Chanel's Lagerfeld a ghost

Piles of books stretch skyward like teetering Towers of Pisa. Drawers are full of starched shirt collars. A mantelpiece strewn with a dozen iPods and hundreds of chunky silver rings.

This close-up look at Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld's lavish life is shown in "Lagerfeld Confidential" - a new French movie condensing two years of the ponytailed designer's frenetic activity into an hour and a half of riveting film.

But despite movie's focus on the fashion world's most enigmatic icon, Lagerfeld remains shrouded in mystery.

Like a shadow, the camera trails Lagerfeld - who also designs for Italian luxury brand Fendi and his own eponymous label - as he churns out hurried sketches, takes a victory lap on the catwalk to thundering applause, jets to Monaco and New York and shoots hunky male models clad only in strategically placed fur.

While present in nearly every shot, Lagerfeld remains distant, aloof and ultimately unknowable behind his signature dark shades.

"I don't want to be a reality in people's lives," Lagerfeld tells the camera in one scene. "I want to be a ghost."

The movie - which opens in France next week and is set for U.S. release later this month - is the product of a two-year collaboration between Lagerfeld and Rodolphe Marconi, a dashing young French director who shot more than 300 hours of footage of Lagerfeld at work and play.

Marconi said it was Lagerfeld's hard public image that drew him to the designer.

"I was sure there was a real human behind" the facade, Marconi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I wanted to show it."

In some scenes, Marconi just about pulls it off.

We see Lagerfeld do things that regular people do, such as chow down on his version of a TV dinner: a chef-prepared meal served in his hotel room. In another scene, the 69-year-old designer beams with childlike glee as he tries on a gold lame baseball jacket at a Christian Dior boutique.

But mostly he is impenetrable, shooting off pointed, witty remarks in his rapid-fire French to his ever-present, adoring entourage.

"Ohh! Ahh," coo the members of his inner circle in one scene, as Lagerfeld shows off his photos of a male model.

Marconi, a 31-year-old actor-turned-director behind three full-length fiction films, often comes off as yet another Lagerfeld lackey. He rushes to open the car door for Lagerfeld, guffaws loudly at his jokes and nearly drips obsequiousness toward the designer.

In their one-on-one interviews, Marconi tiptoes around the hard questions, asking Lagerfeld about his childhood and sexuality with a trepidation so palpable that on one occasion an exasperated Lagerfeld scolds him for it.

"You either see (what you want to ask) more clearly or we'll go on to another subject," he says abruptly.

Asked about his love life, Lagerfeld skirts the question and instead criticizes domestic partnership laws in France. He keeps personal revelations to a minimum, referring obliquely to a "tragedy" - Lagerfeld had a widely known relationship with a French aristocrat who died of AIDS in 1989 - but going no further.

"Lagerfeld Confidential" pounds home his motto - carpe diem - with about as much subtlety as a sledgehammer. Again and again, Lagerfeld proclaims he has no ties to the past and lives only for the present moment.

"If it was really better before, then we should all just kill ourselves right away," he says with characteristic dryness.

Marconi said when he approached Lagerfeld with his movie proposal, the designer's assistant told him "more than 100 people" had already asked permission to make such a film.

Marconi said he was not sure why Lagerfeld chose him: "Perhaps because I didn't go into it with an agenda."

Lagerfeld gained a reputation by reviving a flagging Chanel after taking over in 1982, and in 2004 designed a collection for Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M that made his work available to customers with smaller purses. In a sign of his celebrity status, Lagerfeld released a CD of his favorite songs and a weight-loss guide - The Karl Lagerfeld Diet - filled with the secrets that allowed him to shed 80 pounds.

Lagerfeld said Marconi's film "ended up annoying me."

"Let's say that Rodolphe Marconi was able to observe and capture what I wanted to play for him," he was quoted as saying in French Vogue. "It's not that I lie, it's that I don't owe the truth to anyone. After all, I'm not facing a judge, but a director."

Asked whether he thought he had gotten to know Lagerfeld, Marconi said, "I have the feeling I know him now ... though in truth, you never really know anyone."

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Author`s name Angela Antonova