Thus spoke Lagerfeld: Design guru goes back to Nietzsche

Chanel's creative director is launching a radical publishing project. Tom Peck on the couturier and the philosopher's tomes

No one has had enough courage and intelligence to reveal me to my dear Germans," wrote a frustrated Friedrich Nietzsche to his cellist friend Carl Fuchs in 1887. "My problems are new, my psychological horizon frighteningly comprehensive, my language bold and clear; there may well be no books written in German which are richer in ideas and more independent than mine."

Contemporaries did not share his view: it was only two years later, when he was found hugging a horse in a Turin plaza and retired to a mental asylum to live out his final decade under the influence of syphilis, that his reputation began to grow.

Nietzsche would be pleased, then, that 110 years later a similarly self-assured German, the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, is to print the entirety of his work, in 12 volumes, in its original German – perhaps in a bid to secure his legacy for his compatriots. Only 3,000 copies of Nietzsche's Nietzsche will be produced, he told the fashion website WWD. It will feature the typeset print alongside Nietzsche's manuscripts, complete with handwritten corrections and annotations. Lagerfeld, head designer and creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, showed photocopies of original pages to the website, featuring what he described as "dense blocks of small handwriting – some words underlined, others stricken and overwritten – on sheets of pale yellow paper".

Long-time collaborator Gerhard Steidl, founder of the German-language photobook printer and publisher Steidl, is also working on the project. "It's very easy to read if you understand this type of German," he said. "I would love to publish it in English, but it would take five to seven years to translate it."

The project is further evidence of Lagerfeld's surprisingly bookish tendencies. The 2007 documentary Lagerfeld Confidential revealed a personal library of over 300,000 tomes. The photographer Piotr Stoklosa shot him in his Paris apartment, for the current issue of VIVA! magazine, sitting in front of a great sweeping expanse of books. Last month he had to deny a story that he was working on a perfume, Paper Passion, based on the smell of books, to be sold inside a hardcover book with the pages hollowed out to hold the fragrance jar.

In January, while most in his world are frantically gearing up for the forthcoming big four fashion weeks, he said: "At the moment, I am very much into books about language, about French, the way it was, the way it should be, where it comes from. It sounds pretentious to talk about it."

Neither men being strangers to a spot of pretension ("Egoism is the very essence of a noble soul," Nietzsche once nobly boasted), the collaboration is a fitting one. Aside from the oft-quoted "God is dead" line, among Nietzsche's assertions was "one must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star".

Lagerfeld is a restless soul. Last week he was unveiling a Paris hotel room made of chocolate, which he designed as part of a promotion for an ice-cream company. Days prior to that the latest range of Lagerfeld-designed Coca-Cola light bottles were released. The German is an ambassador for the brand.

It became fashionable, for a while, to write off Nietzsche's philosophy after his attacks on parliamentary democracy and Christianity and his proclamations of the coming of a ruling race that would become the "lords of the earth", though the broad range of his ideas has seen his reputation largely rehabilitated.

Lagerfeld, meanwhile, is no stranger to a spot of persecution himself, suffering most notably when animal rights activists planted a custard pie in his face in 2001 in protest at the use of leather and fur in his shows. It is a wonder perhaps, that in the feud between him and animal rights activists ever since, he has never actively cited his favourite philosopher. Who could possibly get so worked up about the occasional mink when, as Nietzsche's fictional prophet Zarathustra generously nipped down from his mountain retreat to tell us: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?" Quite.

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