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Jun 19, 2024

“Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” review: Must-see or forgettable?

A Disney+ biopic explores the German fashion designer’s rise to fame but struggles to capture the essence of his style and spirit


Let’s cut to the chase. Should you watch Disney+’s biopic “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld,” or is it one to skip? This mini-series, available on Hulu in the US, begins in the summer of 1972 and traces Karl Lagerfeld’s journey from his professional milestones to his succession of Coco Chanel and beyond. It also explores his rivalry with Pierre Bergé (Yves Saint Laurent’s long-time business partner and onetime lover) and his romantic entanglements, notably with Jacques de Bascher.

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Un post condiviso da KARL LAGERFELD (@karllagerfeld)

In “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld,” the question of Kaiser Karl’s style arises repeatedly, yet the answers remain elusive. Dubbed a “ready-to-wear mercenary” and a “boy wonder” brimming with ideas, Lagerfeld showcases 20 different modes without settling on a singular signature. According to Daniel Brühl, who plays the German fashion designer, Lagerfeld’s style is to change his style—a noncommittal response from a man still discovering himself.

For an up-and-coming artist, this uncertainty is understandable. But for a six-part biopic to be this ambiguous is a different story.

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The “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” series delves into the German fashion designer’s life, from the calculated moves that propelled his career to the personal relationships that almost derailed it.

However, the biopic fails to capture the essence of who he was or what his story means to viewers in 2024.

Creators Isaure Pisani-Ferry, Jennifer Have, and Raphaëlle Bacqué, the latter of whom penned the biography “Kaiser Karl” on which the series is based, portray Karl Lagerfeld not as an artist but as a savvy careerist. According to them, by the early ‘70s, he was a thriving freelancer, cranking out sketches for other designers. Despite his claim to prefer anonymity, his actions betrayed grander ambitions. Throughout the ensuing decade, he ascended the French fashion hierarchy, spreading rumours, forging alliances, and orchestrating calculated betrayals. A manufacturer approvingly remarked, “Designers who make art bore me. You are a businessman.” Karl appeared visibly displeased with the assessment, yet “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” makes little attempt to argue otherwise.

@voguegermany Anna Wintour is going through her memories with Karl Lagerfeld. #voguegermany #vogueshooting #karllagerfeld #karllagerfeldparis #annawintourvogue #voguehistory ♬ Originalton - VOGUE Germany

Throughout the series, Karl Lagerfeld’s passion for his craft appears genuine. The authors aimed for his aloof exterior to crack in the premiere when you can watch him attending another designer’s runway, his face reflecting a blend of admiration, jealousy, and wonder.

As Daniel Brühl, portraying Karl Lagerfeld, puts it, fashion is “a way of embodying the Zeitgeist, of reflecting society’s true nature.” But the series doesn’t delve deeper into this philosophy. Despite its stylish characters (“You dress like the Sun King,” an admirer teases Lagerfeld), the show doesn’t explore what Kaiser Karl’s looks said about him, his era, or how they differed from his competitors.

Like Apple TV+’s “The New Look,” even Disney+’s biopic “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” claims to be about fashion but lacks the depth to engage with it truly.

“Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” is on firmer ground when dissecting Karl Lagerfeld’s social connections, anchoring the series in his meteoric rise intertwined with his tumultuous relationship with Jacques de Bascher (played by Théodore Pellerin), a socialite who also caught the eye of Lagerfeld’s ex-friend-turned-rival, Yves Saint Laurent (played by Arnaud Valois). This rivalry, in turn, sparked the fury of Pierre Bergé (played by Alex Lutz), Saint Laurent’s partner, who harboured a deep disdain for Lagerfeld.

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Kaiser Karl’s love life is portrayed as intricate as his career, with the dynamics among the foursome unfolding through cutting remarks and passive-aggressive hook-ups, occasionally spilling into physical violence.

Yet, “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” struggles to find its footing in this aspect as well. Pellerin is mesmerising as Jacques de Bascher, his playful magnetism giving way to despair. Brühl excels in cracking Karl Lagerfeld’s façade, showing vulnerability to de Bascher. Valois and Lutz, however, are stuck in less rewarding roles as a “vaguely troubled creative” and a “cartoon villain.”

But the series never clarifies what kept this troubled pair together beyond the dictates of Lagerfeld’s real life. Nor can it decide if it’s a catty soap, a sensitive character study, an earnest romance, or a cynical business lesson.

“I hide myself every day,” you can hear Daniel Brühl, as Karl Lagerfeld, confess during one episode, stressing how much the German fashion designer lied about his age and sculpted his body with shapewear because “if people saw me as I am, they’d pass me by.” To Lagerfeld, it was better to present whatever flattering facade the world preferred, even if it meant that no one would ever truly know the real Karl.



Angelo Ruggeri
Journalist, Master’s Programme Tutor & Fashion Styling Course Leader, Milan