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Nov 19, 2021
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Karl’s house unveils Marbella couture real estate project Lagerfeld Villas

Nov 19, 2021

Karl Lagerfeld, design great, legendary illustrator, Paris’ greatest conversationalist, icy wit and ace photographer, was also a brilliant photographer of architecture. Now, albeit posthumously, he gets to create a series of path-breaking sustainable couture villas.

The five villas will feature reflective exteriors - Image: Karl Lagerfeld / Sierra Blanca

This week, the house bearing Karl’s name unveiled the architectural model, plans, mock-ups and virtual seaside views from Karl Lagerfeld Villas Marbella, a gracefully gated community located in the hills above the Spanish resort.
The project comprises five uniquely shaped villas, one with an additional cottage, designed with individual swimming pools, and shallow panels of water to radically reduce area heat. Each pool is designed with glass walls to extend light into the basement area. Extensive pomegranate, palm tree and shrub planting mean that each villa will be fully private from another in the 12,000-square-meter plot.

Like most hotel and real estate deals involving designers such as Armani or Versace, the deal is structured in a license fee from developer Sierra Blanca Estates to the Paris-based fashion house.
Though he brilliantly helmed the fashion houses of both Chanel and Fendi, ranging from haute couture to haute fourrure, during multiple decades, at his own house Lagerfeld was known for his black and white color palette and German expressionism. That aesthetic is reflected in the use of reflective materials, like ceramic tiles covered in steely gray mirrored finishes or white-gold dust, black and white terrazzo flooring, and geometric gardens. And in an era of sustainability, the buildings are designed to work like lungs, with multiple patios, see-through ground floors and window modulation systems on upper floors.
Moreover, Lagerfeld, whose many homes – which ranged from a 17th-century mansion in St Germain, a castle in Normandy and a Fontainebleau manoir to a Monaco mid-century apartment and a Mediterranean villa – all contained literally thousands of books, would surely have felt at home in these villas. Seeing as the architectural model showed them all with extensive libraries.
So, FashionNetwork.com sat down with the fashion house’s CEO, Pier Paolo Righi; Spanish developer Carlos Rodriguez of Sierra Blanca Estates; Italian architect Michele Galli and, above all, Caroline Lebar, Karl’s right-hand-woman of over four decades at the house, to hear their multiple vistas of the brand’s latest endeavor.
FashionNetwork.com (FNW): Pier Paolo, why this project and why now?

Pier Paolo Righi (PPR): Karl himself had so many different interests, it was not only about fashion. One important point of interest was architecture, whether it was architecture for himself or an architectural project that he developed with and for other people. So we, as the sole custodians of his namesake brand, hold a responsibility and take pride in going after these points of interest that Karl had. Why now? Because it always takes the right partners in order to do the right thing and do it in the right way. The triangle that you see here is the why now.
FNW: What intrigued you to do this project?

PPR: Well, we have the best location possible for a project, which really elevates it. So, for us, it's a dream come true to be able to create this first residential project with Karl Lagerfeld and see the final part of what it’s going to be. I think these are not just villas, these are really art pieces, that have the soul of Karl in them. There's a reason behind everything, every detail in the villas.
FNW: Give some examples of Karl’s spirit in the design?

Caroline Lebar (CL): Libraries will be inside each of the five villas, this is something you can easily connect to Karl and his soul. And, for example, you who knew Karl can recall that he was always trying something difficult. And then, with very precise materials, always turning them into something extremely positive and beautiful.
Just look at the roofs. The roofs of the buildings made of solar panels in the countryside are ugly. We made it a promise of the project, that the solar panels are crazily beautiful, and very modern in their shapes. There is also the lightness and the duality with completely transparent ground floors. It will make the houses almost float in the air. It reflects the lightness of Karl, the way he was working, never showing the difficulty, always showing the lightness of things.
We had months of conversation before building, viewing Karl’s photos and sketches and visiting his places. One thing in all the exchanges were mirrors, as there were mirrors everywhere on Karl’s walls. But for the villas, there are mirrors dressing the walls. So, I think the architect was listening to this, and he gave back the pride of the mirror, of Karl’s soul on the outside of the house. And the last thing I want to say about these houses is that they are organic, not one has the same shape. They are couture architecture.
FNW: Karl Lagerfeld also represented a certain Teutonic modernism. How do you interpret his ideas in the architecture?

Michele Galli (MG): We needed to study Karl as a person, and Karl Lagerfeld as a brand to identify codes. Then we tried to reinterpret them in interior design and in the architecture. So, there is a very strong touch in this project concerning black and white, because if you could pay attention to all the tones, they are presented in many variations even if the main tones are black and white. But Karl also did not live a monochromatic life, so therefore, it would not be a fair reflection of who he was, what he liked and how he lived.
We also wanted to be carbon neutral. The villas are very sustainable because there's a lower footprint, protecting the ground floor from the sun. Plus, the mirrored facade keeps warmth off and reflects the green of the garden on the facade.
FNW: When does the work actually begin?

Carlos Rodriguez (CR): We start in March 2022, and will finish in October 2023.
FNW: What will be the price tag of a villa?

CR: We will release prices when we start groundbreaking next March. But to me it’s more important to appreciate that these are not just five villas. We want whoever is interested in a villa to understand this first. To really understand what they could buy. They are buying an experience, not just buying a villa.
FNW: What sort of deal do you have going ahead?

PPR: Well, we see this as a project coming together amazingly well. We have this triangle in a great partnership with a great plot. So, if there are more of these opportunities to do something bespoke with quality and soul, then of course we will roll it out.
FNW: What is the capital investment?

CR: I don't want to disclose exactly how much, as that would reveal the cost of the villas. So, that’s a tricky question! But it’s in the tens of millions of euros. And, I'm not concerned about selling them, given the quality of what we are doing.
FNW: The house of Karl Lagerfeld has been successful by keeping products in a quite affordable price range, whereas in his other jobs at Chanel and Fendi, the designer did very expensive couture. But when you came to do a building project, you've made a very high-end couture project. Why?

PPR: Yes, he was at Chanel, but he was also the very first designer 24 years ago with H&M. We have been doing a Karl Lagerfeld luxury helicopter, and Rolex watches together, because Karl was the rare phenomenon of being extremely luxury and extremely democratic. He made himself accessible at different levels and that is what we're doing and continuing to do for the brand.
FNW: Any chance of a Karl hotel?

PPR: We are opening the very first Karl Lagerfeld branded hotel in Macao on December 3 with a soft opening. So, we have already gone through the whole experience of what it means to build up a hospitality project.
FNW: When might you take Karl Lagerfeld the brand public?

PPR: You would have to ask my shareholders what they think about that. But I don’t exclude that it might happen at some point (he laughs).

Each of the five couture villas will be unique - Image: Karl Lagerfeld / Sierra Blanca Estates

FNW: What would Karl have thought of these Lagerfeld Villas?

CL: It’s our sadness that he won’t see it. Karl would have been the first client.
I think he would have been even more proud about the project having been developed that way without him, more than if he would have developed it himself exactly the same way. Because he would never have allowed himself to be proud of something that way. But if he had looked at it, I think he would have been proud of how we interpreted what he wanted.
FNW: Once, an editor returned from Dubai after attending the opening of the first Armani Hotel in the Burj Al Arab, and explained to Karl that he had visited the viewing platform of the world’s tallest building and witnessed the real estate project to build The World. However, due to the 2008 financial crisis, the project had run out of money and the Arabian Sea had begun eroding many of the fake continents. To which Karl responded: "Those bastards, they hired me to design several countries and they never paid their bills. But nature is strong and has taken its revenge!"
CL: But you know, Karl was eventually paid for that. The only person who got a check!

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