THE BUSIEST MAN in fashion, Karl Lagerfeld is also a master of disciplines such as publishing, furniture design and photography – not to mention an unparalleled couturier able to deliver an incredible number of collections for Chanel alone every season. The German also has a knack for surrounding himself with the right people at the right time.
Take his Chanel gang, made up of a multigenerational cast of models, actresses and hangers-on who act as his on-and-off muses. Members of this exclusive clique follow the Kaiser on his far-flung expeditions, which might take them from the sunny shores of Antibes for the unveiling of a cruise collection to a castle in Scotland for the showing of the brand’s pre-autumn line. From It girl Alexa Chung to actress Diane Kruger, Lagerfeld’s posse is a mixed bunch of lithe ladies who, always clad in signatures of the house such as the impeccable little black dress and the monochrome tweed suit, exude that quintessential nonchalant attitude that is, well, very Chanel.
Among the girls that Karl has anointed as his pretty protégés, Alice Dellal is one that definitely doesn’t scream prim and proper, two adjectives that come to mind when you think of the polished look of Chanel-clad females from Tokyo to Moscow. Twenty-five-year-old Dellal is the half-British, half-Brazilian daughter of former model Andrea Dellal and the younger sister of Charlotte Dellal, who’s behind the shoe label Charlotte Olympia.
With her pierced nose, half-shaved head and penchant for pairing denim cut-offs with leather vests and scuffed boots, she’s more reminiscent of a latter-day Kurt Cobain rather than her always impeccably put-together and couture-clad mother and sister.
A typical day in the life of the young mannequin/drum player/designer muse, who loves nothing more than wearing her clothes and shoes until they literally fall apart, might see Dellal being shot for a high-fashion glossy by a top photographer, playing a gig with her indie band at an underground club in London and then attending an exclusive bash in the chichi enclave of Mayfair, all without the requisite changes of ensembles.
Her privileged pedigree and jet-setting lifestyle aside – her grandfather was a British property tycoon and her godfather is Mario Testino – Dellal, with her don’t-takeany attitude and rock-chick allure, is not your average society gal showing up every week on party pages. Although she cringes when reminded of it, her claim to fame since she showed up on the international circuit was her widely copied “undercut”, consisting of a half-shaved head beneath a full mane of blond hair that probably had as much influence on the fashion world as the “Rachel”, Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo back in the ’90s, had on the entertainment industry.
Dellal, who has a longstanding friendship with Lagerfeld and was shot by him for the Boy Chanel campaign, was recently in Hong Kong for the opening of Numéros Privés, an exhibition of all things Chanel. She sat down with Prestige Hong Kong after a multi-stop flight from Rio de Janeiro, her new home, to talk about her passion for photography, Chanel cut-offs and the genesis of that much-copied haircut.
Do you remember the first time you discovered Chanel?
I always say it’s the two-piece tweed suit, the pencil skirt with the jacket. My grandmother used to love that, and my mum as well. I think it was the late ’80s or the ’90s when they wore it. And that’s what I remember the most, just the two-piece tweed outfits, black and white.
Do you think you were drawn to it because in a way, with its monochrome palette, it has a kind of punk element?
Yes, exactly. Although I dress how I dress and I don’t like that elegant style for myself, I love it. It’s just that I don’t think it really suits me, particularly. I don’t really think too much about the way I’m going to wear my clothes. When I got a Chanel pencil tweed skirt in Tokyo for The Little Black Jacket exhibition, I just got it cut really short and Karl liked it. He didn’t get offended as one would.
Your style is also quite different from that of your sister and your mother.
I don’t think we’re as different as everybody thinks. For example, Charlotte has taken after my late grandmother. She’s always been into Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock and all these old ’50s glamorous ways, but when I was younger she’d wear little kilts with Doc Martens and those Nirvana T-shirts. That’s how I remember her and that’s when I probably looked up to her the most. That ’90s grunge is what attracted me.
Besides modelling, you also have a band and are involved in various gigs.
The band, Thrush Metal, started with my three best girlfriends but it doesn’t exist any more. When last year we played in Versailles for Chanel, it was Spilt Milk. I just like to do different things, and taking pictures. Like, when we went to Tokyo, I took some photos of the trip, and right now I’m doing that here as well. Photography is my hobby. My dad’s sort of a photographer. He’s not a professional photographer but he should be, I think. In our house, we grew up with darkrooms and stuff, so it’s what I love to do. It’s more personal. I do it for myself. I don’t have Instagram. I do need to start doing a website, though, because people keep asking me where to find my photos.
So you’re not a fan of Instagram.
I’m bad with electronics and stuff. But I love making photo albums. It’s more personal. I have nothing against people and their Instagram, but I think it’s just a bit too much information and it’s devaluing everything. Photography is so amazing and important and everyone’s a photographer now.
Do you also like being in front of the camera?
That’s why I started modelling – that was another way of looking at photography. I was studying photography then. I wanted to see how it was and I interned for Mario Testino.
You were also photographed by him as Jerry Hall for Vogue Paris.
Well, that was just, “Oh look, you look like Jerry Hall.” That wasn’t planned. I didn’t know I was doing that until that morning. A model was ill, and I had just been working with Mario as an intern, like holding bags and lights and shit. And they’re like, “Oh maybe Alice is available this Friday morning.” And they called, “Alice wake up! Get here and model!”
So when you model for a shoot or a show, you often put on these glamorous gowns that don’t seem to be very “you”.
I find it easy. As soon as you put on a dress, you can feel whether you like it or not, and even when you don’t like it you’ve just got to make the best out of something, especially when you have to wear it. I like it when I don’t like something as well because I try and make myself pretend I’m someone else.
What about your haircut? I need to ask you about that.
[Laughs] In our family, my dad’s got a shaved head. My brothers always shaved their heads as well, especially in the summer. And me and my sister, we’d be like, “Let’s shave our hair as well.” It was just a joke. Then a few years later, when Charlotte was getting her hair done by a friend of hers at home, she was like, “Alice, I dare you to do that cut under here.” I’ve always wanted to shave or cut all my hair off but when I did it, it was literally the smallest thing ever. And then it went big – that’s how it came to this.
I’m not allowed to cut it because every time I have a job, they want this hairstyle. It’s just annoying that it’s become such a “hairstyle”. And it’s not even my thing. I’ve seen it so many times before me. The singer from Bow Wow Wow had it, and in Desperately Seeking Susan with Madonna there’s a passer-by with this exact same haircut.
You recently left London for Rio. What’s your life like there?
I wake up, I open the window and look straight and deep into a beach with the mountains to the right and I go down and I walk my dog and then I come back home to have breakfast. This is if I sleep at home [laughs]. I’ve also been playing the drums, practising by myself, getting drum lessons, going to studios, and I’ve been speaking with a couple of friends who are helping me sort a website for my photographs, and I’m taking pictures, seeing my grandmother paint…I’m just having time there to do the things I love to do.