The Lagerfeld Universe 'An Unbelievable Narcissist'

Vanity, moodiness, attitude: In his revealing book, Arnaud Maillard describes his ex-boss Karl Lagerfeld as a diva of the international fashion scene. The 37-year-old talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about his time as the capricious fashion designer's right-hand man -- and his break with the master.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your book "Merci Karl!" is a no-holds-barred portrayal of your former employer. Why the personal payback?

Maillard: My book isn't payback. I learned a lot with and from him and still have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He is a genius. But after everything that happened to me, I wanted to describe another side of Karl.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What side is that?

Maillard: He's an unbelievable narcissist. He needs an eternity to get ready in the morning. He takes photos of himself at every photo shoot and puts them everywhere. He surrounds himself with a kind of royal court, nobody disagrees with him. Wherever he goes, there is Pepsi-Cola in a Baccarat crystal glass waiting for him and it gets replaced every 30 minutes. It's like the 18th century.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But eccentricity is not particularly unusual in the fashion industry.

Maillard: It goes beyond that. He dumps people at the drop of a dime. Lagerfeld employees have to be available 24 hours a day. He can be very generous. When I was looking for my first apartment in Paris, he discreetly slipped me an envelope that made it possible to afford. But he can also be merciless. I've seen him simply stop talking to people, stop acknowledging their existence. In the fashion industry, nobody raises their voice; they say the worst things in a very polite tone.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the book, you describe Karl Lagerfeld's exact morning routine. You describe how he uses the world's most expensive body cream from La Prairie twice a day -- even between his toes. This is a very intimate glimpse into your former boss' private life. Do you think that's normal?

Maillard: When Karl began his radical diet in 2000, he told everyone -- whether they wanted to hear it or not -- about all the details of how he stays fit and takes care of himself. I was at countless press conferences at the time and can tell you: I'm not revealing more than he did. Incidentally, you have to agree that he's in great shape for a 75-year-old.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You also describe the unusual cooperation between H&M and Lagerfeld ...

Maillard: Yes, I still remember how Karl sent me the first sketches for the H&M collection under extreme time pressure. Our team worked day and night for three months on the collection, but never saw any extra pay. I can remember well the two half-days that Karl worked on the drafts. Then he got millions from the Swedes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why didn't you leave?

Maillard: In 2005, I wanted to leave the company and go to Céline. I even told him about my plans one day at the Café de Flore on Boulevard St. Germain in Paris. But Karl knew how to stop them. He let me go without notice, the job at Céline was no longer available. In the industry, you don't want to take on Lagerfeld -- and I've been jobless until today. I was involved in a lawsuit against him for wrongful dismissal until the end of August -- which I won.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did Mr. Lagerfeld react to your book?

Maillard: At first, he made fun of the fact that I was writing a book. Later, he tried to prevent certain passages from being published -- for example, the chapter about his tax debt. My publisher refused and since then he has acted as if he never read it.

Interview conducted by Britta Sandberg.
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