luxury fashion

The Magical Realism of Karl Lagerfeld by Jahan Sharif

Karl Lagerfeld, self portrait.

Karl Lagerfeld, self portrait.

In 1967, after locking himself in a house for 18 months and accruing thousands of dollars of debt, the Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez published what is, perhaps, the greatest opening line of a novel ever written:

“Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo”.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”.

So starts his magnum opus, 100 Years of Solitude; a novel so overwhelming in its complexity, completeness, and ambition that it blasted the entire genre of magical realism out of Latin America, and directly into the popular discussion of literature around the world. The genre was cultivated mostly among Spanish-language authors in South America during the middle of the 20th century, as they struggled to capture in narrative form a level of human atrocity so extreme that it escaped the realm of conventional logic and reason. Márquez, a former journalist who came of age in a period of Colombian history known simply as La Violencia— during which almost 300,000 people were killed— himself described the terrors of his continent’s history as “outsized reality.”

La Violencia (1962), by Colombian artist Alejandro Obregón.

La Violencia (1962), by Colombian artist Alejandro Obregón.

Around the same time, five thousand miles and an ocean away, Karl Lagerfeld, another would-be emperor of culture, was busy inventing his version of the future as the creative director of Fendi. He had come to the Italian house from Paris after escaping the German countryside, which is where he was raised in order to avoid witnessing first-hand the savagery of the Holocaust. At that time, Fendi was known for its furs, but the family brought Lagerfeld in to transform it into a relevant fashion house. Vanessa Friedman said in The Times that “He refused to treat such luxury pelts as mink and sable too preciously. Instead he shaved them, dyed them, tufted them and otherwise created the concept of “Fun Fur,” which gave the brand its enduring double F logo.”

In 1983, his reinvention of Fendi landed him at Chanel-- of which he once said, “Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a whore — and then you get something out of her.” With a lifetime contract, an unlimited budget, and a mandate to do whatever he thought was best, Chanel is where Lagerfeld would make his most enduring mark— unleashing the full ambition of his creativity onto the world, and inventing his own type of outsized reality.

I first learned of Chanel as a fashion house, and not merely as a scent, in 2007 while doing research for a school project. YouTube had been founded two years earlier, and internet video was just beginning to be widely adopted by major organizations. Chanel was one of the few brands that had a version of their fashion show available to stream on its website. I’d seen clips of fashion shows in the past-- Naomi strutting down Versace’s long runways in the 90s, or the annually televised Victoria Secret Fashion Show on CBS— this, however, was something different. Chanel’s show was theater, not simply theatrical. There was a set, sound design, and choreography. It was a production deliberately conceived and executed to advance the extended metaphor that was the collection itself. In many respects, Chanel’s show was almost performance art.

And then there were the clothes; somehow simultaneously classic, expensive, current, and yet a nod to what the future could look like-- casual and chic. Vogue’s Sarah Mower said it like this,

“Instead of the multitudinous flocks of options he has sent out in the last few seasons, this single-file presentational march condensed everything that can be thoroughly Chanel, yet completely du jour. While he was at it, Lagerfeld also dashed off sporty striped T-shirt dresses, tulle-covered denim, Edie Sedgwick, metallic-scuba, and puffy Empire organza moments...”

Lagerfeld’s ability to capture the essence of fantasy and aspiration, and then reflect them back as reality was at the core of his ability to define the intersection of the competing planes of the past, present, and future. Márquez did it too.

When the author passed, the editor of the New York Times’ Book Review, Michiko Kakutani, wrote an appraisal of the man she called the “Magus of magical realism.” In her piece, she wrote of Márquez words that could as easily have been for Lagerfeld:

“Garcia Márquez used his fecund imagination and exuberant sleight of hand to conjure the miraculous in his fiction...Such images were not simply tokens of his endlessly inventive mind, but testaments to his all-embracing artistic vision, which recognized the extraordinary in the mundane, the familiar in the fantastic.”

The Magus of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez.

The Magus of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez.

Like the city of Macondo, Márquez’s fantasy land of mirrors in “Solitude,” Chanel’s shows became more and more over the top. He launched a kind-of spaceship, built a full-sized replica of the base of the Eiffel tower, created a beach with sand and tides, installed a cruise ship, and imported a 265-ton melting iceberg from Sweden, to name a few examples.

While there was apparently no limit to the scope of Lagerfeld’s ambition, persistence, and knowledge (he once referred to his mind as Google), the one subject Lagerfeld refused to engage with was death. He said he would never stop working because to stop working for him was to die and “it’ll be all finished.” Contrastingly, Márquez did not think about death, because “...I was sure I was going to die very young, and in the street.”

This mutual refusal to reckon with their mortality, and their early experiences with human-perpetuated terror and the lies used to cover it up, seemed to engender in them an ability to separate fact from truth, and truth from reality. Sometimes, as Márquez said, it “was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proofs other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice.”

Such is how these two men approached their crafts; using their talent and authority to create worlds of their own, where they ignored quotidian nuisances and made magic real. Occasionally, they invited us in. And for those brief, privileged moments, maybe we too would see the world as they did, and believe in the possibility of the otherwise unimaginable.

Karl Lagerfeld passed away last Tuesday, February 19th, in Paris.

Los Angeles, CA, USA
February 2019

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

The Unintended Consequences of Buying a Rolex by Jahan Sharif

A typical weekend at Maru— neighbors, caffeine, and puppies.

A typical weekend at Maru— neighbors, caffeine, and puppies.

So I'm sitting there, at Maru, telling a friend of mine about why I bought my watch. We got onto the topic because we were discussing the frustrations we have that come from dealing with the assumptions people make about you because of your appearance or presentation. I assure you, I am not rich; but, I wear a Rolex. 

I don't know where my interest in luxury fashion came from, as nobody in my family or immediate circle growing up had a particular affinity for luxury, and they certainly placed no importance on fashion! But for reasons that are not important now, what could have been a passing impulse turned into a legitimate pursuit to try to understand why certain things justified higher prices.

At 11 years old, I made my first luxury purchase— a wallet from the Versace outlet at Woodbury Commons, in New Jersey. It was an unremarkable brown leather bifold with the only exterior branding being a tiny metal Medusa head. I don't know why I chose it, but I remember being certain that it was what I wanted. I had with me about $200-- roughly my entire net worth-- which I had saved up from the previous few birthdays and Christmases. The wallet cost about $190 with tax.

Every hour, a coach-sized shuttle bus from New York City brings foreign tourists to the mall. So, I wasn't surprised when the salesperson didn't react to me, a random young kid, buying a Versace wallet in cash. The reaction came from my dad who was, in hindsight very reasonably, a little shocked and confused as to why I was buying a luxury anything! Never mind that I had nothing to put in my new wallet, I loved it and I was happy to own it. 

Eventually, I did have money and cards to put in it, and it served me well for almost six years, which is when I upgraded to a Prada.

This is the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí walking his anteater in Paris. At first, this is what I felt like wearing my Rolex.

This is the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí walking his anteater in Paris. At first, this is what I felt like wearing my Rolex.

But this story isn't about a wallet, it's about a watch. And, my move to watches happened after luxury clothes became somewhat less novel. (It might be the "perfect" t-shirt, but it's still a t-shirt.) Watches had a different appeal to me, because with cellphones around they serve almost no essential purpose. So why are they still important? Status, sentimentality, and fashion aside there is something to be said for an object that is almost entirely made by hand and can perform a specific set of functions perfectly... for forever. Other than a house, do you own anything that you can reasonably expect to outlast you? 

It took me about six years to save for an entry level luxury watch ($5,000-$8,500). And after a lot of research, I settled on the Rolex Explorer (ref. 214270). It is the great-great-great-great-grandchild of the Rolex that Sir Edmund Hillary wore as he, along with his expedition parter Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to successfully summit Mount Everest in 1953. (You can learn more about it here.) 

But, just because I knew which watch I wanted to buy, doesn't mean that I could just walk into a store and pick one up. The watch is made in very limited quantities, because it's not that popular. The Explorer is intended for people who know its history, or for whatever reason, understand why this simple piece that can only tell time, is special. It took me a full year to track one down, and when I finally had it in my hands, I hesitated.

Me, the precious Lucy, and my watch.

Me, the precious Lucy, and my watch.

How could I, a then-26 year old with barely a job let alone job security, really justify a purchase that took me almost six years to save for? Then my mom, who was with me, reminded me of something: Trump's recent election. And I quote, "The man has bankrupted everything he's ever touched. Who knows what's going to happen to the value of your cash in a few years. You'll always be able to sell a Rolex." That insight, along with a special zero interest holiday financing offer, allowed me to walk confidently out of the store with the most gratifying purchase I've ever made.

That was about two years ago, and it turns out that that purchase was also one of my most important. Los Angeles is a notoriously lonely city. It is really hard— like really hard— to meet people here. There’s no central district, no mechanism that forces people to be aware of each other (like New York City’s subway), and it’s very segregated. In many ways, LA is like a collection of gated communities— you can’t get inside if you don’t already know someone. But there are a few places where you can meet random people and hope for the best: Cafes and Uber Pools. The challenge is finding that little piece of common ground that can be used to justify starting a conversation.

I speak and write often about my favorite coffee shop in Los Angeles, Maru. Yes, it has the best coffee in LA. Yes, they have the best staff in LA. Yes, they have the best location in LA. But Maru is important to me, because it was the gateway into what has become my vibrant, loving, and supportive community of neighbors and friends in this city. And it all started one typical Spring day in 2017, when I interrupted an elegant man minding his business, to let him know that we were wearing the same watch.

Los Angeles, California, USA
February 2019

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required