I was sitting with my boss in the lobby of The Mercer Hotel, which we were charged with designing, when the German designer Karl Lagerfeld and his entourage goose-stepped through the lobby.
I was a tall, towheaded 25-year-old, a bit heavy on the scale, light in the loafers, fresh off a Minnesotan cul-de-sac and, like a Tea Partier seeing Sarah Palin for the first time, beside myself with rapture. For here was the emperor of fashion, the sovereign of Chanel and Fendi, the protector of all that is chic. As he disappeared behind the elevator bank, my boss and I looked at each other with glee. Fate had just decided my costume for that year’s Halloween festivities.
It turned out to be a remarkably easy look to replicate. I ran to Ricky’s and bought a white wig. In my closet I found a starched shirt and flipped up the collar in order to mimic Karl’s four-inch Prussian variety. I finished the outfit with a blazer, tie, fingerless leather gloves, a few borrowed rings, a half bottle of Chanel No. 5 and the skinniest jeans I could squeeze into. As I slid the sunglasses onto my face, something happened. It may have been our shared German blood—Karl is from outside Hamburg, as are my greatgrandparents—but at 10 o’clock that evening, I ceased being soft-spoken, meek David and became The Kaiser. My posture stiffened. My gait elongated. I spoke in an improvised German accent. For the first time in my life, I felt not just confidence, but true, unfettered hubris.
I arrived at a loft party in Soho and from the moment I entered, a reverence swirled around me. "That’s Karl. Is that Karl? Oh, my God, that’s Karl!" Strangers took my picture. At some point two Japanese girls came up and asked if they could just, well, follow me around. As we proceeded to an after party, people on the street yelled out, "We love you Karl!" We arrived at APT in the Meatpacking District valentine to find a dog/cat massive crowd huddled outside its unmarked door. page I cut through vertical, color them like a steak knife through schnitzel. "I’m sorry, no one is getting in," the bouncer snapped.
"I’m Karl Lagerfeld," I said in my new German cadence.
"Are you on the list?" he asked.
"I’m Karl Lagerfeld," I repeated. "I don’t need to be on the list." He looked me up and down and, to my utter astonishment, cowered.
"Yes, of course. Sorry. How many are you? Come in."
For a moment, I wanted to break character and say, "You know, I’m obviously not Karl Lagerfeld. He’s 50 years my senior." But that would have been a David thing to do, to be so humble, self-deprecating and Midwestern. I was in Karl’s world now and wasn’t it marvelous. After the costume came off, the effect lingered for a while, but soon enough my inner Karl faded away. It was back to oblivion, just another overworked design assistant, feeling rather lost and powerless and fat.
I couldn’t wait for another excuse to rekindle the spirit, which came the following year. I had a shirt made up with a high Prussian collar. I wore a corset to further stiffen my posture. My jewelry was more elaborate, my sunglasses more Lagerfeldian. Yet, the more I actually looked like Karl, the less I felt like Karl. His being simply wouldn’t enter mine. I was just another gay guy trying too hard in a Lagerfeld costume, which, by the way, had already become quite the trend. Suddenly there seemed to be Karls everywhere. The Karl Costume, and the magical forces that came with it, turned out to be so last season.
I did have another chance meeting with the man himself. Fed up with hotel design, I had quit my job and moved to Paris. One day I was wandering through the famed boutique Colette, just letting its coolness seep through my pores, when in he came, surrounded by an entourage and a gathering sea of camera phones. I stood there indignantly, scowling at all these sycophantic fans, when I felt that character surge through me one more time. I don’t know if he transfers empowerment directly or if it emits like radiation, but there it was, that sense of confidence and steadfast resolve. I was in Paris, living my dream. I had dropped 20 pounds. I was taking on the world, and it turned out I didn’t need to be anyone but myself to get there.