New York Exhibition Celebrates 30 Years of Karl Lagerfeld's Photography

Michael Ostuni/Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska
Galerie Gmurzynska co-owner Isabelle Bscher and Chanel Iman.

The selection of 45 images by the late designer ranges from floral still-lifes to black-and-white images of Paris landmarks and a series of celebrity portraits.

Thirteen hours after Karl Lagerfeld’s final Chanel show debuted on a Paris runway, admirers of the late designer’s work gathered in New York on Tuesday night to honor his talent at a gallery opening showcasing his photography.

“We had been talking with him about doing another show — we didn’t expect him to pass,” Isabelle Bscher, co-owner of Galerie Gmurzynska, told The Hollywood Reporter. News of Lagerfeld’s death on Feb. 19 transformed the idea into more of a retrospective. “We decided to do a show encompassing 30 years of working together; not just his latest series, but also pieces we have shown in the past, from pictures he showed at Miami Art Basel in 2006, from Versailles and Paris — a lifetime’s work as a photographer.”

Titled “Homage to Karl Lagerfeld: 30 Years of Photography,” the show runs through April 27 and comprises 45 images that indeed represent a wide selection of Lagerfeld’s catalog, from floral still-lifes to black-and-white images of Paris landmarks and a series of celebrity portraits, including Nicole Kidman, Ashton Kutcher, Faye Dunaway and Arnold Schwarzenegger, all photographed in 2002.

Lagerfeld’s off-the-runway work with models also is featured, including a particularly beautiful series of hand-colored photographs featuring Kirsty Hume from 1995. In a room to one side, Bscher has collected an archive of photos and catalogs from the gallery’s partnership with the designer and photographer.

“We did about eight shows together, mostly in Cologne, but also Miami, Zurich, St. Moritz and Paris — he also designed spaces for us,” explained Bscher, who co-owns Galerie Gmurzynska with her mother, Krystyna Gmurzynska. It was Krystyna’s mother, Antonina, who founded her eponymous gallery in Cologne in 1965. It was Krystyna and Gerhard Steidl, the celebrated German publisher of photo and art books, who first convinced Lagerfeld that he should be exhibiting his photographs, Bscher said. (Steidl ultimately would publish many books highlighting both Lagerfeld’s work and his thoughts about fashion and art, including Karl Lagerfeld: Paris Photo, which was released in January 2018 and showcased his favorites from the famed photography fair.)

“I’ve known Karl since I was very little, 30 years, probably,” Bscher added. “I think he was probably the most special person I ever met. When I was around him, I always wished I had a notebook or a recorder, because everything he said was so brilliant or so funny. He was just a truly unique human being.”

Guests spanned the worlds of art, fashion and philanthropy, with the word “genius” often heard throughout the rooms. “I always dreamed of working with him, though I never got that chance,” said model Chanel Iman, who like other guests wore a look from the iconic French label that Lagerfeld oversaw since 1983. “I really respected his work and have always been a big Chanel fan. It’s all I ask for on my Christmas gift list to my husband.”

A longtime Chanel client, philanthropist Audrey Gruss first bought the house’s haute couture in 1988. “You’d go and see him after the show, and he was always so kind and such a gentleman, but there also was no doubt that this man was such a creative genius,” she said. “I think it’s harder to revive a brand than create a brand with your own signature, and what he did with reviving Chanel in the 1980s was nothing less than extraordinary. His talent was multi-dimensional; there simply was no one like him.”

Gruss stepped away from ordering Chanel haute couture when she founded the Hope For Depression Research Foundation in 2006 — "I just didn’t have time for those buying trips three times a year,” she said — but remained a loyal ready-to-wear client. Over the years she has given some of her haute couture to both the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where she sits on the board of the school’s Couture Council, but she’s held onto special pieces, she said.

“One particularly beautiful dress seemed so simple, and yet it wasn’t. It was white lace on top with a short sleeve and a different black fabric below that and pearl buttons going down the front,” Gruss recalled. “I wore it whenever I gave a special dinner party, I’d wear it out to a restaurant, or I could even go black tie if I added a very fancy earring. It was so simple, yet it had Chanel oozing out of every seam and button. And that was part of Karl’s genius: creating something that seemed simple, yet it wasn’t, and it was timeless. He was a star, and he’ll always remain a star in the fashion firmament.”

Bscher agreed. “He’ll always be remembered as possibly the most influential designer of the 20th and 21st centuries,” she said. “And yet he was so much more than fashion. He was the epitome of a renaissance man.”

“Homage to Karl Lagerfeld: 30 Years of Photography” is on display through April 27 at Galerie Gmurzynska, 39 E. 78th Street, 3rd Floor, New York. The gallery is open weekdays only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.