Stream It Or Skip It?

Before his death in 2019, Karl Lagerfeld became known not only for his expert designs and how he led legacy brands like Chanel, but for his outspoken views on just about everything. A new scripted series documents how Lagerfeld went from a successful but obscure designer of ready-to-wear fashions to the icon that he became.

Opening Shot: Expensive cars pull up to a nightclub in Paris. “SPRING, 1972.” A man wearing tall, red boots gets out of a Rolls Royce and enters the club.

The Gist: Jacques de Bascher (Théodore Pellerin) sits in a church with his sister, making flirty eyes to the priest that’s giving a sermon about not giving into modern conveniences. Then he gets on a scooter and goes to the club. There, he notices Karl Lagerfeld (Daniel Brühl), the up-and-coming designer of ready-to-wear fashions and is intrigued. The next day, he finds a small article about him, which mentions that he designs for 20 different brands under relative anonymity.

We see Lagerfeld bring a portfolio of his latest designs to the house of Chloé and its founder, Gaby Aghion (Agnès Jaoui); he’s been freelancing for Chloé since the mid-’60s. He’s constantly reminded of the success of one of his friends, Yves Saint Laurent (Arnaud Valois), who has had his own design house for a decade.

Back at the club, Jacques endeavors to meet Lagerfeld, sitting by himself away from the dance floor, and when he doesn’t, he goes back to where he lives with his mom and sister and writes Lagerfeld an eloquent letter introducing himself, and seals it with wax. That gets him a face-to-face with Lagerfeld; Jacques wears lederhosen, not just to pay tribute to Lagerfeld’s German heritage, but to be playful and flirtatious.

Lagerfeld gets an invite to Saint Laurent’s tenth anniversary fashion show, and is insulted by it. He claims to his mother Elisabeth (Lisa Kreuzer) that he doesn’t compare himself to anyone, but that might not be true. During a meeting where different fashion houses pitch themselves to him, Aghion tells Lagerfeld that they’ve hired a second designer to work in-house; as much as they love his work, they need to have a contingency in case he ever decides to take his skills elsewhere.

After that meeting, and his eventful flirtation with Jacques, Lagerfeld decides to pitch himself to Aghion as Chloé’s artistic director, meaning he’d design for them and no one else. But it also means his name will be on their next collection.

Lagerfeld takes Jacques to Saint Laurent’s anniversary show, where he introduces the young “writer” to Pierre Bergé (Alex Lutz), who runs YSL “with an iron fist and no velvet glove” They are evidently not friends; Lagerfeld tells Jacques that Bergé is the one who broke up his partnership with Saint Laurent.

After the show, we find out why Lagerfeld decided to go; he wants Saint Laurent to come to his first show for Chloé. What Saint Laurent tells him is that he’s now a “slave to fame” and, when he went into a hyperventilating panic not long prior to the show, he thought of their time together to calm him down.

Two months later, beard-free, Lagerfeld puts on his first show as Chloé’s artistic director. Jacques bails him out with some “working women” when he’s short two models the day of the show, and he tells the models to be free and imperfect when they walk out, after all, this isn’t haute couture.

Becoming Karl Lagerfeld
Photo: Caroline Dubois, Jour Premier

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Becoming Karl Lagerfeld is similar to other series about real-life fashion designers, like Halston and The New Look.

Our Take: When we’re bored by the first episode of a series, we don’t often factor that into our review, mainly because sometimes the reasons why the we didn’t engage with a show are personal to us and not to the show’s intended viewers. But with Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, it’s not a stretch to say that what made the first episode boring for us is going to keep other viewers from engaging with it, as well.

There doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of conflict on this show. Sure, Lagerfeld ends up being an outspoken icon in the world of fashion, and in his early years with Chloé, his designes competed directly with those of Saint Laurent’s. But from what we’ve seen, we don’t even get internal conflict with the preternaturally confident Lagerfeld. For the most part, he makes a move to go from successful but obscure freelance designer to having a named line because… we’re not sure. Is he jealous of his friend Saint Laurent? Or have things just changed for him?

Creators Isaure Pisani-Ferry, Jennifer Have and Raphaëlle Bacqué don’t give us a ton of insight into the internal life of Lagerfeld in the first episode. Aside from some vague longing to have what Saint Laurent has, he seems largely content with being a freelancer. But any freelancer knows that sometimes they want the security of being on staff. It doesn’t seem like a remarkable transition to us.

So, again, we’re looking for the conflict and drama. Is it with his relationship with Jacques? Maybe, but only because Jacques is such a free spirit. Is it his rivalry with Bergé? Perhaps, but it’s not like Bergé kept Lagerfeld from rising to the top of the fashion world. Is it Lagerfeld himself? Probably not; Daniel Brühl correctly plays the young Lagerfeld as confident and arrogant, with only a tiny bit of self-doubt.

So is this just going to be six episodes of talking, maybe some sex, and lots of ’70s and ’80s era fashion? If so, we don’t think our boredom is going to subside any time soon.

Becoming Karl Lagerfeld
Photo: Hulu

Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode.

Parting Shot: After getting Jacques’ opinion on his first line for Chloé, Lagerfeld asks his young friend if he’ll join him at the company.

Sleeper Star: We liked how haunted Arnaud Valois’ scenes as Yves Saint Laurent were; as famous and successful as he was, he yearned for the simple times with “Karlito”.

Most Pilot-y Line: “There’s not a day in my life where I didn’t dream of becoming a great man,” Lagerfeld says to Aghion when he pitched himself to be Chloé’s artistic director. It’s a line that Jacques said when they first met, and it’s weird that he’d use it to pitch himself to someone he’s worked with for years.

Our Call: SKIP IT. We would say that Becoming Karl Lagerfeld would be great if you’re a fan of fashion, but we’re not even sure there’s enough conflict to drive the drama for people who are interested in Lagerfeld’s history.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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