Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty at The Metropolitan Museum of Art




Marquee: Composite Image, 2023. Photographed by Julia Hetta. Photo © Julia Hetta

The Costume Institute’s spring 2023 exhibition will examine the work of Karl Lagerfeld (1933–2019). Focusing on the designer’s stylistic vocabulary as expressed in aesthetic themes that appear time and again in his fashions from the 1950s to his final collection in 2019, the show will spotlight the German-born designer’s unique working methodology. The exhibition will be on view from May 5th through July 16th, 2023.

Karl Lagerfeld Portrait. Photo: Annie Leibovitz / Vogue /Trunk Archive

The show will spotlight Lagerfeld’s unique working methodology, focusing on the late designer’s stylistic vocabulary as it was expressed in through lines—aesthetic and conceptual themes that appear time and again—in his fashions from the 1950s to his final collection in 2019. More than 150 garments will be on display, and Lagerfeld’s sketches will accompany most of the pieces, underscoring his complex creative process and collaborative relationships with his premières d’atelier.

Most of the approximately 150 pieces on display will be accompanied by Lagerfeld’s sketches, which underscore his complex creative process and the collaborative relationships with his premières, or head seamstresses. Lagerfeld’s fluid lines united his designs for Balmain, Patou, Chloé, Fendi, Chanel, and his eponymous label, Karl Lagerfeld, creating a diverse and prolific body of work unparalleled in the history of fashion.

Dress, House of CHANEL (French, founded 1910), Spring-Summer 2019 Haute Couture; Courtesy Patrimoine de CHANEL, Paris. Photo © Julia Hetta

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented: “Karl Lagerfeld was one of the most captivating, prolific, and recognizable forces in fashion and culture, known as much for his extraordinary designs and tireless creative output as for his legendary persona. This immersive exhibition will unpack his singular artistic practice, inviting the public to experience an essential part of Lagerfeld’s boundless imagination and passion for innovation.”

Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge, The Costume Institute, said: “The exhibition will explore Lagerfeld’s complex working methodology, tracing the evolution of his fashions from the two dimensional to the three dimensional. The fluid lines of his sketches found expression in recurring themes in his fashions, uniting his designs for Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, his eponymous label, Karl Lagerfeld, and Patou, creating a diverse and prolific body of work unparalleled in the history of fashion.”

Sketch of CHANEL dress, Spring-Summer 2019 Haute Couture; Courtesy Patrimoine de CHANEL, Paris.

Exhibition Overview ~ The exhibition’s theoretical framework is inspired by William Hogarth’s book The Analysis of Beauty, which describes his theories of art and aesthetics centered around his concept of the line of beauty, or the serpentine line: an S-shaped curved line appearing within an object or as the boundary line of an object, representing liveliness and movement. While Hogarth viewed straight lines as representative of stillness and inactivity, Lagerfeld took inspiration from both the straight and serpentine line in equal measure.

Presented as a thematic and conceptual essay about Lagerfeld’s work, rather than a traditional retrospective, the show will open with introductory galleries that explore Lagerfeld’s early career, including being awarded the International Woolmark Prize in 1954 and his ensuing roles as a design assistant at Balmain and an artistic director of Patou, where he continued to refine his unique style of sketching.

Coat, FENDI (Italian, founded 1925), fall/winter 2000–2001; Courtesy FENDI. Photo © Julia Hetta

Sketching was both Lagerfeld’s primary mode of creative expression and his primary mode of communication. Illustrating its significance to the designer’s creative practice, another introductory gallery will be dedicated to the premières d’atelier—the seamstresses regarded as the architects of Lagerfeld’s vision, responsible for translating his two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional garments. Shedding light on this creative collaboration will be a series of on-camera interviews—conducted by French filmmaker Loïc Prigent, who followed and documented the late designer’s collections from 1997 to 2019—featuring premières from Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, and Lagerfeld’s eponymous label.

The subsequent sections of the exhibition will be anchored by two through lines that represent conceptual expressions of Lagerfeld’s sketches: the serpentine line and the straight line, which designate opposing yet complementary forces in his work. The serpentine line signifies Lagerfeld’s historicist, romantic, and decorative impulses, while the straight line indicates his modernist, classicist, and minimalist tendencies.

Sketch of FENDI coat, fall/winter 2000–2001; Courtesy FENDI.

These two lines will be further divided into nine “sublines” that will present aesthetic and conceptual dualities showcased in his designs for Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, and Karl Lagerfeld: feminine and masculine, romantic and military, rococo and classical, historical and futuristic, ornamental and structural, canonical and countercultural, artisanal and mechanical, floral and geometric, and figurative and abstract. Bridging the dualities will be figurative “explosions”: garments that represent moments of convergence, wherein the competing aesthetics of these contrasting dichotomies are united and reconciled.

These dualities together reveal the complexity of Lagerfeld’s multifaceted designs as well as the breadth of his influences, which span art, film, music, design, fashion, literature, and philosophy. When extant, a sketch will be reproduced adjacent to its finished garment; artworks that influenced some of Lagerfeld’s designs will also be pictured alongside the garments they inspired.

Sketch of CHANEL coat, Fall-Winter 2017/18 Haute Couture; Courtesy Patrimoine de CHANEL, Paris.

The exhibition will conclude with the satirical line, which will comprise two parts: the first will include garments that communicate Lagerfeld’s razor-sharp wit expressed through ironic, playful, and whimsical embroideries; the second will feature ensembles that mirror the late designer’s self-image through various representations of his immediately recognizable black-and-white “uniform.”

The exhibition was designed by world-renowned architect Tadao Ando, who first met Lagerfeld in 1996, when the late designer commissioned him to create a design studio in Biarritz, France. Though the project never came to fruition, it had a lasting impact on Ando, who, in collaboration with The Met’s Design Department, produced a concept that exemplifies the intersection of the straight and serpentine lines and serves as a physical manifestation of Lagerfeld’s creative dynamism.

Sketch of CHANEL wedding dress, Fall-Winter 2005/06 Haute Couture; Courtesy Patrimoine de CHANEL, Paris.

The exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton with support from Mellissa Huber, Associate Curator. Amanda Harlech serves as the Creative Consultant for the exhibition. Architect Tadao Ando designed the exhibition, which The Met’s Design Department will realize in the Museum’s Tisch Galleries. Film director Loïc Prigent will produce original video content for the exhibition.

This exhibition is made possible by Chanel. Major support is provided by Fendi. Additional support is provided by Karl Lagerfeld and Condé Nast.

Runway image of CHANEL wedding dress, Fall-Winter 2005/06 Haute Couture. Photo: Giovanni Giannoni / WWD / Penske Media via Getty Images

Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty will be on view from May 5 through July 16, 2023 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NYC.

The exhibition catalogue, Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, will be available. The catalogue is the first to present an insightful overview of Karl Lagerfeld’s artistry across his extraordinary 65-year career as a fashion designer and creative visionary.

The Costume Institute Benefit (also known as The Met Gala®) will take place on Monday, May 1, 2023. Michaela Coel, Penélope Cruz, Roger Federer, Dua Lipa, and Anna Wintour will serve as co-chairs for the event, which provides The Costume Institute with its primary source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, operations, and capital improvements.

Looking forward to seeing what Choupette wears to the Met Gala!