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The 2023 Costume Institute Exhibition Is a Karl Lagerfeld Retrospective

Anna Wintour, Andrew Bolton and Pharrell announced the news in Paris.
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On Friday morning, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a press conference in Paris to announce the theme of the 2023 Costume Institute exhibit — fitting, as it'll be a Karl Lagerfeld retrospective. 

The event, which was co-hosted by Wendy Yu Curator at Large Andrew Bolton and Vogue editor-in-chief (and Met trustee) Anna Wintour, confirmed rumors that have been swirling since the summer of 2019, a few months after the designer passed away. WWD alleges that the original plan was to mount a retrospective on Lagerfeld's career in 2022, but that was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The exhibition was conceived of immediately after we lost Karl three years ago, and we're so excited to be presenting it to you now," Wintour told the audience assembled in Lagerfeld's former photo studio at 7L for the announcement. "Karl Lagerfeld was my friend, a true and wonderful friend over many decades. We shared adventures and humor and compliments, good times and tough times, but I admire him more than anything as a designer," she added. "The most vivid memories are of him surrounded by paper and by books and hard at work sketching."

On view at the Met's Tisch Gallery from May 5 through July 16 2023, "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty" — named after painter William Hogarth's theory of the same name — will follow Lagerfeld's career, from his beginnings as Pierre Balmain's apprentice, to his first creative-director gig at Jean Patou, to his most well-known stints: at Chloé, Fendi and Chanel. It'll be sponsored by Chanel, Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld and Condé Nast. The Met Gala will take place on May 1.

Lagerfeld's career, Wintour said, was "full of paradoxes. Karl was the king of commerce, but he was also fashion's greatest intellectual, one of the best-read people I have ever met. He did extraordinary things for some of our glorious heritage houses, yet he was always at the front edge of the new and hungry for the next thing. He became the most renowned fashion celebrity ever, a man more recognizable and quoted than many of the very famous people that he dressed. But he was also an intensely private person. How those paradoxical pieces made a whole, how they added up to a single line of lifelong work from one artist's imagination, was the deep mystery of Karl, even to those of us who knew and loved him. And it's what Andrew's brilliant exhibition brings into focus definitively for the first time."

Lagerfeld's work for Chanel has been displayed at the Met before. In 2005, the museum had an exhibition on the house, which featured Coco Chanel's work juxtaposed alongside Lagerfeld's; the Costume Institute also has pieces he designed for his namesake brand, Chloé and Fendi in its collection. (Lagerfeld also famously staged Chanel's 2019 Métiers d'art collection at the Met, around the Temple of Dendur.)

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In his remarks, though, Bolton admitted that he "[wasn't] sure that Karl would approve of the exhibition. He never tired of telling me that fashion wasn't art and that fashion wouldn't belong in a museum." Lagerfeld never even visited the Chanel show, even though he featured greatly in it.

Lagerfeld was more than a little skeptical of his designs being put up in that context, Wintour explained: "He was a craftsman, not an artist, he insisted, and I think he loathes the idea of fashion standing still enough to be admired at a backward glance," she said. "But the truth is that whenever we asked Karl whether we could include his pieces in our shows at the Costume Institute, he was moved and happy to oblige. The Metropolitan Museum of Art meant so much to him. And our visitors know what an active member of the community he was."

Pharrell, a Chanel house ambassador and longtime collaborator of Lagerfeld's, was in attendance, and spoke about his relationship with the late designer and the impact he had.

"He had a vision for lifestyle and design. His creativity was always led by a narrative. It was all in the story," Pharrell said. "When I think about how to remember Karl, I'm inspired to carry his true love of partnership into my own creative process. I feel super fortunate to be able to tell people, 'Man, I was there, I saw it. I felt it. I experienced his energy.' I saw the magic of Karl's mind and the way that he thought about things and how exceptionally gifted he was."

Lagerfeld's prolific drawings serve as a guiding force in "Line of Beauty," both literally and figuratively: Bolton explained how "the show will be anchored by two through lines that serve as physically conceptual expressions of his drawings," the straight line and the serpentine line, which represent " opposing yet complimentary forces in his work." The space will be designed by architect Tadao Ando, who, according to Bolton, was actually working on a house for Lagerfeld that was never built.

There will be around 150 works on display as part of "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty," alongside the original sketches for each of them. Stay tuned for more updates on the exhibition — and, of course, more specifics on how this theme will impact the Met Gala dress code. 

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