An interview with the Kaiser himself.
Self-portrait by Karl Lagerfeld
When Vice called me last month with an out-of-the-blue offer to fly to Paris and interview the Kaiser himself, Karl Lagerfeld—creative director of the $10 billion Chanel empire, the house of Fendi, and his own eponymous line—I jumped at the chance. I have to confess that I wasn’t an expert about the fabled fashion kingpin prior to Vice’s proposition, but I did know that for a faggot it was tantamount to an audience with the Pope! I was duly excited to meet the Man Behind the Fan (which, I would soon discover, has long since been replaced by the Collar), the guru behind the dark glasses, and to try to separate the myth from the reality.
But having now met and spent time with Mr. Lagerfeld, it seems that, as close as I can figure out, the man really is the myth. It’s not that there isn’t any there there; it’s that somehow, by some strange alchemy, the person who descends the stairway of his fashion house, infinitely multiplied by mirrors, has transcended this mortal coil to become a pure creature of creativity. Lagerfeld is a study in perpetual motion, tirelessly darting between creative endeavors while devouring both history and the ephemeral present, the zeitgeist. A voracious reader and observer of life through books and popular culture, he filters the world into his couture and other creative outlets like a sort of supercomputer. When I suggest to him in the following interview that he may have Asperger syndrome, a rare form of autism characterized by an obsessive-compulsive “disorder” manifested as a kind of genius, he concurs.
What struck me most about Lagerfeld when I was doing my research was how closely aligned many of my beliefs were with his. Despite owning a private jet and multiple luxury homes, he is anti-materialistic and remains detached from his possessions, particularly as he has become more mature. He has a healthy appreciation for what some people might consider the “low life”—prostitution, promiscuity, what have you—and he is decidedly antibourgeois, which encompasses his distaste for the idea of gay marriage.
On meeting, I presented him with a list of ten beliefs that we have in common, which acted as a nice icebreaker. From the outset, he was warm and convivial. However, I must admit he cast a spell on me. For the hour and a half that I sat with him, I felt almost as if I were in a dream or under hypnosis—relaxed but entranced, and even slightly blissed out. La Lagerfeld is a guru, all right, and not just one of the fashion variety.
Vice: So, you’re very busy as usual.
Karl Lagerfeld: I’m always busy, but this is a really busy time. I like really busy times.
I do too. I’ve been watching various documentaries about you. I’ve been kind of surprised, as I’ve learned more about you, by how your philosophy has become very distilled.
Yes, very down-to-earth.
That’s almost like a paradox, but I understand.
I love paradoxes.
Me too. I think it’s all about paradoxes. People don’t get it; they think you’re being contradictory, but two things can exist simultaneously that are opposed. There’s no mystery in that.
Truth is only a question of point of view.
I like that you make it clear that you don’t want to be photographed or filmed without your sunglasses on. I don’t either. Who would?
They’re my burka.
Exactly. A burka for the eyes.
A burka for a man. I’m a little shortsighted, and people, when they’re shortsighted, they remove their glasses and then they look like cute little dogs who want to be adopted.
I’m actually nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other.
You can’t operate at all with what you have?
No. They say I’ll never need glasses because I only use one eye for distances and one eye for close up.
That’s perfect, no? I want to stay shortsighted or else I will need glasses for reading. But I don’t want them because I sketch, I do everything without glasses, except for speaking to strangers. Especially if they wear glasses, too.
I hate it when photographers are like, “Can we have one with your glasses off?” Why? You can see me just fine.
I had an interview once with some German journalist—some horrible, ugly woman. It was in the early days after the communists—maybe a week after—and she wore a yellow sweater that was kind of see-through. She had huge tits and a huge black bra, and she said to me, “It’s impolite; remove your glasses.” I said, “Do I ask you to remove your bra?”
You have to be careful what you ask for. Something that you do, which I also try to do in my art, is to treat all aspects of creativity equally. Fashion, photography, books, whatever—it all comes from the same place.
Yes, exactly. Everything comes from the same head. The three things I like best in life are fashion, photography, and books. There are a lot of other things I may like but that I’m not gifted for. I’m not gifted for music. I’m not gifted for singing. I don’t like to act because my life is a pantomime anyway.
Well, the gifts that you do possess have certainly served you well.
I’m perfectly happy, and what makes things even better is that I can do things the way that I want to. I have no problems in terms of down-to-earth issues; I can do everything I’m doing in the best conditions. My fashion business, Chanel, is the biggest luxury ready-to-wear brand in the world. Fendi is a part of LVMH, which is very big, too.
You’ve been famous for quite some time, but the whole landscape of celebrity has changed so dramatically in recent years.
That’s part of our life, our culture.
Do you think it’s become kind of toxic?
Yes, but you cannot fight against it. There’s a price you have to pay for fame, and people who don’t want to pay that price can get in trouble. I accepted the idea of celebrity because of a French expression: “You cannot have the butter and the money for the butter.”
I like that. You have to choose one or the other.
And now I cannot cross the street. I cannot go anywhere.
But you don’t mind being alone and isolated?
I have bodyguards. I have big cars.
Do you travel with bodyguards?
Oh yes. But I don’t travel commercially. Whenever I go around the world I go on private jets.
What if you went to a nightclub or something?
I don’t. I never go anywhere, not even from here to the Quai Voltaire, where I live. Never ever. People wait in front of my house.
How long has it been that way for you, with fans outside your home?
For the past ten years. Before that, it was OK. And when I was younger, people didn’t really know me. I had the time to be young and not to be troubled by this kind of thing.
Karl and Bruce at Karl’s studio in Paris. (Photo by Olivier Saillant)
We see these young stars being eaten up and destroyed now, and it’s sad in a way. But to be honest, I’m not so worried about the stars. I’m worried about the average person who spends far too much time thinking about celebrities.
If I were pretentious I would say that I’m not an average person. But really, I know how that is.
Well, yes, I know that you care, because you are interested in both high and low culture.
That is because there is only culture.
As in, there is only one large culture and everything is a facet of it.
I like to know everything; I like to be informed. I am not pretentious. I can speak several languages. I can read in every language.
The word “pretentious” is most often used pejoratively, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to be pretentious. So, I know that you’re a very hard worker. That’s another thing that we have in common. I hate holidays. I can never go away and just lie on a beach.
I was a beach boy in my youth.
Those were your salad days. You’ve said that you learned about life in those times. What did you do then?
Everything one can do to see what kind of life one wants—what you like, what you don’t like, what’s OK for you. I understood quickly that there are a lot of things that are not for me but that I have nothing against. I have not one prejudice. I don’t judge things.
Being the sort of hard worker that you are is like being a monk.
But hard work is like being politically correct. Be politically correct, but please don’t bother other people with conversation about being politically correct, because that’s the end of everything. You want to create boredom? Be politically correct in your conversation.
What does being politically correct mean to you?
It means people talking about charities. Do it, be charitable, but don’t make a subject of conversation out of it because then you bore the world to death. It’s very unpleasant. But I don’t go out a lot so I’m not so exposed to people.
And being isolated is not a problem for you?
I have no problem. That’s the miracle of my life. There are no problems, only solutions—good ones or bad ones.
You are against the idea of gay marriage. I totally agree with you on that.
Yes, I’m against it for a very simple reason: In the 60s they all said we had the right to the difference. And now, suddenly, they want a bourgeois life.
For me it’s difficult to imagine—one of the papas at work and the other at home with the baby. How would that be for the baby? I don’t know. I see more lesbians married with babies than I see boys married with babies. And I also believe more in the relationship between mother and child than in that between father and child.
I take it you don’t want children.
If I were interested in children, I would be a godfather—or a godmother. I don’t like the idea of taking people out of their lives and their contexts. If there were a child I wanted to adopt, I would try to find the family of the child and give them the money for an education in his life and his context.
What about famous gay artists like Francis Bacon or Wilhelm von Gloeden? They both had important relationships that were almost like marriages.
I knew Francis Bacon; he was the sweetest man in the world, like a Middle English lady with the finger up drinking tea in Monte Carlo. My best friend, who is dead now, was very friendly with Bacon. They gambled and drank together.
Did Bacon have his protégé with him, or was it his lover?
I think that he was dead already—the famous one was dead.
Ah, George Dyer.
I only saw Bacon with my friend, drinking and gambling heavily.
Your best friend is…
He’s dead, too.
What happened to him?
AIDS. That happened 20 years ago.
How did you cope with that whole period? I’m sure you knew so many great people who died of AIDS.
I don’t want to go back through that age. In those days it was a hopeless case.
It was a death sentence.
You may be a bit young to remember. It was horrible. Beyond horrible.
It decimated the fashion world.
It killed a whole generation of people.
You know, Fran Lebowitz said that AIDS killed all the cool people.
Which I quite agree with, because it was usually the people who were living really hard and experimenting who got hit with it.
Perhaps things went too far then. But now they want to be too bourgeois.
Exactly. It’s swung back the other way. This bourgeois idea of gays wanting to take on a traditional family life—I just don’t understand it. It’s like the oppressed are becoming the oppressors.
In a way, yes. Exactly.
They want to be the type of people who have always despised them.
When I was a child I asked my mother what homosexuality was about and she said—and this was 100 years ago in Germany and she was very open-minded—“It’s like hair color. It’s nothing. Some people are blond and some people have dark hair. It’s not a subject.” This was a very healthy attitude.
You were lucky in that regard.
Some people make drama out of it. I don’t even understand. It’s not a problem. It doesn’t exist. It’s not a subject. For me it never was.
What were you like as a child?
I was very much like a grown-up. I have photos of me as a child wearing a tie, and it’s the same as I am today. And of course I was very successful with pedophilia. I knew about it when I was ten.
So you used it consciously?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It was impossible to touch me. I would run away and I would tell my mother about people she knew, like the brother of one of my sister’s husbands. Nothing happened, but my mother said, “You know, darling, it’s your fault. You see how you behave.”
Did you ever actually have sex with somebody older?
No. It never went that far.
The comedian Chris Rock once said that whenever he was at a family picnic or something and one of his cousins or uncles would try to diddle him, he would go to his mother and his mother would say, “Walk it off.”
This is a less sophisticated version of my mother. That’s why in a modern world these things shouldn’t be subjects. Children should be informed.
What about your relationship to the whole political gay movement?
I have nothing to do with it. This is just a part of normal life. I mean, the 20 percent or so who are like this, made by God or by whoever, they are as they are supposed to be. So where’s the problem?
The argument would be that the more organized and political they are, the more they are able to fight against things like homophobic violence.
I never met anything like this in my life. I had an overprotected life. What can I fight about? I don’t know what to do. It never happened to me, and it never happened to people I know.
It’s like Marianne Faithfull says, “What are you fighting for? It’s not my reality.”
Exactly. And I’m mad for her. She’s great.
I’m wondering if gay political groups have tried to enlist you.
Yes, but I’ve never voted in my life—for any kind of politics.
I’m a stranger here; I’m a stranger in Germany. I’m just passing by.
Politics is just so business-oriented.
I’m in fashion. Politics is not my job. I don’t vote in France even though foreigners here can. I will never vote in my life.
I’m the exact same way.
Good. I could vote for myself because I know everything about myself. And I can lie to everybody, but I cannot lie to myself. My mother used to say, “If you’re really honest and you have a certain kind of education, you will know the question and the answer.”
Did you work with Carla Bruni, the French president’s wife, when she was a model?
Oh yes. She was one of the ten supermodels.
I was kind of obsessed with her. I pulled photos of her out of magazines, and when I was editing a film in the early 90s I would stare at her picture on my wall. I don’t know why. She had something.
She has a great education and speaks many languages. She’s perfect for the job of first lady. I even photographed her naked.
Did they dig those up after she became first lady?
Yes, but they were elegant and she had nothing against it. She couldn’t care less. She’s very cool like that. The photo is beautiful. I can show you the nude of her. I did it for Visionaire in 1998. Everybody knows how a man or a girl is built, and everybody goes to the beach. So where’s the problem?
And you have no problem with porn, either.
No. I admire porn.
This is another thing that we have in common.
And I personally only like high-class escorts. I don’t like sleeping with people I really love. I don’t want to sleep with them because sex cannot last, but affection can last forever. I think this is healthy. And for the way the rich live, this is possible. But the other world, I think they need porn. I also think it’s much more difficult to perform in porn than to fake some emotion on the face as an actor.
Yes, there’s a quote from you about how giving a blowjob on film is more difficult than acting out grand emotions, which can be feigned. I totally agree. I think people don’t give porn actors credit. It’s not easy what they do.
I admire porn actors.
Me too, and prostitutes as well. There’s a real art to it.
Frustration is the mother of crime, and so there would be much more crime without prostitutes and without porn movies.
You got in trouble when you used a porn star in one of your shows in the early 90s.
But who cared?
Anna Wintour cared.
Yeah, but I’m still on the best terms with her.
There is so much hypocrisy against porn. So many people watch it and then look down their noses at people who are in it or who make it.
And those movie theaters don’t exist anymore, not like they did in the 70s.
There’s one left in Toronto, where I’m from.
I never went to one because I think it’s a quite sleazy situation.
It has its charm.
I’m not sure I want to be charmed.
Since Karl likes comics of himself, we commissioned this one by Johnny Ryan.
Concerning the female form: Beth Ditto from the Gossip? What do you think of her image?
She is very good. I know her very well. She’s genius. She doesn’t end up in what we use for shows, but she has real personality.
I just saw the Gossip in Berlin and she’s amazing. There’s so much criticism about fashion and the emaciated body, but you obviously love the voluptuous as well.
Let’s talk about fur. I grew up on a farm. My father was a trapper and a hunter.
Me too. My father was not really a farmer, but I spent my time around the country so I know everything about country life.
Mine used to trap wild mink and muskrats and beavers.
There’s nothing else to trap in those areas.
It was part of his income.
That’s why I always say, when people talk about not using fur, “Are you rich enough to make an income for the people in the north who live from hunting? What do you want them to live off of when there’s nothing else to do?”
That’s why I’ve always found the anti-fur thing kind of strange. It was part of the way that my family made a living.
It is farmers who are nice to the cows and the pigs and then kill them. It’s even more hypocritical than hunters. At least the hunters don’t flatter the animals. I remember when they killed the pigs when I was a child. I still hear the noise in my ears.
Are you a vegetarian?
Not really. I have to eat meat once a week because my doctor wants me to, but I prefer fish. I don’t like that people butcher animals, but I don’t like them to butcher humans either, which is apparently very popular in the world.
You’re sort of irreverent about fur.
If you cannot afford it, just forget about it. Don’t use it as an investment piece to show people how rich you are. Use it like a cheap knitted thing. It’s like a big stone. Lucky you that you can have a big stone, but if it troubles you financially to have the stone, don’t have the stone.
This is another paradox that I like about you. There’s nothing conspicuous about the way you use things.
If you can afford it, OK. But if you think it’s an investment, then forget about it.
Your relationship to technology is kind of interesting.
Well, I hate telephones. I prefer faxes because I like to write.
Who are you faxing? Nobody faxes anymore. You’re like the only person with a fax machine.
People I’m really friendly with have faxes. Anna Wintour has one. We speak via fax. And in Paris I send letters to people.
That’s a lost art.
I have somebody to deliver letters all over every day.
You send a note over.
Yes, I send notes.
That’s very Victorian.
Yes, but there’s not one bit bad about the Victorian. Civilized living for me is like this. I’m not a chambermaid whom you can ring at every moment. Today, you know, most people act like they work at a switchboard in a hotel.
The whole culture of cell phones, texting, and instant messaging is very impersonal and also very distracting.
I’m not working at a switchboard. I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. The few people I have in my telephone are already too much. When I’m on the phone I talk, but I really want to be alone to sketch, to work, and to read. I am reading like a madman because I want to know everything.
I think that you might have Asperger syndrome. Do you know what that is? It’s a kind of autism. It’s like an idiot savant.
That’s exactly what I am. As a child I wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to know everything—not that I like to talk about it. I hate intellectual conversation with intellectuals because I only care about my opinion, but I like to read very abstract constructions of the mind. It’s very strange.
That’s quite Asperger’s. There’s a boy who’s 20 years old; you can see him on YouTube. He’d never seen Paris from the air before and they flew him over Paris in a helicopter. Then they took him to a studio and he drew the entire city. Building by building, street by street.
I can do that with the antique Greek world.
That’s what I’ve heard.
If I had to make another choice I would have studied languages and antique civilizations.
Did you study Latin at all?
Yes, but for someone who speaks German it’s easy. It’s the same grammar and it’s pronounced the same way. For French speakers it’s much more difficult. When I was 10 or 12 years old I could speak Latin like I speak English. But I cannot speak Latin with French people. I don’t understand the way they pronounce it. For me, they don’t pronounce it right. But I love dead languages. Homer was one of the first books I read when I was starting to read. I think the Iliad is still one of the greatest books in the world.
You’ve said that possessions are a burden and one mustn’t get attached to things, that owning things victimizes and imprisons you.
It’s nice when you can afford something, but the minute you become a victim of it you shouldn’t keep it.
Coming from you, some would think that’s quite a contradiction.
It’s exactly like people who say they don’t like money. Be rich first, and then you will know. If you have never touched money, you don’t know what money is. If you’re rich, get rid of it. It’s very easy.
Yes, for me the most important thing is light. Nothing overweight, anywhere. Not on the body, not on the brain.
And a certain detachment, too.
Yes, totally. I was brought up to be detached. You can take nothing with you. There are very few important things, and they are not possessions.
Yoga is such a trend. There are all these rich people who study yoga now. I heard a story about a famous yoga master who was working with this woman who had a lot of wealth and money. He was in her mansion and he walked over to the mantle and took a Ming vase from it and he dropped it on the floor, smashing it. She was freaking out. That was the first lesson for her about not being attached to the material world.
That’s the best lesson there, because I don’t believe too much in yoga. It’s another culture; it’s not my culture.
People treat it like it’s exercise. There’s no spiritual dimension to it.
Yes, I know. One of my best friends does it all the time. It’s not my culture because I have not got much time.
Which brings us back, I think, to trying to avoid distraction in the digital age.
I don’t know how people can concentrate today when they have their cell phones ringing and all that. I like to be with music, books, and paper and to sketch and think everything over. To brainwash my own head and to write letters. I never have the feeling of being alone. For me loneliness is when you are old, sick, have no money, and nobody’s around. But if you are vaguely known and vaguely not poor, to say it nicely, then it’s the top of luxury.
Is it hard for you to find time for yourself?
I have to fight to be alone, but I need time to recharge my batteries. Daydreaming is the most important thing for me. It would be a nightmare not to daydream.
Music is so important to you, and I was trying to convince your assistant that you should start DJing at clubs.
I did it once with the DJ Michel Gaubert.
Did you like it?
Yes, but it’s not really my job. I prefer to listen. For me it’s too much work.
You can get someone to do that for you. It’s about selecting the songs.
I’m inclined to have CDs. I like to buy CDs and then make my selection, and then I have my iPod.
That’s all DJing is. Just making an iPod playlist. But there’s something about playing live to an audience and getting them to dance.
For me that is also difficult, and not because I’m against it, but I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, I’ve never smoked in my life.
Did you used to?
You never experimented with drugs at all?
I saw others doing it and I didn’t think it was such a success.
You didn’t even have a curiosity?
No. There was a famous man who had written about flies and insects, and I’m like the one who watches the insects. I prefer to see how drugs work on others. And I cannot smoke cigarettes. I need my hands for something else. When I was 14 I wanted to smoke because my mother smoked like mad. I wanted to smoke to look grown-up. But my mother said, “You shouldn’t smoke. Your hands are not that beautiful and that shows when you smoke.”
Which made a long-lasting impression.
Yes, I never smoked, so thank God. I should thank her. She smoked like mad, and when there were no cigarettes around she was in such a bad mood. I can tell you, we did everything to give her cigarettes. Sometimes she tried for three days not to smoke.
What was the relationship like between your mother and father?
It was neither of their first marriages. They fought a lot. My mother had left several times; my father was a very sweet man but a little boring. He was older and my mother was a very difficult, very funny person so she spent her life making jokes out of him. I was born when my father was 60 and my mother 42. But I don’t think I know anything about my parents’ lives. I’m not sure one should.
Another form of detachment.
Yes, but I knew they loved me. Their private lives weren’t my business.
I don’t understand people who spend their lives seeking the approval of their parents. It’s the same with the gays seeking the approval of society.
I never had the feeling that there was no approval. I couldn’t even imagine. My father used to say, “Ask me what you want, but not in front of your mother because she’d make a joke,” and my father said yes to everything I wanted. He gave me sports cars when I was 20 and things like that, so he spoiled me. If I asked my mother for something she’d say, “Ask your father.”
Karl in the film L’Amour, 1973. (Photo from The Films of Paul Morrissey by Maurice Yacowar, Cambridge University Press, 1993)
Let’s talk about sex. I don’t know if you read it, but there was recently this interesting article about Andy Warhol in the New Yorker by Louis Menand.
Yes, I liked that article.
It was good. It talked about Warhol’s sex life. It was kind of shocking to me that they said he was really good in bed in the early 60s.
No one should remember that.
And that his voyeurism wasn’t about asexuality. It was more that he was interested in public sex.
It was something new then. What he did could be considered porn, but it’s art now, because the world thinks it’s erotic art. I don’t know where the borderline between pornography and erotic art is. Look at the attributes; you have to be very intellectual to see any borderline there. You know, I was in a Warhol movie. It was called L’Amour. I knew him and I knew all the people around him. It was a trendy, funny thing to do then.
Who else was in it?
Patti D’Arbanville, Jane Forth, Coral Labrie, Donna Jordan, me, and Paul Morrissey. I remember the girls better.
What did you do with the girls?
I had to kiss Patti D’Arbanville.
No, I did lots of other things.
Were they topless?
Yes, the girls in that scene were topless. Maybe wearing less.
Were you naked?
Sometimes. Not overdressed, let’s say.
We have to get ahold of that film.
I can imagine myself as this creature with long hair.
Do you have a copy of it yourself?
I don’t think you can rent it or anything.
It was fun to do it then. For a fashion person, I am not a prude.
What was your relationship with Warhol like? Were you friends?
I don’t think anybody was really friendly with Andy. He was very sweet, very nice. But I was not living that kind of life; I was not taking drugs and all that.
He didn’t really, either.
No, but he pushed others to. I was, in a way, a little too sophisticated for that, and I was more of an outsider inside. I never wanted to have my portrait done by Andy Warhol because I don’t care about portraits. I have enough, from Helmut Newton to Irving Penn. I have them all but I only keep cartoons of myself. I think that’s much more fun. But Andy was very nice and so was Fred Hughes, who died in a horrible way. The drama is that Andy was an OK illustrator who became a great artist. Antonio Lopez, who was a much better craftsmen and master artist, tried to chip into the art world and couldn’t do it.
When Warhol did the Brillo boxes he was actually copying the work of James Harvey, an artist who was doing commercial illustration.
But James Harvey was not good at PR. Andy was perfect at PR. The movie that I am in was by Paul Morrissey, who is very sick and old now. People say it’s not a Warhol movie, it’s a Paul Morrissey movie. But it wouldn’t exist without Andy. They were both there.
Well, the thing about Paul Morrissey’s movies…
What are his movies without Andy?
He made Beethoven’s Nephew.
I didn’t think it was that great. I like him because I like to talk about silent movies with him. I’m a specialist in German silent movies, and he knows quite a lot. We can share that subject.
He made Forty Deuce, which is about a male prostitute. It was quite good. Kevin Bacon’s in it.
Yes. These are not as famous as the ones he made with Andy. Flesh and Trash and all that.
It almost seemed like Morrissey was slumming in those movies, that he was kind of making fun of the transsexuals. But the transsexuals were so brilliant and so amusing and so witty.
I shouldn’t say this, but physically he was quite repulsive.
That New Yorker article kind of suggested that he was maybe a little more sexually attractive when he was younger.
He was not handsome.
He did OK. So I recently watched the movies Lagerfeld Confidential and Karl Lagerfeld Is Never Happy Anyway.
People like me in this vision of loneliness. There was another one called Un Roi Seul [A Lonely King]. It’s a very good movie, though the title is stupid.
Your whole transformation fascinated me, like seeing you before you had lost the weight and you were always holding a fan.
In my youth I was very skinny.
You went up and down, right?
I started to go up when I was 35. Then I had to be careful and then I was bored.
You got tired of working out?
I worked out when I was very young and then one day I was bored to death by it. I did it before other people did it. I did it in the 60s and late 50s.
And when you finally lost the weight, what made you do it?
Well, there came this new line from Hedi Slimane at Dior, that you needed to be slim to wear. It said, “You want this? Go back to your bones.” And so I lost it all. I lost 88 pounds and never got them back.
It was a transformation in style for you as well.
Yes, but if you look at old photos of me as a child I was dressed like this. I never changed.
One documentary was in German and the other was in French. There’s something interesting about the way you speak in French.
I’m another person. I am three. When I speak English I am one person, when I speak German I’m another, when I speak French I’m another. I’m happy that you got that message.
Your philosophy is more clear in French somehow.
I’m not Kierkegaard. Don’t call it that way.
But everyone has a philosophy, that’s my philosophy.
Yes, but I am more a pupil of Spinoza.
I like the fact that you quote Marcuse in Lagerfeld Confidential. It was something that he said along the lines of “Happiness and a comfortable life are indecent.”
In a way they are, if you display them too much.
What’s your relationship to communism?
If you look at history, you see how many victims they had. The German Nazis, who were the worst thing in the world, are poor beginners next to the communists, who killed more than 30 million people.
You’re talking about the Soviets.
Yes, the Soviets and other countries you don’t mention because they’re still around. North Korea and things like that. So what do you want me to think about it?
Communism has been in vogue in France at various times, often among intellectuals.
In France, after the war, communism became a kind of snobbishness of intellectual wealthy people who were not overly wealthy.
We call them Champagne Socialists.
No, this comes later. What I’m talking about is what the French call gauche caviar. It’s softer.
It was something like a trend?
Yes, it was a trend. I’m very sorry, but none of their lives worked like their talk. There was only one philosopher like that before the war—Simone Weil. She was the daughter of a rich banker and she gave all her money away and lived like the poor communists she was defending. She died as a result, because she got tuberculosis from living in poor conditions. This I admire.
She was kind of a martyr.
Yes. Whereas bourgeois people having lunch and drinking hard and “changing the world”…
Yes. I’m very sorry. It doesn’t work with me. You have to live the life.
If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.
Give your money away and live the life that you are fighting for. That’s the way it should be. I hate rich people when they try to be communists or socialists. I think it’s obscene.
The reason I brought up Bacon earlier in this conversation is because a male prostitute became his muse and his surrogate son.
And von Gloeden paid for those boys to have their photographs taken. It’s outrageous.
He had a special assistant named Il Moro who was his lover.
But if you look at those photos they are not sexy. They have ugly teeth and I think they’re dressed repulsively. It’s the mood that may be interesting.
It was peasant boys that he was photographing.
People who were not groomed properly, who have big bellies and ugly teeth.
So you don’t like von Gloeden’s photography?
I understand the mood but I will never have a photo of his on my wall.
But he also sort of invented sex tourism in a certain way because everyone was visiting him in Taormina, where he lived in Sicily.
Have you been to Taormina? I think it’s a depressing place.
It is. I think it’s become too touristic.
I got the flu there and stayed in bed for two weeks at the hotel and then I never liked the place again.
Have you ever had the kind of relationship that Bacon had with someone who kind of becomes a muse?
Yes, but they were not prostitutes, they were professional models.
Right. You mentioned Spinoza. Which thoughts of his particularly resonate for you?
Spinoza said, and I have to translate it into English, “Every decision is a final refusal.” I live with this.