In the third instalment of the Karl Lagerfeld sale series, Sotheby’s pay tribute to Karl Lagerfeld’s creative genius with an auction encompassing personal belongings from his various residences, presenting an anthology of his personal taste, life and career. The Cologne sale tells the story of Lagerfeld the couturier, the collector, the decorator and the photographer.
Karl Lagerfeld was an insatiable collector whose personal interiors mirrored his aesthetic taste and avid consumption of culture. In the early 1980s, he became obsessed with the humour and playful designs of the Italian Memphis Group. This bold, tongue-in-cheek collection referenced the disjointed lines and feral ideology of the early 1980s, both confrontational and colourful.
In recent years the Memphis Group and its founding father, Ettore Sottsass, have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. But, it’s a revival that the New York Times waved away as existing ‘in the echo chamber of social media, where it has taken on a life of its own, continually refuelled with fresh injections of celebrity and nostalgia.’ Its bold shapes and riotous colour palette are indeed the perfect fit for our Instagram age.
Back in 1981, at the original Memphis exhibition, the movement was as shocking as watching the Sex Pistols for the first time, as more than 2,000 people tried to cram into a kitchen showroom near the Duomo in Milan.
Sottsass deftly mixed high art and pop culture. The Memphis name was a reference to both Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and the fusing of references to Ancient Egypt and Pop Art, employing clashing colours and anthropomorphic shapes for jarring effect.
What was most shocking at the time, though, was the palette: tattooed patterns across every surface, which itself was a riot of sickly sweet nursery school colours. It was either mildly threatening or wildly liberating, depending on your age and cultural disposition.
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For Sottsass, however, the Memphis aesthetic of 1981 wasn’t necessarily meant to last. He aimed to free design from the burden of the Modern movement mantra – to demonstrate that form doesn’t have to follow function – and then move on.
Sottsass could not have predicted the unstoppable tendency of social media to consume itself in search of visually arresting imagery. Rather than being seen as dangerously subversive, his designs now appear as seductive background furniture in posts by celebrities such as Cara Delevigne.
The famously meticulous Karl Lagerfeld painted his apartment walls grey as a backdrop for his own Memphis collection, surrounded by artworks by David Hockney and nudes by his friend Helmut Newton. And like Sottsass, Lagerfeld was equally as prolific at discarding: ‘I had Warhols and Basquiats, and I gave them away because I thought they would not last.’ Lagerfeld once confessed.
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Lagerfeld changed his interiors and homes almost as often as his seasonal collections for Chanel and Fendi: an 18th-century chateau, Biarritz villa, Art Deco mansion, and Rococo villa. His Memphis collection wouldn’t last forever either.
The journalist Regina Spelman who interviewed him in his Monaco Penthouse in 1983, said, ‘He told us that he generally liked new things, such as Memphis, but at the same time also thought about selling them a few years later.’ Sotheby’s held its first auction of Lagerfeld’s Memphis collection back in 1991.
He later turned to the French decorative arts of the 18th century, which he considered an ideal of elegance and refinement. (In the early 1970s, he was equally feverish about Art Deco which he described as the roots of ‘this modernity that I am tirelessly searching for.’) In the last 20 years of his life, Lagerfeld’s futuristic interiors were filled with contemporary designs by Marc Newson, Martin Szekely and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.
Unpredictable to the last, Lagerfeld’s final residence, in Louveciennes, was unexpectedly decorated in a style relating to Germany in the 1920s, with furniture designed by Bruno Paul and posters from early 20th-century German advertising.
This brings us full circle at the auction block: those posters, along with his furniture, can now be bought in the final days of Sotheby’s auction KARL – Karl Lagerfeld’s Estate III Sale.