Amanda, Lady Harlech is one of the fashion industry’s leading authorities on style, enjoying a successful career as a consultant and muse to Karl Lagerfeld.
For years you’ve worked closely with Karl Lagerfeld, the famous designer behind the Chanel and Fendi collections. How did the two of you meet and what’s the nature of your work and relationship?
Karl enters into your world like a shining star, so compulsive and irresistible. And eventually, your life ends up revolving around him. He lights the way. “Working” for Karl doesn’t ever seem like “work.” It’s more like a journey, an adventure, or a discovery. The ideas behind his design and his pieces for the collections bring up so many questions about the particular time we are living in. His creative eye becomes like a lens through which we can learn something. With the way he goes into turbo drive, embracing change almost before it happens, I feel as if I have to make great leaps and bounds at great speed to keep up with him. But then there are these odd pauses where his exuberant genius transforms into explosive laughter. Working with Karl is like living life to the fullest, and this is the greatest gift.
You split your time between travelling for work and living at your house in the country. How do you manage to reconcile these two aspects of your life?
I divide my time. I see the contradictions, and I think that each of these parts of my life can benefit from the other. For example, my Parisian eye looks happily at the chaos of the farm. My life in the Welsh Marches – where I ride horses, play the piano Karl gave me, paint, and glue a patchwork of fragments on canvas, using fabric to create a sort of journey – gives me strength and a sense of renewed freedom when I’m in the Chanel and Fendi offices. Writing is something I try to do in both of my lives, though my book comes along better in the rural isolation of my country house. My diary is like a welcome escape from trains and planes. The story for Karl seems to take shape quicker on the other side of the English Channel, in France.
What do you love about fashion? Do you think elegance and sex appeal are artistic expressions?
I love transformation. Clothes, a brooch, or a pair of shoes can all be elements that allow the different facets of our personality to shine. Fashion is a sign of life, an expression that may or may not have an impact on someone else. I don’t know if this is really artistic. It depends on how we express ourselves. Sex appeal has nothing to do with fashion, and it is more tied to the body’s scent, its rhythm.
If I’m not mistaken, you are very passionate about art. Do you think that there’s a strong link between contemporary art and fashion today?
Yes, absolutely, and not just contemporary art. The visual arts are full of colours, of ways of wearing – or not wearing – things, and full of the emotions of the human spirit.
What kind of woman do you imagine yourself to be? Do you think everyone can come up with a personal style based on a personal dream?
I work hard to truly understand who I am. So the image I have of myself in my imagination is that of an escape artist, a trapeze artist dancing on a tightrope, or Lady Dedlock riding her dark horse in the night dressed in Gothic black with a hat and veil, or a merely like an Elizabethan witch in her garden. I think that imagining oneself as the protagonist of different stories or different worlds is one of the greatest freedoms. Even though its sometimes difficult to realise these dreams because of practical concerns like the weather or existential circumstances.
What is your personal dream?
To have no limitations.
Is Karl Lagerfeld a teacher for you? What have you learnt from him?
Karl is a mentor and a teacher, an orchestra director that demands the best performance from those around him. I have learnt to have the courage to be daring, to not be afraid of radical changes, and to read more. When I’m in Paris, he sends me boxes full of incredible books.
What makes you want to spend half of your life surrounded by nature?
I need to see the blue horizon of the Welsh mountains off in the distance. I have a desperate need for silence and to protect myself from the deafening hum that the industrial world brings us with its pixels, microwaves, and mobile phones, which seem to act more like tracking devices than means of communication. The first thing that I do when I arrive home at 1 a.m. after taking the last flight out of Rome to Heathrow is to open the windows wide and look out at the night – to look at the stars, and to hear the barking of the wolves and the owls down by the river that are able to quiet the frustrations of travel in the 21st century with their call.
8 April, 2012