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Eight Fascinating Fashion Designer Longreads

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Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel's couture show in Paris, July 2014. Photo: Getty.
Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel's couture show in Paris, July 2014. Photo: Getty.

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No aspect of fashion journalism is quite as tricky—or as potentially rewarding—as writing in-depth about designers. Given the right access and the right quotes, a profile can make an aloof egoist look human and vulnerable, or make a shy artisan seem warm and appealing. To follow up on our list of incredible It Girl profiles, we've rounded up eight amazing articles about designers from Christian Dior to Rick Owens. Occasionally controversial, often surprising, but always fundamentally truthful, the following selections uncover the untold stories of the world’s leading fashion designers.

John Galliano

Galliano in the Wilderness, Ingrid Sischy

In his first interview following the anti-Semitic outburst that led to his dismissal from Dior in 2011, John Galliano speaks to Ingrid Sischy about his rise from a marginalized childhood in South London to the helm of one of France’s most distinguished couture houses. Alongside allies like Naomi Campbell, Jonathan Newhouse, and Anna Wintour, Galliano describes his descent into madness, his efforts at recovery, and the unquestionable talent that made him a superstar.

In the finale to this delicate, melancholic profile, Sischy tells the story of her own brother’s tragic death from alcoholism—the same disease that plagued Galliano—and comes to the emotional conclusion that after two years of atonement and rehabilitation, the time had come for Galliano's return. [Vanity Fair, July 2013]

Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa: The Master of the Female Form, Cathy Horyn

Prominent fashion critic Cathy Horyn’s understated portrayal of Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaïa’s time-honored techniques and devotion to craft is a privileged look at one of fashion’s few remaining independent voices.

Impervious to pressure, Mr. Alaïa continues to show collections at his own pace outside the fashion week schedule. From his stint as assistant to a midwife to his time as a costume designer at the Crazy Horse, Horyn’s insightful profile tells the story of a man bewitched by the female body. Subdued and resolute, Alaïa lets his work speak for itself. [The New York Times, December 8, 2010]

Christian Dior

The Last Temptation of Christian, Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks’ chronicle of Dior’s last days is peppered with charming descriptions of the French couturier’s idiosyncrasies, including his penchant for consulting fortune tellers and the obsession with decadent meals that would ultimately bring about his demise.

Tragically insecure, Monsieur Dior had embarked upon a journey to the fabled spa destination of Montecatini, Italy—a place beloved by the opera composer Verdi, who was convinced it held the secret to eternal youth. On a quest to lose weight inspired by his dalliance with a young man thirty years his junior, Dior traveled to Montecatini in spite of the dire warnings of his fortune teller, Madame Delahaye. Sadly, on his last night in Tuscany, he would suffer a heart attack and stroke, his passion for food having finally consumed him. [The New York Times Magazine, August 18, 2002]

Karl Lagerfeld

In the Now: Where Karl Lagerfeld Lives, John Colapinto

"You will think I'm a madman," Karl Lagerfeld says as he leads John Colapinto through his former residence in Paris. A converted eighteen-thousand-square-foot mansion buried in books, magazines, CDs, iPods, and photographs, Lagerfeld's home at the time was famous for containing "the most beautiful room in Paris." It also included a recreation of his childhood bedroom in rural northern Germany, complete with the original furniture and art.

In addition to such gems, we learn of Lagerfeld’s ceaseless appetite for knowledge, a habit that prompts him to tell the author convoluted stories of obscure historical characters for over two hours. At the same time, he repeatedly insists that only the present matters in his designs, eschewing the concept of archives by throwing every sketch in the trash. [The New Yorker, March 19, 2007]

Tom Ford

Tom Ford After Sex, Vanessa Grigoriadis

Labeled "the only handsome male fashion designer" by author Vanessa Grigoriadis, Tom Ford is depicted in this New York magazine story as a charismatic man of refined tastes, trailed by a Scottish butler wielding bottles of Coca Cola. Ford's blend of high and low is most evident in his disarming openness about sex, a subject on which he speaks freely and comfortably, admitting that he likes to look at naked people. Grigoriadis even notes that he arrived at an interview flashing "a postcoital stare." [New York, May 28, 2007]

Oscar de la Renta

Living Well is Still the Best Revenge, Francesca Stanfill

The eclectic social life of Oscar and Francoise de la Renta is recounted with grace and warmth this profile of the couple for the New York Times Magazine. Known for hosting dinner parties featuring personalities from politics, publishing, journalism, and the arts, the De la Renta's made entertaining a central part of their lifestyle.

A former French Vogue editor, Francoise de la Renta is portrayed as a demure yet rigorously intelligent companion to Oscar. The story implies that she was the secret weapon behind his success, and although she insists otherwise, Francoise is undeniably the focal point of Stanfill’s analysis, giving readers a new lens for viewing both the Dominican Republic-born designer and the New York society figures who formed his upper-crust clientele. [The New York Times Magazine, December 21, 1980]

Helmut Lang

A New Yorker by Design, James Kaplan

Throughout the 1990s, Austrian designer Helmut Lang consistently upended fashion’s status quo with his cutting-edge, luxuriously minimalist designs. As this comprehensive article by New York magazine’s James Kaplan describes, he also took bold business risks that forever changed the industry.

Lang pioneered the current fashion show schedule after announcing in July 1998 that his Spring 1999 collection would be shown in September, prior to the European shows, rather than the traditional November showing that reigned at the time. In so doing, Lang triggered a domino effect that cascaded across the wider industry, prompting Calvin Klein to follow suit.

He also debuted the first digitally-available fashion show, filming his winter 1998/1999 collection in an empty studio for his website and distributing it to editors via CD-ROM. Both Anna Wintour and Suzy Menkes panned the choice, yet the popularity of live-streamed fashion shows is now a hallmark of every fashion season. [New York, July 27, 1998]

Rick Owens

Rick Owens on Controversy and Adolescence, Susannah Frankel

Susannah Frankel, the longtime fashion editor of the Independent and current fashion director at the U.K.’s Grazia, has interviewed some of fashion’s biggest names, including John Galliano, Miuccia Prada, and Tom Ford. In her candid dialogue with Rick Owens, she gets the famously iconoclastic designer to talk about everything from his goth reputation to his provocative spring/summer 2014 presentation, which featured step dancers instead of models. "We’re going to have to talk about race at some point," Owens says. "And how does someone like me do that without sounding completely condescending?" [AnOther, April 13, 2015, originally printed in AnOther magazine S/S14]