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Early Lagerfeld designs up for auction in Florida

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida: Half a century after Karl Lagerfeld first drew her in a blue tunic and a plaid, buckled coat, the woman in a fashion sketch for the House of Tiziani still seems ready to saunter off the page and into the street.

Other women in sketches along the same wall at Palm Beach Modern Auctions are drawn in outfits just as chic, but the one by Lagerfeld stands out in a crowd – much as the meticulously groomed head designer and creative director for Chanel does himself.

“There’s attitude in her,” said Rico Baca, auctioneer and co-owner of the West Palm Beach auction house.

Baca hopes that attitude and the Lagerfeld signature attracts buyers to a Jan. 11 auction of an archive of sketches for Tiziani designs.

In the 1960s, the Rome-based Tiziani designed movie costumes and clothing for Elizabeth Taylor and other celebrities. It also was one of the European fashion houses where Lagerfeld freelanced, early in his career as a designer.

Lagerfeld built his fashion legend through tenures at Chloe, Fendi, Chanel and his own eponymous brands. And the German-born designer is recognized worldwide for his white ponytail, black sunglasses and black-and-white attire that includes high, starched collars. He also has branched out into photography and film directing and has published a unique diet book after shedding more than 40 kilograms to fit into clothes cut for younger, slimmer male models.

At Tiziani, though, he was a hired hand, a young ready-to-wear designer among dozens of others doing similar work for bigger houses.

The details Lagerfeld added to sketches for Taylor and other models – earrings, a flowing hem, a jacket’s trim or a specific shade of eye shadow – show the creativity of a young designer making his mark.

“He finished off the fit,” Baca said of Lagerfeld.

The sketches more than illustrate a designer’s vision for an outfit.

They’re really blueprints used to communicate specific information to the team that produces each outfit – from the designer to the patternmaker, fabric buyers, salespeople and other staff. The Tiziani archive, which includes more than 300 drawings, highlights the shift in fashion from haute couture worn only by wealthy women to ready-to-wear designs that could be produced in large quantities at lower prices.

Tiziani’s founder, Evan Richards, kept Lagerfeld’s designs and sketchbooks together with other work produced for the fashion house in the 1960s, and the archive was maintained by subsequent owners.

The sketches might not have survived if they were left in Lagerfeld’s hands. In 2007, as a nearby wastebasket filled with discarded sketches, Lagerfeld told The New Yorker, “I throw everything away!”

He added, “The most important piece of furniture in a house is the garbage can! I keep no archives of my own, no sketches, no photos, no clothes – nothing! I am supposed to do, I’m not supposed to remember!”

Along with memorabilia between Richards and Taylor, Lagerfeld’s work is the highlight of the auction.

“These are more works of art. I don’t think people put that much effort into the sketches of today,” said Bill Hamilton, who designed for Carolina Herrera for 17 years and now designs for private clients.

Much in the way Lagerfeld has kept Chanel current by updating recognizable elements of the historic French label – patent leather, quilting, its signature chain – he put his own twist on the over-the-top looks favored at Tiziani, Hamilton said.

“His sketches are much younger-looking than whoever else was sketching at the time, much freer,” said Hamilton, who has reviewed the Tiziani archive.

Baca said he couldn’t estimate the value of the unique archive as a whole, but bidding on the sketches likely will start at $500 each.

“It was not meant to be art, but as 50 years have gone by, it has become art because it was done by Lagerfeld,” Baca said.

 

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