Culture

Karl Lagerfeld Turns Christmas Upside Down

The legendary designer flipped the Claridge’s holiday tree on its head—literally

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,

Not a gadget was bleeping, not even a mouse…

Okay, we’ve not gotten to the “Silent Night” part yet, but it’s now officially the festive time again, when your diary doesn’t have space for all the events. Everyone is running around, making plans to definitely, absolutely meet up before the year ends because…because you just have to try and condense seeing your entire contact list between now and the 25th of December. Why? Well, think how much Father Christmas achieves in one night.

In London, Christmas doesn’t officially begin for the ritzy, glitzy fashion set until Claridge’s unveils its tree. It’s a tradition dating back to 2009, with a roll call that includes designer trees by John Galliano for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, and last year, Apple’s Sir Jony Ive and Marc Newson. 

This year is the turn of the legendary Karl Lagerfeld. A bit like Father Christmas, he doesn’t need any introduction. He’s the creative director of Chanel, Fendi, and his own Karl Lagerfeld brand; a photographer; a designer; a cat-lover; and another similarity: you wonder how he fits everything into his day. 

For Claridge’s, the chicest hotel in London, of which Spencer Tracy once fabulously commented, “I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s,” Lagerfeld turned Christmas on its head—literally—with a suspended, upside-down tree. And a bit like that other crucial festive figure, Lagerfeld was unable to attend its “official” unveiling last night, but at least one of them sent a quote. Lagerfeld commented: “Christmas trees are the strongest ‘souvenir’ of my happy childhood.”

Let’s be thankful fashion is in charge of the tree and not the turkey. Imagine, if you will, a party that’s a mix of Downton Abbey dipped in twinkling baubles, with all the excess, enchantment, and wonder that is festive. The tree looks like the result of a really raucous fete, perhaps a prequel to the one celebrating the unveiling, where clearly, the fairy on top shook herself off and, unlike Cinderella, didn’t stop partying at midnight.

The tree—all 16 feet of it—was very much the star of the show. It stands with much more poise than most could flipped on its head, roots glistening into the air on the checkerboard-marble-floor lobby, the sweeping deco staircase curling around the tree like a mink stole draping around a diamond broach. Or, as Claridge’s described it, a “silver stalactite hung with silver lametta decorations, silver butter leather feathers, and snowflakes handmade by craftsmen in Germany, with tree candles providing light.”  I prefer the more Joan Crawford-meets-Bette Davis analogy with the mink. Lady Amanda Harlech, Charlotte Stockdale, Katie Lyall, Michael Howells, and Sam McKnight were among Lagerfeld’s creative fairies that turned out to toast the official start of the holiday season.

You could be forgiven for thinking that King Karl was making a fashion statement by flipping his tree—some people on social media have had a rant and a rave, but actually, the tradition of hanging a tree from the ceiling dates much further back.  Occasionally, some people do research that extends beyond Google.

Yes, Christmas is all about tradition, and legend has it that, in the seventh century, St. Boniface freaked when he saw pagans worshipping an oak tree.  So he did what he had to do and cut it down, only to have a fir tree spring up in exactly the same spot. Rather than being annoyed at the new spruce, the pagans, who had been converted to Christianity, began to revere the fir tree, and Boniface was okay with this as it was God’s Trinity Tree. Leaping on a bit in the whistle-stop history lesson and to explain the upending, by the 12th century, the tree was being hung upside down from ceilings in Central and Eastern Europe for Christmas as a symbol of Christianity and God the Son becoming a man because it resembled the shape of Christ being crucified. By the Victorian era, when trees became more widespread in the home, everyone clearly universally decided upside down in the parlor was a bit of an ask. 

But nothing is impossible when it comes to Claridge’s and Christmas.

Possibly, it’s a more pleasing silhouette to the couturier, and no doubt much more practical as Choupette and other pampered pets won’t be able to knock so many ornaments askew.  It is also a statement—a cluster of branches, heaving with sparkling silver baubles and tinsel that only Lagerfeld for Claridge’s could pull off. You have until Twelfth Night to visit. The party season has officially begun.

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