If you’ve fostered any sense of fashion radar, it’s likely blaring right about now. You know better than to confuse any unfamiliar jitters or sleepless eves for seasonal allergies—the Met Gala, one of fashion’s biggest events, is just a whisper around the corner, taking place on the first Monday in May. This year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has departed from showcasing American fashion and decreed “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” as the 2023 Met Gala theme.
As anointed guests curate their masterpiece looks with the help of in-demand designers, those who are relegated to soak in fashion’s mightiest moments from the couch (albeit in comfier attire) can indulge in their own world of Karl simply by cracking open a few books. Having spent time at Fendi, Chanel, and his eponymous line—among others—there’s plenty of written material to work with. And, steeped in a hefty amount of controversy, readers may leapfrog underlying fashion FOMO accrued by missing the gala by unearthing past treasures and travesties of the storied savant. Check out the below books to familiarize yourself with some of the designer’s most iconic collections and looks, while learning his origin story and where his influence will most likely be felt well into the future.
The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alicia Drake
It could be argued that, without a spicy competitor, some of the greatest names in history might have fallen to footnote status. Such was the case with Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. Drake’s extensive and thorough exposé maps the course of the rivalry between the rising stars during the 1970s, while illuminating the designers’ early years, which informed not only their incessant drive, but their aesthetics. This book reaches beyond the gossip (though there’s some in there, too) and humanizes the luminaries by detailing the struggles each endured to cement their places as two of fashion’s most influential designers to date.
Paradise Now: The Extraordinary Life of Karl Lagerfeld by William Middleton
To gain access to the inner sanctum, it doesn’t hurt to have a foot in the door to wedge your way in. Having spent time reporting for tony publications like Women’s Wear Daily, Harper’s Bazaar, and, of course, W magazine, Middleton earns his insider badge with ease, resulting in an enjoyable history of Lagerfeld. Middleton moves the focus beyond the catwalk and into the office of a savvy mastermind who was as full of hot takes as he was business acumen. And while some of those takes were especially problematic, causing even devoted friends to distance themselves, Middleton keeps his eye on Lagerfeld for an exhaustive reflection on the man’s rise to the top—and determination to remain there.
Karl Lagerfeld Unseen: The Chanel Years by Robert Fairer
Transport to Lagerfeld’s Chanel days in this book of photography captured by Fairer. From behind the runway to celebrity fittings and Lagerfeld at work, Chanel and Karl fans alike will find something to delight in. What’s more, devoted followers of Lagerfeld will secure front row seats to some of the most legendary fashion shows he imagined for the line.
Karl Lagerfeld: Casa Malaparte by Gerhard Steidl (editor), Eric Pfrunder (editor), and Karl Lagerfeld (photographer)
Lagerfeld did not shy from turning his discriminating eye on a range of subjects. In this collection of photographs, Lagerfeld captures the iconic and mythical modern building, Casa Malaparte. Built in the 1930s by Italian writer, Curzio Malaparte, the home was memorialized in Jean-Luc Godard’s film, Contempt. Visiting the site in late 1997, Lagerfeld encountered a somber vista, prime for photography. A departure from his larger-than-life personality, the images evoke a murky, looming mood that easily could have served as a venue for one of Chanel’s many destination fashion shows.
Chanel: The Karl Lagerfeld Campaigns by Patrick Mauriés (editor) and Karl Lagerfeld (photographer)
It can easily be forgotten that the Chanel Lagerfeld inherited in 1983 was not a fashion house brimming with energy or youth. With careful work, respect for the archives, and an unflinching view on how to invigorate the line, Lagerfeld injected levity and glamour in equal doses. This is perhaps most evident in the campaigns Lagerfeld photographed. Featuring now-legendary faces like Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista, this collection is a thoughtful review of not only who was before the lens, but the man behind it as well.
Kaiser Karl: The Life of Karl Lagerfeld by Raphaelle Bacque
This biography (which pairs well with Paradise Now, we might add), offers an additional examination of Lagerfeld. Perhaps willing to muster a bit of bite, Bacque begins the book with the end, sharing Lagerfeld’s tall order of burial outfitting (if not him, who?) and subsequent funeral proceedings. Having embarked on the penning of the book before his death, Bacque gained a unique perspective: how others spoke of Lagerfeld when he still wielded influence, and after. Those especially in favor of Lagerfeld will enjoy the book—it scratches beneath the surface.
Chloé Catwalk: The Complete Collections by Lou Stoppard, Preface by Suzy Menkes
Chloé served as the springboard for Lagerfeld’s career when he officially joined the fashion house in 1966 as its head designer. Here, Lagerfeld hit his stride—debuting his take on the emerging “soft look,” which featured volume play via newly considered fabrics. Dressing celebrities like Jackie Onassis, Lagerfeld bolstered his reputation as a talented tastemaker who understood how women sought to dress and feel. This book offers a reflection on the fashion house, predating Lagerfeld and tracking his influence (or the rejection of it) in the years following his departure.
Choupette by Karl Lagerfeld by Karl Lagerfeld
One should only be so lucky to achieve half of Choupette’s daily pampering in a lifetime. In this collection of photographs snapped by Lagerfeld on his iPhone, the cat that changed it all is enshrined by its adoring owner. And while his beloved feline may have received more than the royal treatment (two maids! manicures!), it is his love which reaches well beyond the page, making Lagerfeld unusually relatable: He was a man obsessed with snapping photos of his pet, just like the rest of us.