DESPITE A REPUTATION to the contrary, Karl Lagerfeld is a man of simple needs: Give him his sketching paper, his drawing materials and his cat and he is content. This is all Mr. Lagerfeld requires to whip up 15 womenswear collections a year for Chanel and Fendi, two houses where he has been an indomitable force for decades. Granted, the paper is made just for him, the drawing materials are specially sourced and his cat, Choupette, enjoys the ministrations of dedicated servants. At Chanel, Mr. Lagerfeld, 85, says that he has a lifelong contract, and he is seemingly indefatigable: This week, he presented the brand’s annual Métiers d’Art fashion show showcasing its craftsmanship at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I have a nonstop job, and I’m delighted that I can do it in the conditions that I do it,” said Mr. Lagerfeld by phone from Paris. He works at home most of the day, arriving at the Chanel offices in the evening. Mr. Lagerfeld also photographs ad campaigns for the brands, puts out a self-named line, has a book imprint and a Parisian bookstore, 7L Bookshop, designs hotels and condo buildings, creates theatrical costumes and recently exhibited his first sculptures.
Though his voracious collecting appetite once extended to everything from 18th-century French furniture to Memphis design, he is no longer as acquisition-focused. “I had great collections, but I sold them, because it’s interesting to collect, it’s less interesting to own.” Which doesn’t mean that he’s not open to surprise Christmas gifts, he said. “Expect the unexpected.”
I take inspiration from: my brain. It’s a very strange thing: I can only sketch when I’m alone. I can recreate something without having a direct reference. My best ideas come to me when I sleep. I have a sketch pad next to my pillow.
I rarely make: mistakes. [But] if I make a mistake, the sketch goes to the garbage can and I do another one. I work for the garbage can a lot, you know?
I spend half my day reading: American, German, and French newspapers: Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, Les Echos, the New York Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The different countries have different mentalities and different political attitudes. The same event is different in one paper from another.
In Paris, aside from my own 7L Bookshop, I buy books from: Galignani because they do all of the history of art. I’m a very good, if not the best client—they told me I’m 11% of their business.
I enjoy reading: poetry. I love Emily Dickinson.
My biggest luxury is: my sheets and my nightshirts. I have the most beautiful collection of antique sheets in the world, with lace and pleats. I’ve collected them for over 20 years from Frip’ou Net boutique in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and they’re changed every day. I keep a long white nightshirt from Hilditch & Key for sketching in the morning, because if I dressed in a black shirt I would be dirty—sketching is a dirty job. Choupette is a luxury too, because she has two personal maids.
Every day, I wear: Massaro boots, suede pants made for me by Stouls on rue Mont Thabor, Belperron jewelry and a brooch [that depicts] Choupette. I wear very long jackets made by Dior [by former creative director Hedi Slimane]. I’m waiting for the new men’s clothes from Celine in two or three months. It’s always black and white because pink is not the color for me.
I don’t like to take vacations because: I’m not a holiday person. Christmas, everyone is away except me. I can have a big party with Choupette.
I spend summers working: at my house in the south of France or in Monte Carlo, where I’ve been a resident for 37 years.
I don’t watch movies because: I don’t want any ready-made images to invade my imagination. I tell my godchild [Hudson Kroenig] all the time, “Don’t look at videos too much, your brain has to invent images.” You cannot only look at second-rate images made by other people. You have to build up your imagination, because imagination is like a muscle—you have to work on it.
This Christmas, I’m giving my godson: money.
My favorite hotel in New York is: the Mercer. I like the atmosphere, I like the owner, I like the man who’s running it. I always have the same suite. It’s like being at home. I can walk through the room without turning on the light because I know exactly where everything is. I feel at home there. Choupette comes with me, with one of her maids, and they have a suite next to mine.
My favorite restaurant in Paris is: the Matsuhisa at the Royal Monceau [but] I don’t go to restaurants often because I have several cooks.
I’m lost without my: iPhone. Not that I’m looking at it all the time, but it’s a connection to the outside world that never existed before. It’s genius. I always use the latest— there are 25,000 photos and 1,000 videos [that I’ve taken on mine].
I’m passionate about: paper. I’m a paper freak. I have a very special note pad made for me, for my sketches, by an old paper supply shop in Paris called Sennelier. For my stationery, it’s from Armorial.
My newest creations are: my first sculptures in marble. I must say they are beautifully done. I did a great job. To make the sketches is one thing, but to realize the stuff in such a beautiful way is another. It was inspired by ancient Greek columns.
The historical figure I most identify with is: myself, that’s enough. It took me time to get used to me, now I’m used.
—Edited from an interview by Elisa Lipsky-Karasz