Just coming in on the high heels of “Sex and the City” is the well-timed release of “Lagerfeld Confidential,” a documentary portrait of one of the best-known fashion designers in the world.
Karl Lagerfeld is the German-born designer whose own white ponytail, high collars and ever-present sunglasses are as much a signature as any dress he ever designed. Because he’s at the center of the film, he’s the reason the movie succeeds … and falls short.
It succeeds because the man himself operates by a series of ironclad rules for living, which are as cool and no-nonsense as any cowboy code. He doesn’t dwell on the past, doesn’t like to put down roots, and believes that all relationships should always have a “sword of Damocles” hanging over them. Otherwise they become indifferent.
On the other hand, the movie comes up short as a celebrity bio because Lagerfeld remains hidden behind his precepts, just as he is hidden by his dark glasses. He’s not one to express doubts or anxieties (or reveal details of past love affairs), and he’s very aware of presenting himself to the world.
For instance, one of his maxims is, “I hate hard workers. You should work hard, but be casual about it.” In other words, don’t let them catch you at it.
Those dollops of personal philosophy at least make the movie amusing on a regular basis. We don’t find out too many particulars of Lagerfeld’s life, and we don’t even really see that many of his designs (at one point, Nicole Kidman joins him on a runway to demonstrate glamour).
So this doesn’t have the pizzazz of “Unzipped,” the portrait of the much more flamboyant Isaac Mizrahi, which I guess is the “Citizen Kane” of fashion-designer documentaries. But filmmaker Rodolphe Marconi gave it his best shot.
Of course, the unasked question is why anybody should care about a fashion designer, no matter how successful. Still, even for those who find haute couture an empty exercise, the Lagerfeld character study is intriguing enough.