. This comes later. This is not my problem. I am not a journalist, I am not a buyer, I’m hardly a consumer.

WWD: You did make a life out of fashion, and we know that you love photography and you have a real, serious, photographic career. Have you ever thought about writing memoirs or essays?

K.L.: No memoirs. I have nothing to say, and what I could say, I cannot say. But that is why I like this interview. I only answer questions personally, I have nothing to say. And also, you know, there is a problem with memoirs. Things are not always that pleasant. There are people who have perhaps played an important part in life, but I don’t want to give them the pleasure of ever mentioning them again. That limits the thing. I could write about backstage couture when I started at Balmain, but this is different. Memoirs, no.

WWD: What do you consider modern? Can you definite modern today? 

K.L.: Modern is right for the moment and the next moment, but the word avant-garde is an overused word.

WWD: Is there an avant-garde today? 

K.L.: No, avant-garde was OK in 1920, 1930, or perhaps the 1960s. Today avant-garde is an overrated word. 

WWD: Last question, what are Karl Lagerfeld’s three, or four, or five, steps to success. 

K.L.: It’s a whole staircase. I try to pay attention not to fall down, but with my black glasses it’s not easy, because in fact I am shortsighted. To go down the staircase, I don’t need it, and to go up I don’t need it either, so I prefer to keep my glasses to watch everything, and make an effort not to fall. I think, step by step, sometimes you go two steps back, that’s a healthy thing. Nobody has a one line career like this. That doesn’t exist.

Audience Question: You’ve channeled Coco Chanel and you know more about her than perhaps anyone alive. Is it true that she was an orphan and do you think that the underlying tone of respect perhaps comes from that?

K.L.: I think so. Her parents died when she was young. Her father left, her mother died. In the 19th century, people died very quickly with tuberculosis and all of this. She invented perhaps part of her life, but she’s totally allowed to do that. It sounds good in books. I think her big problem was about how to get away. You must put her back to the period. In those days, there was no big choice for girls. There was no background, no money, no school. You could be a worker, a maid, and if you were a little cute, you could make some money with men. Horrible to say, but we forget that today. Our moral standards of today are totally unnecessary to be applied on that period. It was very difficult period for women.

Audience Question: You have a very distinct look. Is it something that came about by accident, or is it something that you sort of evolved into?

K.L.: You know, you think it’s a very distinct look. For me, it’s a normal look. I have a shirt with a collar with a tie with a black jacket with jeans. I’m surprised myself. It’s not an invention — it’s a normal evolution. I had 100 different looks in life. Just like the steps of success, the steps of looks should be, too. Stay yourself, but change the aspect or else it becomes really boring, no? You cannot compete or compare yourself to what you were before, so you better change. 

Audience Question: You had mentioned that you don’t keep archives. So you don’t go back and take a look at things from 20 or 30 years ago?

K.L.: No, never ever. First of all, I have a good memory. There’s a lot in storage, so if I make a good effort I can vaguely remember. It’s different for houses. I can cross all of the houses that I’ve lived in and decorated in my life, everything included. Professionally, I do not make this kind of promenade because I think it is not good. I can redo something because I had forgotten I did it, but I did not do it on purpose. The other day, I went to the opening of the museum in Paris for the show for Chloé, in my fact only my Chloé — the clothes from 1965 to 1983. I looked at it and thought “that’s not that bad,” but could not imagine that it was me, the person, who did that. I had no relationship to the thing. Some of them could still work today and they were good ideas. I was the most surprised person, but it was not an influence of my next step in work. The show was well done, I must say. But I had to shock myself. 

Audience Question: Karl, you did a collaboration with H&M some years back and since then every year retailers have done some collaboration with designers. Do you think that this is over or is there someone that you would still like to collaborate with?

K.L.: It can continue and I think it is a very smart thing to do, collaborating for a short time, because you get into other kinds of work and it’s interesting, but it depends on what they propose. I’m not looking for jobs, thank god. The other day, some man from the Gulf called and wanted me to do something with him. I said, “I’ll see you when you come to Paris,” and he said, “No you must come.” I said, “No, I’m not looking for jobs, but I can send you my assistant.” He said, “We don’t work with girls.” I never called him back.

8:52am  |   URL:
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