India was very close to Karl. It’s a pity he never came here but he carried this place in his heart,” says Caroline Lebar, from the eponymous fashion house and designer label named after German designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld. She goes on to stream the famous Paris-Bombay Métiers d’Art show, which Lagerfeld designed for Chanel in 2011/2012, on her phone for us, as a testament to the late designer’s attachment to India. “This was a homage to India,” adds Lebar, as we meet her hours before the launch of the collection in New Delhi.
Lebar and her colleague, Maggie Priori, were in India over the weekend to launch a special India Capsule in collaboration with Cover Story, one of India’s homegrown premium fast fashion brands. “We have been working on this for about an year now,” adds Manjula Tiwari, CEO of Cover Story, “It started with us getting a call from the design house, suggesting we get in business together. Initially, we were taken by surprise.” Priori, Head of Liaison at the fashion house, says, “I was visiting India last year, and chanced upon a Cover Story outfit in a store window, and I walked in. I liked what I saw. And here we are.”
The 80-piece collection, available at Cover Story’s Delhi and Mumbai outlets, is a bit of a departure from the usual aesthetics of the brand. There are a lot of monochromatic tones and sharp silhouettes — in line with the Karl Lagerfeld ethos. The designer, who passed away earlier this year, championed the cause of monochrome separates. Daywear includes basic black-and-white ensembles, but we see a sporadic burst of red as well. To spice things up, there is a snow leopard print, and a houndstooth imprint as well. There are androgynous tuxedos — in both suit and dress options, besides sequinned jumpsuits and knitted dresses that are apt for evening wear.
This is not the first foray of Karl Lagerfeld in fast fashion. They did it in 2004 with Swedish clothing brand, H&M. Lebar affirms it was against her advice. “I told Karl not to do it, and yet he went ahead with it, he did things instinctively. The H&M collaboration was a huge success. It changed the way fast fashion was perceived in the world. This is a testimony to who he was, that I could go and advice him ‘no’ for something. I wasn’t fired. I am so happy that I was wrong,” adds Lebar, who has been with the design house for more than 30 years. She started as an intern, and never left.
The team took special care to accommodate the varied shape of the Indian woman in the designs. “We could have honestly gone with anyone, but that’s where Manjula came in. She told us how perhaps our heavy velvet offerings — a signature of the label — won’t work in India, given the climate. We could do something very Karl — like a crocodile print— which works in the Middle-East, but it will work better here if it’s limited edition. We could bring in the very sharp ‘Karl’ silhouette but they might not work here, given the Indian body. What’s the point of making something which doesn’t fit you, even if it’s your size — because it’s not meant for your shape,” says Lebar. The collection is priced competitively, between Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000. “The collaboration works because they were not prescriptive in their approach. Accessible luxury was the combined theme,” says Tiwari, who has earlier worked with brands such as United Colors of Benetton and Jabong, among others.
The two parties understand that this collaboration is a risk, but that’s the Lagerfeld ethos. “Karl always took risks. In the mid-’80s when he took over Chanel, it was a dead, decaying fashion house. Coco Chanel had died about five years ago, but was still very much an icon in public memory. There were people like Kenzo and Jean Paul Gaultier around him, who advised him against it. But he went ahead and revived it,” recalls Lebar, 53.
India has been an interesting experience for the label and for Lebar as well, personally. “I see how being dressy is a way of life. I saw a woman in Mumbai on a ferry. She was wearing this heavily embroidered pink saree. She had her feet up, and leaned on the railing with no care in the world. In France, when you are dressed up, you sit up straight, you are so attentive and formal. Here in India, design, fashion and looking good is woven into the DNA,” adds Lebar.
Both the design houses, Cover Story and Karl Lagerfeld, are keeping in with the debate around sustainable fashion and ethical practices in the industry. “The companies need to be mindful of the materials we use. But there has to be a conscious choice by consumers as well; they should be willing to invest more in what will last longer,” says Tiwari. “We need to recycle, reuse. I like fast fashion because I can reinvent who I am. But that means we should be careful about what we do afterwards. Cotton T-shirts can be upcyled and made into paper,” adds Lebar.