Wednesday, January 24, 2007



Secondly, because I am at home I have all the time in the world to get on with the unpacking of boxes from the family home that seem to be wedged all around me wherever I sit and try to ignore them. The best way of ignoring them is in fact to bury one's head in a book and read like there's no tomorrow.

Which is what I just did with The Beautiful Fall. I hadn't even heard of this book until Susie mentioned it. (Read her review, it's comprehensive and balanced - much more so than what I have to say about it!) I was intrigued by Karl Lagerfeld taking the author to court because the book claims he's a tad older than he says he is. Oh and he exaggerated a teensy bit about his grand, actually pretty ordinary middle class upbringing. He lost the case and less than 50 copies of the book have been sold in France anyway. It probably would have sunk without trace if it weren't for Karl trying to get it banned and therefore doing the best PR job ever on it by drawing attention to the existence of the book. We'll get back to Karl in a minute.

The Beautiful Fall traces the world of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, their respective cliques and supposed bitter rivalry, focusing mainly on the decadent world of Paris fashion in the 1970s.

From the very start of the book I felt that I was being manipulated to think a certain way; as if the author had reached her conclusion and every paragraph was drawing you in to making the same one. That was something that drove me crazy throughout the first two thirds of the book. We are supposed to think that Yves is the tortured genius createur, surrounded by people desperate for a crumb of his love; Karl is the gun for hire styliste whose coterie make fun of him behind his back, though he pays all the bills. Maybe it's true, or maybe it was in the '70s when YSL was at the height of his creative powers and KL was freelancing all over the place and hadn't yet made the house of Chanel his own. We can't really know, since although the book is backed up by notes detailing the research, neither Karl or Yves were interviewed. The story is told through the recollections of an assortment of friends, acquaintances and hangers on, some of whose memories of the drug and booze fuelled '70s must be a tad unreliable.

Although at times I was thinking, 'Why am I even reading this, do I care at all about some guy who used to be KL's number one 'boy'?,' I found I couldn't put the bloody thing down. I wouldn't say it was an enjoyable or comfortable read and perhaps not even that interesting unless you happen to be one of the people who were hanging around the Paris fashion scene in the '70s. In evoking that period, and the casual cruelty of a peer group where surface and appearance are everything, it drew attention to the more unpleasant side of fashion, one that I try hard to avoid.
It's probably why I pounced so lovingly upon that article about Alber Elbaz, who is seemingly cut from a different and much kinder cloth.

At first I was surprised that KL's great creative friendship with Anna Piaggi was glossed over, she was mentioned only a couple of times and not in any great detail, but perhaps it was to keep the negative emphasis on KL.
By contrast YSL's close friend and muse Loulou de la Falaise (whose recollections I could listen to all day long) is quoted throughout the book as is YSL's partner Pierre Berge. Pierre doesn't exactly come up smelling of roses either, but apparently he has no problem with the book. It also details Yves' many breakdowns and mental problems, but they are dealt with in a sympathetic way, whilst Karl is absolutely not. I can see why he would be angry or feel hurt by the way he is portrayed but really, it's not so bad Karl. After all, Gabrielle Chanel herself went to great lengths to reinvent herself, obliterating her humble, illegitimate past. Now that is a juicy story. But do we even mind about that. She may have reinvented her life story, but she also reinvented the way women dressed.

Perhaps Karl's best response to The Beautiful Fall would have been simply to zip it and let this do the talking.


Bombay Beauty said...

'I wouldn't say it was an enjoyable or comfortable read and perhaps not even that interesting... I found I couldn't put the bloody thing down....' I have exactly the same problem with crisps. Once I start a bag, I can't stop, even though I'm not particularly enjoying them. But you, cleverly, brilliantly, have figured out how to transfer your binging impulses to books rather than junk food. Perhaps it's time to go back home to India where a good round belly is much respected rather than commented on. Either that or out of Manhattan and to the Midwest. Cheers, BB

Lola is Beauty said...

BB you are SO funny. I suspect you also have the compulsion, instilled from a young age that you must finish the book/clear your plate of food otherwise it's wasteful. ps what do new yorkers think you mean when you say crisps? And do they have walkers cheese and onion or i'm not coming...

Julia said...

The Kaiser doth protest too much, that's for sure. Thanks for another great review.