The Church of Karl: New Biopic 'Mode Als Religon' Explores the Fanaticism Behind Chanel's Creative Director

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There is a fascinating religiosity to fashion, and TV journalist Martina Neuen has decided to explore it. In her four-hour German documentary, Mode Als Religon ('Fashion as Religion'), Neuen examines the parallels between fashion and religion, and she's chosen Karl Lagerfeld as the documentary's omnipotent master — or, as the eccentric German designer nicknamed himself, the "Fashion Pope".

From his dark glasses, high starched collars, black gloves, and white Disney-prince ponytail to his revolutionary designs for Chanel (and Fendi and his own eponymous label), Lagerfeld is clearly influential — but is he the god of his own designer world? Neuen's theory, which the biopic will be testing out, is that fashion affects the fashion-obsessed in the same way that religions affect their followers; in other words, those who worship at the altar of Chanel react to Lagerfeld with the same passion that worshipers react to their religious authorities. To explore these parallels, Neuen follows Lagerfeld around for 16 months, documenting in both his work and his personal life the levels that fashion fanaticism can reach. She also contrasts the brain activity of a Catholic priest and a fashion fanatic as they deal with their respective passions, and discovers that the brain activity is remarkably similar. 

The pairing of haute couture and spiritual devotion may seem cheeky, but Neuen has a point. From fashion's heavy use of symbols, cult statuses, and exclusivity, to designers so revered that they gain a deity-like aura (remember Carrie Bradshaw's insistence that Aiden Shaw "swear on Chanel"?), those who are serious about the power and beauty of fashion are often unshakable in their beliefs. 

Still, Neuen knows that the comparison has the potential for ridicule. "It's a bit tongue-in-cheek," she told WWD. "It cannot offer you redemption or anything eternal."

The documentary will air September 7 in Munich, Germany, and Lagerfeld is expected to attend.

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