“I have always wanted to buy a fortress somewhere, empty it, and decorate the whole thing with books,” Lagerfeld once declared. “I want it with the moat and all. Then I would live the simple life of a student.” It was a romantic fantasy, of course: There was absolutely nothing simple about the way Lagerfeld lived in any of his residences. In Rome for instance—a city where he had once studied the composer Bellini, and where he would reimagine ready-to-wear and a contemporary treatment of fur for the Fendi sisters—he lived in an apartment inspired by Goethe and the Grand Tourists, while in Monte Carlo he embraced the antic wit and garish colors of the Memphis Group, and his Gesamtkunstwerk vision included Masanori Umeda’s iconic boxing-ring seating unit right in the middle of the living space. There was a complete aesthetic pivot when Lagerfeld took over the lease of the majestic 1902 La Vigie—a white cube-shaped villa perched atop a hill above the sea in Monte Carlo—from Prince Rainier: Lagerfeld is said to have spent $14 million bringing it back to life and spent as many years there, creating interiors that evoked the spirit of the Belle Époque English beauty Princess Daisy of Pless. Meanwhile, a subsequent Monegasque apartment went Donald Judd minimalist.
In the late 1980s, the brightly colored interiors of his pretty French country house Le Mée, near Fontainebleau, were inspired by “Bécassine,” the illustrated turn-of-the-century comic strip about a hapless Breton maid, beloved of generations of French schoolchildren, but in the rooms, 18th-century Swedish furniture jostled masterpieces by Eileen Gray and neoromantic works by the avant-garde contemporary designers André Dubreuil and Borek Sipek in a thoroughly ’80s visual mash-up.
By the turn of the ’90s, as Vogue noted, Karl owned seven houses in four countries, furnished with antiques, contemporary commissions, and a quarter of a million books: At the Hôtel de Soyecourt, there were so many books piled on an imposing library table on the piano nobile that it crashed through the parquet to the floor below (no one was hurt). “I’m a very messy person with all my books, letters, writing,” Lagerfeld admitted. Increasingly, however, his homes were filled with objects but not with people, and those riotous dinner parties became a thing of the past. “I realized at 14 that I was born to live alone,” Lagerfeld claimed. In his last years he preferred the company of his beloved Choupette.
Lagerfeld didn’t care to look back at his work, as he felt that fashion was all about the present and the future, but in his interiors he allowed himself to do so—and perhaps nowhere more so than at the elegant Villa Jako near his native Hamburg, where he created an achingly nostalgic paean to the elegant neoclassical Weimar style of his parents’ era. Having completed it, he then discovered that he had “no idea what to do in Hamburg,” and sold it. There is some doubt that he even spent a night there.
In the October 2008 issue of Vogue, Lagerfeld described his latest apartment on the Quai Voltaire, with its silvery views across the Seine to the Louvre, as “a spaceship for the city, where you don’t feel bound by the Earth.” He had transformed, as Joan Juliet Buck noted, “a classic French eight-room apartment with three bathrooms into an abstract space for drawing, writing, and reading, with the necessary living annexes—bedroom and bathroom—encased in a pod of frosted-glass walls,” with concrete and silicon floors dotted with furnishings and objects by forward-thinking designers including Marc Newson, Martin Szekely, Barber Osgerby, Amanda Levete, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. There were some throwbacks, however, including the surprise of exquisite handmade linens and lace. The master of the house, after all, then still stoutly resisted email. “I like the act of writing,” he explained to Buck.
Lagerfeld’s final house, the Pavillon de Voisins in Louveciennes, was another visual essay in memory, showcasing the furniture of the early-20th-century German designer Bruno Paul, and recalling his earlier passion for Art Deco with examples of the work of the French designers Louis Süe and André Mare, who created Jazz Age interiors for the couturiers Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou, and the dramatic poster art of Ludwig Hohlwein. This house, again, like the Villa Jako, was an exquisitely realized fantasia that Lagerfeld apparently never really spent a night in.
“I live in a set,” said Karl of his solitary world, “with the curtains of the stage closed and with no audience.”
Director: Nikki Petersen
Director of Photography: Etienne Baussan
Editor: Robby Massey
Supervising Producer: Jordin Rocchi
Manager, Creative Development, Vogue: Alexandra Gurvitch
Director, Creative Development, Vogue: Anna Page Nadin
Production Coordinator, On-Set: Kevin Mohun
Gaffer: Alexis Poree
Audio: Lucas Rollin
Special Thanks To: Lady Amanda Harlech, Sotheby’s
Production Manager: Edith Pauccar
Production Coordinator: Kit Fogarty
Senior Director, Production Management: Jessica Schier
Post-Production Supervisor: Marco Glinbizzi
VP, Digital Video Programming and Development,Vogue (English Language): Joe Pickard
Senior Director, Digital Video: Tara Homeri
Director of Content, Vogue: Rahel Gebreyes