“This is absolutely ridiculous!” huffed my imaginary best friend Karl Lagerfeld when I conjured him up to meet me for a workout at Golds Gym Hollywood this afternoon. I immediately thought he was pissed because of the outfit I’d dressed him in: little black tennis shorts, knee-high white socks, black patent leather Nike high tops, a tight white tee shirt with CHANEL emblazoned across the chest in black, and of course his signature black aviator sunglasses.
“Sorry,” I said. “I thought you would feel comfortable like that. Much more showy than a tracksuit. Or is it too showy?”
“What? Oh. No, the outfit is fine. I actually feel quite sexy in this. It says, ‘Eighty years old and still has that je ne sais quoi.’ And I see there are a number of gentlemen assez âgés still channeling Cher and trying to be sexy. All so leathery from the sun and maybe taking HIV medication for a long time, non? Look at that one with short-shorts and suspenders and tall work boots and his wrinkled moobs flopping out the side of his baggy tank top! Mon dieu! It’s so bizarre it’s rather fabulous, in a Tom of Finland nursing home sort of way.”
“Welcome to Golds Hollywood,” I said as we passed through the turnstile and entered the training area. “I once wrote that Golds stands for ‘Gay Old Loony Douchebags on Steroids.’”
I tittered at my own joke, but Karl wasn’t amused. “I suppose that’s funny to some Americans,” he sneered, “but I cannot tell you how vulgar and revolting the word ‘douchebag’ is. One should never call attention to feminine hygiene; we spend a great deal of time, effort and expense in the fashion world trying to ignore it. Just say ‘asshole’ like everyone else, or if you wanted to be truly emphatic, use the German, arschloch.”
I didn’t bother protesting that I needed a synonym for ‘asshole’ that began with a D because there’s no A in… oh, never mind. You get it.
“So what is absolutely ridiculous?” I asked.
“That you summon me here!” he said. “On the day of the Chanel show in Paris! I should be there, celebrating, doing la grande fête with my friends and colleagues, and fashion journalists—”
“You mean those journalists you haven’t banned, who work for organizations that are too scared to lose Chanel advertising dollars, unlike—”
“Don’t say her name. Don’t you dare say her name!” Karl picked up two 12.5-pound dumbbells and began pumping them furiously in front of his chest like he might punch me.
“—unlike Robin Givhan from The Daily Beast—”
“—who was the brave little girl in The Emperor’s New Clothes who called it like it is and said you are the most overrated designer in history, or something to that effect.” As if realizing it was futile to punch someone many decades younger than he, not to mention far bigger and fitter, Karl put down the dumbbells without another word. I admit I was trying to provoke him; it’s such fun when he loses his shit.
“Robin really liked the last piece I wrote about you,” I said with a cheeky smile. “About the time we met at Ralphs supermarket and you ended up trying to brain me with a canister of Ajax. She was particularly tickled by that part.”
“I know you’re trying to get me to do something similar now, but I won’t, not in front of all these… pédés de la Californie… liebe Gott! These queens are all so tanned and stretched and muscular… They look like Hermès doing the Michelin man. That is an idea, though. Maybe Chanel should do pneumatic leather handbags for the 2014 line. Round, soft, a bit Barbarella pychedella. Fun, non?”
“I would think the Michelin man too jolly and fat to be an inspiration to you,” I scoffed, while Karl began nonchalantly working the triceps cables, again on the lowest weight setting.
“I know where you are going with that, too, and I’m not rising to it.”
“A 90-second snippet of her signing the new James Bond theme was leaked yesterday, but then taken down,” I said. I know these things because I spend way too much time online aggregating for this site.
“Who is ‘her’? I know many ‘hers,’ but they all have names,” said Karl in his most disingenuous and schoolmarm-ish tone.
“Adele,” I replied.
Karl released the cable too quickly and it clanked loud enough to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look up from the ab machine nearby. I’ve never understood how someone like Joe, who is clearly so straight and short and scrawny, no matter how hard he hits the free weights, can work out every day amidst a room full of massive, hormonally enhanced men who habitually get decked out in leather harnesses and chaps and Nazi-ish caps for Saturday nights at The Eagle in Silverlake.
“I was prepping for the Chanel show, I haven’t heard the song. I’m sure it is very good, very inspired, very soulful and sexy. Adele is a great talent, one of the superior voices of her generation, and I have no further comment,” Karl said, and he turned away to a quad machine as if leaving an annoying press conference.
“The song is actually pretty lame and half-baked,” I said. “It’s no wonder they took it down.”
Karl had no reply, and I knew I was being stonewalled on the Adele issue, that there would be no comments about her portliness like the last time we met. I switched tack. Slightly: “Have you seen how much weight Lady Gaga has put on?”
Again, no response from Karl, but I was pretty sure he’d seen the pictures floating around online. It’s just the sort of thing all the assistants in his atelier would be snickering about to break the tension in the weeks leading up to the collections. Still, I could see his lips pursing and the loose flesh on his face quivering.
I just put pedal to the metal and went for it. “I thought Armani was designing the clothes for this tour of hers. The sketches were really great, but I’m not seeing any of that in the pix of her online. Madonna did the Gaultier cone bustier so well—it was awesome when she came out with that. But Gaga just looks like a fat, fat mess. I mean, machine-gun bra? What is that, the mammary equivalent of vagina dentata? Katy Perry does it, too, with fireworks shooting out of her tits. But to see all those… disgusting folds of flab Gaga is throwing around onstage. They say she’s gained thirty pounds.”
Karl was getting red in the face, barely holding back even as he lifted his legs up and down on the quad machine. His mood was like a blackhead ripe for the squeezing, so I went for it. “She says it’s because she’s been eating a lot of pasta while promoting her dad’s restaurant in New York as well as working out for the show, which has beefed her up, but I’m not buying it. I’m going with the gossip mill, which says she’s been drinking heavily. I think it’s that and that pasta and bread, and probably cheese and chocolate, too. She’ll be as big as Adele soon, but at least Adele doesn’t wear all that skimpy shit onstage. She has more dignity. Only Gaga could fuck up Armani by being so porcine, so rotund, so Rubenesque, so…corpulent—”
Karl could take it no longer, and leaped up from the machine. “THERE. IS. NO. EXCUSE. FOR. FAT!” he bellowed.
And that cavernous room fell silent as if hit by a sudden Baader-Meinof attack. Even the cheesy music over the PA system seemed to dim. Not even God can distract dedicated homos from their sacred workouts, but Karl managed to get their attention, to a queen.
Then a bearded muscle bear from That Clique—you know, the ones who deplore chubby bears for being soft, doughy and feminine—began clapping with the gusto of a young Henry VIII. “Hear, hear!” he roared in his most pseudo-masculine porn voice, because he really does play a butch fisting top for Colt Men under the screen name Armand Wood.
Soon the whole room was cheering Karl, and he gave them all that little wave he does when he takes his bow at the end of a collection, that dainty crypto-sieg heil. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulled his baseball cap further down his face—so that only his mouth could be seen—and applauded. He thinks nobody knows who he is because of that cap, but we all really do; it’s not because of his fame that we pointedly ignore him—he’s just too twinky for most of us to hit on.
Situations like this are the most annoying thing about Karl: there is no down with the man, only up. He’s barely human that way. When he loses his shit in public, he becomes a visionary, while a normal person would be made a fool. Just wait: Next week, the gym will be full of tee shirts printed with “There is no excuse for fat!” over a silhouette stencil of his face.
So now it was my turn to lose it. I know life is unfair, but that doesn’t mean I have to take it lying down. “You know,” I said tersely as he continued to wave to the room and blow kisses. “You’re like the Teflon designer. You can throw any old crap out there and still sell. And you know what else? Today’s Chanel collection absolutely sucked. It was all over the place. The fashionistas who are terrified of you said it had ‘such breadth.’ I call it unfocused, ungainly, ugly. But, again, it will sell, because that’s all you are, a salesman and a showman—”
“Shut up,” he said with a smile, lest anyone suspect we were having a moment. “It’s pathetic to be so resentful: Your insecurities are hanging out like a thirsty pug’s tongue. My show was beautiful. Inspired. Poetic. I decked out the Grand Palais and made it seem even more spectacular and operatic than it already is. As my clothes sailed down the runway, they were like blossoming flowers in a Parisian springtime, a living garden. My collection was anti-modernism. It had spirit, and it was feminine. While all the other designers are seeking the man in the woman, I am letting her be herself.”
“How do you come up with this shit?” I snapped, almost choking with indignant adrenaline.
“Listen, mein Schatz,” Karl said, patting me patronizingly on the shoulder and smiling to someone else over it. “It’s always… challenging to see you, but good fun. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to hit the showers.”
“Wha—?” I blurted, and then looked behind me. There was the old geezer we saw when we came in, the one with the short shorts and the suspenders and tall work boots, leaning against the locker room door, clearly waiting for Karl. “Why, Karl, that’s disgusting! He must be—”
“What? ‘He must be sixty-something,’ you want to say? And I’m eighty. Is he too young for me? Isn’t that the age difference between you and that guy in New York you’ve being playing Pop Goes the Weasel with for, what, three years now?”
I had nothing to say to that. He was right.
“Take my advice, James: Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”
And with that, he sauntered off to the locker room, whistling Marlene Dietrich’s See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have. As I went back to my workout, Joseph Gordon-Levitt turned away from staring at us, still convinced nobody recognized him with that cap pulled over his eyes.