TV Review : Hulu’s ‘Becoming Karl Lagerfeld’ Is a Strictly Surface-Level Portrait of a Fashion Icon

Fashion designers, it seems, come in pairs

Published Time: 07.06.2024 - 18:31:40 Modified Time: 07.06.2024 - 18:31:40

Fashion designers, it seems, come in pairs. At least they do on television: earlier this year, Apple TV+ drama “The New Look” positioned Christian Dior and Coco Chanel as foils in the wake of World War II, contrasting Dior’s forward-looking idealism with the aging Chanel’s history of Nazi collaboration. This week, a new Hulu miniseries may be titled “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld,” but it develops the now-iconic German craftsman (played by crossover German star Daniel Brühl) as a counterpoint to Yves Saint Laurent (Arnaud Valois), Lagerfeld’s frenemy, rival and fellow legendary clothier.

The show is not the first account of Lagerfeld’s rise to do so. “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” is adapted from Raphaëlle Bacqué’s “Kaiser Karl,” a posthumous biography released the year after Lagerfeld’s death, at 85, in 2019. (Bacqué is credited as a co-creator of “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” alongside Isabelle Degeorges and Arnaud de Crémiers.) But the largely French-language series focuses on the 1970s — the same period covered by Alicia Drake’s “The Beautiful Fall,” a true dual portrait of creative genius. The framing makes sense; the decade marked both Saint Laurent’s and Lagerfeld’s ascent, before his appointment at Chanel in 1983 would cement his place at the top of fashion’s hierarchy. For the purposes of “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld,” the opulent setting and dichotomy of personalities also offset a largely surface-level portrait of a man who values professional success over all.

Related Stories

To those more familiar with its main characters as names on a label than flesh-and-blood individuals, “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” is efficient in establishing Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent as equal, yet opposite archetypes. Saint Laurent is the dreamy wunderkind, an auteur who upended haute couture at an early age. Lagerfeld is the anonymous workhorse, a hand for hire who finds himself entering middle age without a label or aesthetic of his own. The two men’s choices in their romantic partners speaks to what they lack in themselves. Saint Laurent’s longtime companion, Pierre Bergé (Alex Lutz), managed his business, freeing Yves to concentrate on designing clothes. Lagerfeld’s lover, Jacques de Bascher (Théodore Pellerin), was a younger, dilettantish dandy who exaggerated his familial ties to the French aristocracy.

If anything, “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” distinguishes itself less in its take on Lagerfeld himself than on de Bascher, who’s ultimately portrayed as the human cost of the namesake mogul’s ambitions. That’s a relatively sympathetic slant on a kept man who cheated on Lagerfeld with Saint Laurent, among others, and never established a career of his own. But the French Canadian Pellerin, who starred opposite Kirsten Dunst in “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” has rightly earned a -

reputation as one of our most exciting young actors, and it’s thrilling to see him stretch his wings across the pond. Brühl’s Lagerfeld is more opaque, a scowling, emotionally distant presence who claims not to have a lover in Jacques because he doesn’t, or maybe can’t, fall in love. He’s too busy trying to make his mark on the fashion house Chloé, fighting with founder Gaby Aghion (Agnès Jaoui) over everything from whether to expand into fragrance to a potential partnership in the business.

“Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” chooses to omit de Bascher’s eventual death due to complications from AIDS, one of many topics it leaves off the table in favor of concentrating on Lagerfeld’s professional trajectory. (Even then, we hear about Lagerfeld’s talent more than we see it demonstrated; as for Saint Laurent, there’s no mention of Le Smoking or the other foundations on which his legend was built.) The designer’s lifelong issues with body image and binge eating are alluded to — there’s a fabulous shot of Brühl in a ruffle shirt and printed pajama set chomping down on a chocolate bar — but never explored in-depth. Nor are the ways in which Lagerfeld projected those attitudes onto others, often with comments about women’s bodies, like insulting Adele as “too fat,” that barreled into the offensive. His worst offense in “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” is to sabotage Jacques’ dreams of becoming a filmmaker, which appears to be an invention of the show. The story simplifies a complex, uncategorizable relationship into yet another alpha male unable to tolerate his partner’s independence.

What “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” has in lieu of a more candid take on its protagonist’s flaws is immersive eye candy and targeted concision. It’s hard to resent a journey into the gay Parisian nightlife of yesteryear from directors Jérôme Salle and Audrey Estrougo, nor a recreation of the wedding of Paloma Picasso (Jeanne Damas), the artist’s daughter and “It” girl associate of both Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent. There’s also some relief in how the series eschews the docudrama cliché of telling us what befell the major players in title cards before the end credits. In this, “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” is a major improvement over the bloated, overly sentimental “The New Look.” It simply wants to do its job and move on; in that sense, it’s as fitting a tribute to the peripatetic Lagerfeld as any.

All six episodes of “Becoming Karl Lagerfeld” are now streaming on Hulu.

More from Variety

Most Popular

Must Read

Sign Up for Variety Newsletters

A Variety and iHeartRadio Podcast

More From Our Brands

ad To help keep your account secure, please log-in again. You are no longer onsite at your organization. Please log in. For assistance, contact your corporate administrator.