Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘right-hand woman’ Lady Amanda Harlech on the genius of Chanel creative director
As the woman who helps the German refine his ideas and translates the ‘creative arch’ of his collections for the French couture house, Harlech works as closely as anyone with the man charged with upholding the legacy of Coco Chanel
Lady Amanda Harlech’s slim frame turns heads as she enters a Left Bank bistro, close to her Parisian apartment.
Wearing little make-up, and with her jet-black hair tied up, Chanel’s creative consultant is all upper class English elegance, but then there’s that famous, almost punkish irreverence – apparent in her attitude, those flat boots, white tweed biker jacket (Chanel obviously) and the twinkle in her eye.
It’s easy to see how she has inspired, influenced and beguiled fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld for decades. As the Chanel creative director’s “eyes and ears to the outside”, Harlech is “consistently challenging, sharpening and refining ideas with him”, she says.
She is often called his muse, but pulls a face at such a passive-sounding role, preferring to be called “his right-hand woman”.
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“I know Karl pretty well now. It’s my job to make sense of this creative arch in each collection and help translate it … it’s just a real pleasure and adventure to be having this dialogue with him.”
“My role isn’t to be on this muse pedestal to be just looked at,” Harlech says with a smile. “I prefer to get my hands dirty. I’m hardly ever sitting in the front row or being photographed at the shows. Honestly, I’m usually backstage getting stuck in, helping with outfits on the models, making sure all the details are on point.”
Harlech was speaking before Chanel opens its Mademoiselle Privé exhibition in Hong Kong; the show will be at PMQ in Aberdeen Street, SoHo, after tours in London and Seoul. The exhibition charts the creativity of the French haute couture brand’s founder Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel and how Lagerfeld has taken it on.
It covers both Chanel’s fabulous couture creations and modern innovations such as concrete embroidery, neoprene, laminated lace, innovative pleats and 3D printing.
Coco Chanel was lauded for popularising masculine-inspired dressing for society women. Her famous striped shirts were inspired by what French fishermen wore, and her chic, sporty outfits swept aside restrictive corsetry. Chanel’s signature little black dress, designed in 1933, was a game-changing shape for women – until then, black had been a colour reserved for mourning.
“Making women’s fashion from men’s clothes and even undergarments, how amazing is that?” laughs Harlech. “I like her fighting spirit and utter sense of rebellion.”
Then there’s Chanel N°5 perfume and high jewellery. Coco Chanel was the first couturier to design high jewellery, after gaining fame for her costume jewellery.
Like Coco Chanel, Harlech loves horse riding and the English countryside. She has a home in Shropshire, in England’s West Midlands region, near where Chanel used to spend time with the Duke Westminster, with whom she had a 10-year relationship.
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A graduate of Oxford University in the UK, Harlech is an authority on style, arts and literature – and shares a passion for books with Lagerfeld. She says her work with him is like a “journey of discovery”. He calls her constantly when he wants to bounce ideas back and forth.
“Karl’s genius lies in innovating and leading … and couture has this certain magic, it’s transformational,” says Harlech, who has one couture dress a year made for her as part of her contract with Chanel.
“He’s constantly thinking forward … his eye is like this incredible lens,” she adds. “But Karl is also very intuitive about people; he’s attracted to what’s inside them, not just the physical.”