How Karl Lagerfeld Fashion Sketches Became Furniture

When Milan-based furniture designer Toan Nguyen was shown a stack of Karl Lagerfeld‘s fashion sketches, the expertly drawn lines spoke to him loud and clear.

“I am not connected to fashion, but I could immediately understand all the intentions of Karl. Each outfit is very designed, and it’s very clear about what he wants to do,” Nguyen marveled about Lagerfeld’s sketches. “I tried to see how I could translate that in furniture.”

As guest designer of the second Karl Lagerfeld Maison Collection, debuting during Milan Design Week, Nguyen also winked to the late German designer’s Saint Sulpice apartment in the 1970s, which he appointed with designs by the up-and-coming talents of the period: Joe Colombo, Pierre Paulin and François-Xavier Lalanne among them.

While he drew no direct lines of inspiration, knowing how much Lagerfeld cherished the new and despised revivals, one can find winks to the rounded and hourglass shapes, and corset ribbing details in Lagerfeld’s mid-2000s collections in Nguyen’s minimalist tables and sculpted, low-slung sofas.

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A sketch from a 2006 Karl Lagerfeld collection.

Courtesy of Karl Lagerfeld

Caroline Lebar, senior vice president of image and communications and one of the late German designer’s most trusted deputies, said she can easily imagine her old boss plunking the silvery couches at his landmark photo studio on the Rue de Lille in Paris.

Lebar contributes creatively to the furniture range, introduced last year, and briefed Nguyen on Lagerfeld’s sleek and sculptural fashions, his working methods and his various homes. According to her, all of them contained at least a whiff of the ’70s, including his last abode: a futuristic flat on the Quai Voltaire that recently sold at auction for 10 million euros.

While Lagerfeld billed the glamorous bachelor pad as a showcase for design from the new Millennium, he snuck in a sideboard by Maria Pergay that was so far ahead of its time, it didn’t look out of place, Lebar said.

Nguyen has designed furnishings for Fendi Casa, which put him in the sphere of influence of Lagerfeld, who created fur and women’s ready-to-wear for Fendi for more than 50 years, but said the crash course on his oeuvre given by Lebar delivered loads of inspiration — and set a high bar.

“There was a different style for each house because he wanted to go deep into each period of design, trying to collect what was new, what was interesting in it,” Nguyen said. “I think it was an obsession.”

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A rendering of a dining room set for Karl Lagerfeld Maison.

Courtesy of Karl Lagerfeld

Titled “Wellen” (German for waves), the collection name alludes to the undulating shapes of the seating — and Lagerfeld’s flair for wordplay, since “wellen” also suggests well-being.

“It also perfectly embodies how I envision Karl — always at the crest of the wave, leading the charge forward,” said Pier Paolo Righi, chief executive officer of Karl Lagerfeld. “Karl left us with a plethora of beautiful fashion sketches, and I love the idea that this collection found its inspiration through exploring the brand’s rich archives. This, combined with his passion for design, is the pure expression of his creativity.”

The range includes designs for the living room, dining room and bedroom, boasting evocative materials including chrome leather, opalescent marble and velvet.

Nguyen and Lebar highlighted the playful spirit of the designs — one sofa has 10 sectional elements to arrange at will — along with the absence of hard edges and the big consideration given to comfort.

“Nobody wants to suffer on a piece of furniture, even if it’s nice looking,” Nguyen said, noting he softened all the corners of marble tables, riffing on Lagerfeld’s rounded dress and coat designs. “A soft touch — marble stone doesn’t have to mean sharp, cold and unpleasant.

“I tried to catch some elements where I felt really in complete harmony with Karl, in the spirit more than in the form,” he added. “It’s more about the approach than than the object itself.”

Nguyen is installing his designs in an apartment-like setting in Milan at Via Passione 8.

Introduced one year ago with guest designer Matteo Nunziati, the Karl Lagerfeld Maison line is produced under license by The One Design, a recently created entity headed by a group of investors who are longtime experts in the production and distribution of Italian luxury furniture.

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