I Am Not Karl Lagerfeld

A man who designed things died this week, but what ended was his central, lifelong […]

Duo Dickinson / 2.22.19

A man who designed things died this week, but what ended was his central, lifelong design: himself. I design things every day, but I am completely clueless about my own design.

Death imposes reflection on us, whether we like it or not. So when I see a person pass away who was virtually a cartoon of High Design, I do the egomaniacally correct thing: I odiously compare my life, since I am still living, to a person who triumphed at making himself in his own image. My design as an architect attempts to control, in a place where death proves that the desire to control is, finally, useless.

Karl Lagerfeld had no children, no spouse, and a deep, abiding memory of a mother that taught him all that mattered in this world. As an 8-year-old, Lagerfeld liked wearing Tyrolean hats, but Mutter Lagerfeld disabused him: “You shouldn’t wear hats. You look like an old dyke.” That insight stayed with him for over 75 years.

My own mother was simply missing from most of my life, and something that she told me has stuck with me for several decades: “I was just born too early. If I had been born 30 years ago I never would have had children.” Of course, that included her own three children, then all living.

“The Hollowverse” website says that Karl Lagerfeld had a fairly cogent view of his place in the universe: “I’m a polytheist: all present-day religions are recent, but I prefer the Greek and Roman mythology, which does without hell, without sin (an obstacle to happiness), and without forgiveness.”

I am an Episcopalian, for as long as I’ve been around—except for a decade when I believed far more in football, beer, and beautiful women. But soon after the joys of debauchery I discovered that there was a reality I could not define. It was and is uncomfortable. I was loved, whether I liked it or not. Whether I earned it or not.

Unlike Lagerfeld, I know the sins that I commit, and I have to accept that I am forgiven, even if the sins are large in my life every day. So “Thanks” and “Sorry” are daily devotions. I wonder if Lagerfeld, or all the other fully ego-expressing designers I know, had ever simply said “Thanks” when a design touched a beauty that he did not conspire toward, but simply happened from his work?

Lagerfeld claimed zero political or national identity, for the same reasons he held no religious identity, with no need for remorse, thanks, or doubt. It was because Karl Lagerfeld defined the rules he lived by, and those rules were to manifest himself, to succeed in a world he immersed himself in, helped create, and rose to define. There were no “obstacles to happiness.”

I have designed 800 things over 40 years. I have no idea how the world beyond my clients judges me as a person, because anyone can make a snap judgment about me, anywhere they see my work. But I do know how some audiences judge me: I’ve received about 30 awards, but I’ve entered about 300 competitions. If I played baseball, my batting average would below the Mendoza Line.

So my world is messier than Lagerfeld’s. In fact, I am a mess. Lagerfeld had a virtually prosthetic collar of high, white stiffness to support his neck. Huge, dark sunglasses, dry cleaned everything, and even a carefully cut ponytail. But for me, no leather shoes, no dry clean clothing. I have never even owned sunglasses, and only cut my hair when I give a talk, so it’s usually “in between.”

I only look in the mirror when I brush my teeth. I believe that Lagerfeld beheld the entire world as a mirror that tilted to him, every day. My wife and our children are the only mirrors I can see before me, and I am mostly wanting.

I do a similar thing to what Karl Lagerfeld did: I design things, but I am pretty sure we might just be polar opposites. But God loves us both. Completely. Without our acceptance or understanding or transactional benefit. Love just is.

The world was so with Karl Lagerfeld that he always had a driver and a bodyguard with him whenever he went out. For me every day is the chance to fail at living up to a truth far greater than the fashion world Lagerfeld created as his own grading system. Success for me is, truthfully, unexpected, and never financial. But I think, in the end, none of this matters to Jesus. You and I are unconditionally beloved in life and in death.

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3 responses to “I Am Not Karl Lagerfeld”

  1. Jason McSpadden says:

    I found what you have written here is powerful, honest, deeply insightful and just plan filled with The Gospel.
    Thanks. I needed it this morning!


  2. Allan Stadler says:

    Hi Duo,

    You are absolutely right in you last paragraph………”none of this matters to Jesus”. Oh Well. Keep up the good work every month…….always enjoyable.


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