The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld review – even his cat’s agent is interviewed

The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld is a mischievous film that pulls off the careful trick of being respectful to its subject, while raising an eyebrow at some of his eccentricities. When he died in 2019, at 85, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was eulogised as the last of the old guard, and for many, his passing marked the end of an era. This feature-length documentary, directed by Inside Dior’s Michael Waldman, aims to demystify the man behind those famous sunglasses. It does so with the help of his inner circle, many of whom speak publicly about their boss, friend, family member and colleague for the first time here on camera.

At first, it is framed as a podcast-ish mystery. Lagerfeld died a wealthy man, and rumours continue to swirl about his will, and who, or what, benefits from it. Where are his millions? Who did he name as his heirs? Could it really be true that he left most of his fortune to his cat, Choupette?

That would be enough material for most film-makers, but while this is an investigation of Lagerfeld’s financial affairs, up to a point, it really shines as a portrait of a true individual. It promises “unique access” to the inner circle and it delivers, with a comprehensive list of interviewees who share fantastic anecdotes about their friend – in some cases, deliciously. There is Lagerfeld’s bodyguard, Sebastien; his lawyer, Celine, one of the true stars of the film, who seems highly amused by pretty much everything she is asked to discuss; the two male models whom he took under his wing in his later years, Baptiste and Brad; and even Choupette’s agent, Lucas, and nanny and current legal guardian, Françoise.

Naturally, Choupette looms large. Lagerfeld adored her and we get the full story of how she came to be such a big part of his life. He was asked to look after her for two weeks, fell in love, and simply refused to give her back. Towards the end of the film, there is a delicate exploration of why he was able to give such affection to a pet, above, it seems, some of his human relationships. Waldman, occasionally heard asking questions off-camera, checks to see if Choupette allows filming. She does, we are told. “She loves the lens.”

The film strikes a solid balance between flattering and frank. It tells Lagerfeld’s life story and his rapid rise to success, taking in his famous rivalry with Yves Saint Laurent, and his long companionship with Jacques de Bascher, who died of Aids in 1989, and with whom both designers were involved. It documents his excesses and generosity towards those who were “in” favour, and his ruthlessness towards those who were “out”. One ex-friend talks about their “divorce” and receiving an angry nine-page fax upon the return of Lagerfeld’s mother’s ashes.

There is plenty of archive footage of Lagerfeld talking about his work and himself, from taking over at Chanel (Coco was “a mean bitch – I have nothing against mean bitches”) and making it a young, exciting fashion house once again, to his reinvention as a celebrity, who would appear on television to promote his diet book. Another great titbit comes from his former butler, Frédéric, who reveals that at breakfast one morning, Lagerfeld saw a headline referring to him as a “grandad” of fashion, and immediately called a dieting expert. Grieving for Jacques and his mother at the time, he had been “crazy with currywurst”, according to another interviewee.

There are the moments of controversy, too: the public declarations about women’s weight, the tax issues, the story of how a tax-dodging escape to Monte Carlo proved less effective than Lagerfeld hoped when it turned out that the house in which he lived was actually still in France, rather than Monaco. Waldman asks the questions you want him to ask, without seeming impertinent. He checks with several interviewees whether they were left anything in the will. He asks if the relationship between Lagerfeld and Baptiste, one of his favourite male models, was ever intimate. He gets answers, given with the respect and consideration with which he approaches these sometimes tricky matters.

Fashion has a reputation for being po-faced, which makes it easy for outsiders to sneer. But this oddly sweet film, neither too reverent nor too cutting, gives a rounded picture of a man who earned his position as not so much a titan of fashion but one of its gods. It is gossipy and serious, thorough and frothy, and the 90 minutes breeze by. As for Choupette? She’s doing just fine.