Prolific and quotable designer Karl Lagerfeld makes for an intimidating interview subject: Permanently shielded from eye contact by a pair of shades, he's armed with a seemingly endless arsenal of knowledge -- and a very particular way of doing things that makes the idea of speaking to the man kind of, well... terrifying.
Another reason Lagerfeld is so scary to speak to? He's infamously reluctant to talk about the past. "You know, I like to be informed, I like to know what happened in the past, but I don't think about the past," the designer told me on the red carpet at the Lincoln Center event honoring him on Wednesday. "I think about tomorrow, and after tomorrow, because you know, I am never pleased with what I am doing. I always think I can improve, it can be better, I'm lazy, I'm never happy with myself, and that's a very healthy thing."
Still, it sounds like Lagerfeld's bark is worse than his bite. Harper's Bazaar's Executive Editor Laura Brown knows a bit about the pressure of interviewing Lagerfeld, having just done so for the December/January issue, and also hosting him on her web series "The Look." But Brown says that, while she, too, felt nervous before meeting him for the first time, he's nowhere near as scary as people would believe.
"He's so smart and I didn't want to feel dumb," she admitted. "But he immediately put me at ease."
Jessica Chastain is obviously known more for her acting chops than her interviewing skills, but Harper's Bazaar Editor in Chief Glenda Bailey was optimistic that she was up to the task at last night's packed event. "She's of course a great actress," Bailey said, "but she also has an inquiring mind, so I think she'll enjoy being in the interviewer's chair."
She certainly seemed to, and like any good journalist, had prepped before hand. Unfortunately, that's not quite how Lagerfeld operates. "I had questions, and the second I saw Karl this evening, he said 'No, no, no, I want them all improvised!'" Chastain recounted laughing.
It helps that the designer was not at all worried about fielding edgy questions. "Someone told me once, 'Never ask a mean question, because you could get a mean answer,'" Lagerfeld said, adding, "But I love mean questions! They are fun."
Chastain didn't ask any mean questions, per se, but she did ask about things we've all often wondered -- like whether Lagerfeld owns a pair of sweatpants. She got a mixed bag of responses: Sometimes the designer would talk for minutes about a seemingly simple topic, but in other instances (like that sweatpants bit), he simply wouldn't reply. He was polite in his refusals -- but Chastain still blushed nervously after asking the more scandalous questions.
Still, it seems Lagerfeld doesn't understand why people get so nervous around him. "I live with myself, so I can hardly imagine it... I think I am the most down-to-earth person in the world," he said simply. "But you know, I have a fake idea of myself."
There was one potential guest that might have helped calm Chastain's nerves: "I was hoping Choupette might make an appearance this evening," she said, adding that she'd only met Choupette "via video" once.
"Choupette is in New York, but she is too young to go out this late," Lagerfeld said with a smile. "But I have my iPhone, so I can show her later."
Now how can a man who tells stories to his cat be so scary?