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The Met’s Karl Lagerfeld Exhibition: Take a First Look at the Deceptively Simple Design

The exhibition design he created hinges on the physical intersection of curved and straight lines, as his own project sketches—shown here for the first time—evidence. “The first design presented was pretty much the final design,” Bolton says of Ando. “That initial concept really was just refined.” That, of course, can’t help but recall Lagerfeld’s own process. “I think sketches drawn at the beginning of a project are the most important,” the architect adds. “A rough sketch that reveals the struggle for a solution is often more appealing to me than a pristine drawing one arrives at at the very end.”

Bolton, who professes to love working with architects and considers himself a great fan of Ando’s buildings—he cites Church of the Light in particular—felt Ando would be able to communicate Hogarth’s idea, as he has so frequently played with straight and curved lines in his own oeuvre. There was also Ando’s poignant history with Lagerfeld—as the architect had designed a home and studio for the couturier in the 1990s, which was unfortunately never able to be realized. “It saddened both of them, I think,” Bolton says. 

The home and studio design Ando created for Lagerfeld, which was meant to be constructed in Biarritz, France. “The project did not conclude in his mind,” Ando recalls. “Years later, Lagerfeld continued to express his excitement about designing a house with myself.” Bolton muses: “It’s very rare to have experienced that: two incredible creatives who come together in this alchemical way.”

Photo: Sketch by Tadao Ando for Studio Karl Lagerfeld / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Intellectually, Ando and Lagerfeld possessed a deep mutual respect for one another. “Lagerfeld often expressed two opposing sensibilities coexisting in a single idea,” Ando notes. “Contrary dispositions, such as his acute sense for the present and reverence for tradition, childlike freedom, and profoundly sophisticated intellect, elucidated the sublime ambiguity that fueled his creativity.” As for Bolton, he sees Ando’s approach as being very similar to that of Lagerfeld. “That’s what was so poetic.” 

Drawing by hand is just one example of this, albeit an especially fitting one. Despite recent technological advances in architecture, and also fashion, Ando still believes in the “eternal” importance of sketching: “Humanity remains imperfect [in its] existence; rough hand-drawn sketch continues to be the most expressive tool, as evident in Lagerfeld’s drawings.”

And yet, it’s the unrealized home and atelier that both Bolton and Ando return to. Bolton reflects, “Lagerfeld never lived in a Tadao Ando space, and now he can,” thanks to the exhibition. “It’s meaningful to Tadao, meaningful to me, and meaningful to Karl, I think.” As Ando poetically concludes: “Though I am evermore reminded of [Karl’s] departure as I finish designing for this exhibition, the endeavor became another chance for me to talk with an old friend, one last time.”

Two sketches and two complementary views: “My design serves as a blank backdrop to give voice to Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy,” Ando comments.

Photo: Sketch for the proposed exhibition design for “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“I always wanted people to walk in and feel like they were in a Tadao Ando space, but also a mausoleum to Karl,” Bolton says.

Photo: Sketch for the proposed exhibition design for “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Most garments in the exhibition are paired with a correlating sketch.

Photo: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here, a runway image of a Chanel dress that exemplifies ornamental line.

Photo: Victor Boyko Getty Images / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the opposing end of Lagerfeld’s design spectrum is structural line, as illustrated here. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The same Chanel Fall-Winter 2017/18 Haute Couture coat, seen here on a museum mannequin. 

Photo: © Julia Hetta / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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