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OPINION - Want to see the fashion world as it truly is? Watch this Lagerfeld film

A new documentray on BBC2 looks at the life of designer Karl Lagerfeld  (DDP/AFP via Getty Images)
A new documentray on BBC2 looks at the life of designer Karl Lagerfeld (DDP/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday evening, BBC2 screened Michael Waldman’s warmly observed documentary on the legendary Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld.

Fashion on screen is notoriously hit and miss. Serious radio rarely bothers even registering it, for some reason. Football and food are presented routinely for broadcast at their most aspirational optics. I’ve always wondered why.

Lagerfeld’s Chanel was the loftiest of Houses to negotiate. Mr Waldman gently steps behind the velvet rope to deliver his missive, loosely framed on the mystery of what happened to Lagerfeld’s millions after the maestro’s death in 2019, with a perfectly camp poise. He interviews friends, colleagues, relatives, a succession of ludicrously hot male models to whom Lagerfeld was generosity itself and the caretaker of the designer’s beloved cat, Choupette, coaching from them all some deeply personal testimonies.

When he moved into his fantastical space-age apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine, Lagerfeld bequeathed his neighbour, a seriously chic antiques dealer, a cushion. Stitched into the fabric was the legend: “I never gossip twice. So listen closely,” a tart epithet which neatly summarises the film.

The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld is fashion on screen executed with respect, good humour and intelligence. It looks past the iconoclasm of a man who presented as one thing and often revealed himself at close quarters to be quite another. Lagerfeld’s bill in his favourite Parisian bookstore topped €20,000 in one spree alone. But Waldman points out that many were bought as gifts. If fashion is about unveiling the best possible version of your exterior self, Lagerfeld was as keen a guide at nurturing the interior life of his friends, too.

This could so quickly descend into obsequiousness but Waldman’s great skill in the edit is to acutely gauge fashion’s funny valve. He isn’t pretending that Lagerfeld was a saint here. Nor just a funny eccentric. I defy anyone to watch the show and not come away slightly in love with Lagerfeld’s conviction to his craft.

At some point in the Nineties I found myself accidentally swallowed into the world of fashion magazines, one of the few industries where being gay was not just tolerated back then but welcomed, even indulged. Thirty years later, some of my fondest professional memories have been accrued seeing the magic of the fashion industry at play, watching sublime imagery being made with wonderful clothes, dextrous styling, ambitious grooming, a fabulous haircut and timeless models. At its most visionary, fashion is deeply serious work delivered by some of the funniest characters on earth.

This, ultimately, is Waldman’s great film-making triumph. He formulates a fabulous new emotional template for how to do high fashion on screen. One only hopes that the most powerful commissioners noticed.

A different take on Clapton

The Real Housewives of Clapton is not some strange east London offshoot of the compellingly basic US TV franchise but a frankly hilarious Instagram account bent on softly destroying a fashionable postcode, one lifestyle cliché at a time. RHOC saves its ridicule for the consumption of biodynamic wine, Perello olives, anyone wearing Gore-Tex, eating at small plates restaurants or demonstratively walking a statement dog.

Anyone who remembers the Nineties fanzine The Shoreditch Twat will recognise its ironic tonal ire, albeit one that has shifted three miles east since. RHOC defies a certain preconception that all Northerners in London hold, that while we can laugh at ourselves, Southerners only aim fire at others. The self-laceration under the bile is barely concealed. This account is 100 per cent the work of someone who wears Gore-Tex, drinks BD wine and had to teach themselves, against all laws of human nature, how not to hate olives.