When you walk into Karl Lagerfeld’s spectacular library of 300,000 books you are in book heaven — unless, of course, you are Marie Kondo and the overwhelming quantity of books leaves her head spinning: “You have to put all the books in one big pile,” she says, “and choose only the ones that spark joy.” Nonsense! Take a hike sister — for a bibliophile like Lagerfeld every single one of those books sparked joy: finding them, buying them, holding them, reading them, and just looking at them organized neatly in their custom bookshelves. To give you a sense of the scale of that size of a personal library: if you purchased one book a day, it would take you more than 821 years to complete a library of that size! You would also have to have really deep pockets. Assuming that the average art book costs $40, you are looking at an expenditure of more than $12 million (excluding tax and shipping fees)!
As you may have read, Lagerfeld, the world-renowned fashion designer, artist, creative director, and photographer, passed away on February 19, 2019 at the age of 85. For more than five decades, he was creative director at the Italian fashion house Fendi; and spent four decades in the same capacity for Chanel, as well as his own fashion label, Lagerfeld. And like acclaimed American author and journalist Tom Wolfe (not to be confused with another famous American author, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote You Can’t Go Home Again and Look Homeward Angel), Lagerfeld subscribed to the code of eccentrics that asserts that if you are an artist, you must really look the part. For Lagerfeld that meant dark sunglasses (day or night), fingerless gloves, and high, starched while collars that wrapped around his neck like a neck brace. He wore his shocking white hair pulled back tightly in a pony tail. You might say he dressed like a quintessential James Bond villain. (Compare that to Tom Wolfe’s signature look, that of the Southern gentleman: a white suit accessorized by a white homburg hat, white tie, and traditional two-tone shoes.) If his wardrobe didn’t put you off, many of his controversial fashion shows and personal views would. But we digress…
At heart, Lagerfeld was a passionate and consummate book collector — the bibliophile’s bibliophile, as it were. The first thing you will notice when you walk into his spectacular library is that the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are incredibly unique. Rather than lining books vertically (spines perpendicular to the shelves) like most people, Lagerfeld had custom shelves made so that the books are arranged horizontally, lying flat, with the spines parallel to the shelf. In other words, as you look across a layer of bookshelves, you see a neat arrangement of stacks of books, each about 10 to 12 books high. The second thing you will notice is that he collects large format art, design, architecture, and photography books. And nestled in between these stacks of large books, as if to plug in the holes, are smaller books that are placed vertically. Lagerfeld was immensely proud of his library (as he should be). You can imagine how many times he had to answer the question: “Have you read all these books?”
Now I know what you are thinking… what if you want to view a book at the bottom or near the bottom of a stack. There’s the rub. You would have to either use brute force to pull the book out (and risk damaging the book) or lift a group of books and place them somewhere, recreating a stack there, until you got to the book you wanted. A supreme hassle, for sure. But apparently this was one huge concession Lagerfeld was willing to make to have books displayed “his way,” that is, to have the spines reading left to right so that you don’t have to tilt your head.
Regardless of the orientation of the books on the shelves, the library is stunning. The rooms are minimalist in design — white walls, with understated, modern chrome chairs (gray or black), and glass tables sitting on beautiful parquet floors. One room is a two stories, with an iron catwalk that wraps around the room, reached by a sleek, modern spiral staircase. The catwalk is about 12 feet high, which means that the stacks below the catwalk extend more than 10 feet. To access the upper stacks, one has to use a custom ladder, that slides along the bottom, that has a leather chair at the top. You can see some of the photos at My Modern Met.
Not surprisingly, Lagerfeld also owned a bookstore: The 7L Bookshop in Paris, located at 7 rue de Lille, in the 7th district of Paris, not far from two of the most famous museums: the Louvre and the Orsay. And just like his personal collection, the bookshop focuses on fashion, photography, design, architecture, interior design, landscape design, as well as cookbooks (this is Paris, after all). Moreover, the bookshop features books written by or edited by Lagerfeld.
So what will become of Lagerfeld’s incredible library? The usual scenario is that the executor will donate some portion to universities, art or fashion schools; the rest will be inventoried and broken up into smaller lots and sold at auction; perhaps some will end up at his bookshop. Most mortals will never own a collection like this, but what an inspiration… There is an old adage that says: “you can’t take it with you.” But the bibliophile’s response is always the same: “it doesn’t really matter — the joy is in the building of the library, building it one book at time; feeling that tremendous sense of elation when you find a special book that you connect with; and that book inevitably leads you to another one, and so forth.”
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