“J’aime son style,” Karl Lagerfeld once said of Berlin’s Hotel de Rome. “It reminds me of the Germany of bankers.” The imposing 1889 neoclassical building – once the Dresdner Bank headquarters and later Lagerfeld’s Berlin house of choice – was overhauled by Rocco Forte in 2006, in the designer’s words, “avec un glamour total Italien”.
A year after Lagerfeld’s death, the hotel’s lacquered marble lobby and coffered glass ceiling have become the backdrop for the Karl Lagerfeld in Berlin photography exhibition – a collection of 20 unforgettable portraits by Daniel Biskup, who followed Lagerfeld as he relaxed and explored the city for an entire evening in 2002.
“He made the subway platforms his own runway,” Biskup reminisces, as he points to a photograph of Lagerfeld pacing the orange-tiled corridors of Rosenthaler Platz station. Lagerfeld is wearing a silver metallic suit with a high-collar shirt and sunglasses – style signatures that, with his low ponytail, he had adopted as early as 1977 while working as a designer for Chloé.
“Everyone warned me that he would never allow me to take his photograph, so I went shopping and bought a black cashmere trench coat and a black Gucci shirt,” Biskup says of their first encounter at Lagerfeld’s own pop-up photography exhibition at a former butchery in Berlin’s Mitte. “I introduced myself to him in French and simply asked if I could take some portraits. He looked me up and down, and told me to come back that evening.”
Biskup’s urban imagery – depicting the designer using a payphone, walking down the subway stairs and entering a car park between security guards who carry a crate of Pepsi Light, his favourite drink – now surrounds the sinuous velvet sofas and dramatic contemporary lighting of the hotel, which is also home to a permanent exhibition of 650 artworks.
One of the most acclaimed designers in the history of fashion, Lagerfeld was at the helm of Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label until his death, which was announced by the House of Chanel on 19 February last year. The Karl Lagerfeld in Berlin exhibition, unveiled last week, will be open to the public until 20 May.