To hear her recount her first times modeling for Lagerfeld, starting with Chanel’s spring 2012 couture collection with its jetliner set and vertical, troll-like hairstyles, one might deduce as much.
“There was so much to do with playing a part. I think that was the first time in fashion I was really allowed to play these different roles,” she said during an interview to discuss her capsule collection with the Karl Lagerfeld brand, dropping on Sept. 8 at Karl Lagerfeld stores, on karl.com and via select wholesale partners worldwide.
The British model said Lagerfeld was always game when she suggested acting up on the runway, as she did for a 2016 Chanel show at the Ritz, kissing the hand of another model, and sharing a tango moment with a waiter.
For a Chanel show in Salzburg in 2014, the German designer went so far as to cast Delevingne as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sisi,” opposite Pharrell Williams, for a short film he directed. The two danced and sang an original duet — “CC the World.”
(“For her to start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?” Lagerfeld deadpanned at the time.)
“He really influenced me so much,” Delevingne marveled about Lagerfeld during a recent interview over Teams. “He never told me to do anything specifically, but he allowed me the space to grow, and he would treat me like a friend.…He was so human with me and it made me feel so much more comfortable in myself.”
In fact, his openness and encouragement ultimately gave Delevingne the confidence to share an idea she had for a Chanel show, which Lagerfeld was unable to realize before he passed away in February 2019.
“I was so nervous about telling him, but he was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that,’” she related, while declining to disclose the concept.
Delevingne and Lagerfeld were like-minded in many ways about fashion, which the capsule collection demonstrates with its emphasis on wearability, practical touches like pockets, a playful spirit, chic tailoring — and several interpretations of the shirt, Lagerfeld’s favorite garment.
It was Lagerfeld who instilled in Delevingne an appreciation for his metier.
“I didn’t really know that much about fashion before I started. I never really gave it that much credit,” she confessed. “He taught me so much more about fashion in terms of its possibilities.”
Her proximity to Lagerfeld, whose prodigious knowledge and refined taste extended into interiors and industrial design, certainly seeped in.
During fashion shoots with him, Delevingne came to realize how clothes can make you feel, mentioning a Marie Antoinette getup for one photography session that made her feel very differently about herself and appreciate “how actually interesting fashion is.”
“I don’t think that people should be judged by what they wear, but when you ask people why they wear what they wear, it’s a very interesting story. And even if they don’t care about what they’re wearing, that’s also interesting, too,” she mused.
To be sure, she was in awe of Lagerfeld’s ability to juggle multiple brands, including Fendi, and handle it all with “such finesse. It just didn’t even seem like he was trying either. He was obviously, but he just made it look so easy.”
Lagerfeld often spoke of the need to “push things” and so she applied this to the collaboration, putting sustainability and a genderless approach at the top of her agenda. She also based the Cara Loves Karl capsule on well-made wardrobe staples “that you feel good wearing.…I just wanted it to be just different and something that I’ve never done before.”
She took a very hands-on approach, another chief Lagerfeld quality, as much as her schedule and technical skill allowed.
“It was very important for me to see samples, to be involved as much as possible,” she said.
Delevingne was shooting a TV show in Prague, where a one-hour meeting with the Lagerfeld design team morphed into a four-hour session of trying on clothes, making suggestions, and throwing out new ideas. “It was a really wonderful collaborative experience,” she said.
It was important to her that the clothes were practical and transformable, so a black nylon blouson reverses to silky faux fur, and hoods and collars are detachable on other garments. Delevingne put the kibosh on a pink prototype, insisting on baby blue as a more gender-neutral shade.
She kept the focus on tailored pieces, shirts and some denim. “They’re all so ‘me’ these pieces, because they’re simple to wear,” she shrugged. “I like to be understated, but also chic.”
The designs have a “Victor/Victoria” aspect wherein shirts, blazers and jeans jackets are split into two halves that button together, so a shirt could be half striped/half solid; regular length, cropped or partially unbuttoned to expose some tummy, for example.
“She’s not just putting her name on it, she really created the story,” Hun Kim, design director of Karl Lagerfeld, told WWD earlier this year.
During the interview, Delevingne casually mentioned another commonality with Lagerfeld, who first picked up a camera in the late ’80s and went on to shoot editorials for top international magazines, plus campaigns for all the brands for which he designed.
“I love, love taking pictures. I travel around with two massive camera bags,” she said. “It’s something I did a lot when I was younger. I kind of stopped doing it when I started modeling, but it’s my favorite thing to do, especially if you meet someone who maybe doesn’t like having their photo taken and you’re able to capture them in a way that they see themselves and they’re like, ‘Oh my god!’ That’s gives me so much joy.”
Billed as a first, the campaign for the Cara Loves Karl capsule will feature avatars of Lagerfeld and Delevingne interacting in a digital playground. It is to debut on the brand’s social channels in tandem with the collection drop on Sept. 8.
The brand, based in Amsterdam and Paris, is also planning 15 pop-up stores worldwide, including ones at 105 Wooster Street in New York, on Via Alessandro Manzoni in Milan, The Grove in Los Angeles and Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Lagerfeld once described Delevingne as “the Charlie Chaplin of the fashion world. She’s a kind of genius, like a character out of a silent movie.”
The British model, who almost single-handedly launched a trend toward fuller eyebrows, has represented a host of fashion and beauty brands in advertising, including Rimmel, Tag Heuer, Puma, Saint Laurent, Fendi, Chanel, Balmain, Dior and A|X Armani Exchange. She has also designed collections for DKNY and Mulberry.
Delevingne made a move into acting with 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” going on to star in such films as “Suicide Squad” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” costarring Rihanna. Other film credits include “Paper Towns,” “The Face of an Angel,” “Her Smell” and “Life in a Year” opposite Jaden Smith.
Delevingne can be seen in the second season of “Only Murders in the Building,” and a second season of “Carnival Row” is coming out next year, she said, declining to comment on fall projects. These are believed to include eco thriller “The Climb” about female activists scaling a skyscraper.
Her documentary “Planet Sex” is also expected to premiere before the end of the year.