News & Runway

Karl Lagerfeld Gives Genius Advice: Don’t Give Other People Advice

Yesterday I was watching this short clip made up of extra footage from Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, on the subject of designer talent and where it comes from.

From an interview with Karl Lagerfeld: "Times are different. The ambitions are different. Nobody gave me advice. And I think that's the best thing you can do to a student is to give not any advice and let him find his way. If he really has talent, it will come out. I don't believe that if he's a genius, no one will notice."

At first, I dismissed his remarks as the crazy babble of a fashion designer unwilling to go out in public without his sunglasses. The man's cat has its own iPad; Karl is hardly the voice of reason. But later when I was sitting in my room, sorting my laundry, I suddenly decided that, at least in this instance, he was the voice of reason. A prophet, a genius! If giving people advice to stop giving people advice seems logically incoherant, it kind of is — but Karl is mostly talking about a very specific kind of guidance, which can be broadly applied to not just aspiring designers but anyone, related to carving out a place for yourself in the world. When parents and teachers and mentors and friends give you advice about making choices to get what you want, they're projecting their own experiences, failures, faulty memories. "Times are different." More importantly, you're different than anyone else, and also the only person that can fully understand what's best for you. When Karl talks about how if someone has talent, it'll come out, what he means is, people will fulfill their own promise as long as they can find a way to become themselves, and not just someone else's idea of what they should be. (Of course, history has seen plenty of forgotten "geniuses," so Karl's advice isn't unimpeachable, it's just a good principle.)

The full video: