At times sculptural and undeniably romantic, photography for Karl Lagerfeld is a celebration of beauty in a neoclassical way. Pigeon-holing the style of one of the world's most eclectic trailblazers of fashion and contemporary culture is out of the question. By way of his creative nature, Lagerfeld, designer for Chanel and Fendi, is unstoppable, volatile, and an incessant seeker of new levels of perfection. The KARL LAGERFELD – Visions of Fashion exhibition, running at Florence's Palazzo Pitti until 23 October, presents a fascinating snapshot of his photographic art.
Lagerfeld was the man behind the camera for the 2011 Pirelli Calendar which was shot in his Paris studio with stars the likes of Bianca Balti, Julianne Moore, Lara Stone, Daria Werbowy, Natasha Poly, Baptiste Giabiconi and Brad Kroenig. That particular edition explored the pantheon of classic mythology that has had a strong and contaminating influence on his work.
Beauty - of the plastic, physical and uncontaminated kind - is deemed to be the exclusive heritage of the gods. This journey through image played an important part in Lagerfeld's rise to become a master of the photographic image; along the way he experimented with multiple techniques, from early daguerreotypes using silver, platinotypes and polaroid transfer to the finest resinotype, screen and digital prints. For the Pitti exhibition, curators Eric Pfrunder and Gerhard Steidl have taken an almost anthological approach. They span an entire career in 200 pictures, including some unpublished ones. Visitors are treated to back-to-back footage of fashion features shot for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Numéro and V Magazine. Including, naturally, the “Le Voyage d’Ulysse” and “Daphnis and Chloe” series. The former is an 18-panel photo installation made for the swimming pool and restaurant of the Hôtel Métropole in Monte-Carlo, a place that is especially dear to Lagerfeld because of his friendship with Caroline, Princess of Hanover, and the whole Grimaldi-Casiraghi family. The latter series features 20 photos which reconstruct the bucolic adventures of the two nymphs who were, in turn, muses of an unfinished opera by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The most spectacular part of the exhibition is perhaps the section housed in the White Room in Palazzo Pitti where Italian fashion made its debut in 1951, staging the first ever runway show. The runway theme acts as the leitmotif, weaving together huge, floaty images which hang from the ceiling like draped clothes, giving form to Karl Lagerfeld's vision of haute couture. A major influence in the dialogue created between the images and the interiors, including the magnificent and exquisite furnishings, is the atmosphere and historical markers which the German master has always made the starting point of his works. This applies whether they are the ultimate in contemporary creation, like his comic strips and gorgeous small goods collections like Karlito which made him more accessible and popular, or his more sophisticated works produced for fashion houses which he managed to breathe new life into through careful research and the contemporary transposition of their archives.