Where’s Karl Lagerfeld?

Alumnae created the fictional Fleur de la Sabine to trace the fashion icon around the world.

Ajiri aki, Stacey caldwell, fleur de la sabine, karl lagerfeld book, where's karl?

Former classmates Ajiri Aki and Stacey Caldwell co-wrote Where's Karl.

Where’s Karl Lagerfeld?

Alumnae created the fictional Fleur de la Sabine to trace the fashion icon around the world.

Two alumnae shined a spotlight on the international fashion scene when their new book sashayed on bestseller lists within weeks of its debut. Fashion merchandising graduates, Stacey Caldwell ’02 and Ajiri Aki ’02, generated worldwide buzz with Where’s Karl: A Fashion-Forward Parody (Clarkson Potter), and it all started with a chance sighting in Paris several years ago.

“I happened to spot Karl Lagerfeld picking up a newspaper not far from the café where I was sitting,” said Caldwell, vice president of global wholesale for American fashion designer Thakoon. Her job takes to her the City of Light about four times a year, and she was fascinated with the reverential reactions of bystanders to the legendary fashion designer.

Karl’s a Legend
Ajiri Aki

Caldwell partnered with longtime friend, Aki, a Paris-based fashion writer and video producer. The pair conducted meticulous research to create a Where’s Waldo-type escapade focused on the fashion icon. “Karl’s a legend,” said Aki about Lagerfeld who spent decades leading the fashion empires of Chanel and Fendi as well as his eponymous label.

“He’s so engaged and inspiring,” said Aki. “He’s also someone who lives by the idea that fashion is always changing and that you need to keep up.”

As a teenager in Austin, Aki “obsessively collected fashion magazines, poring over the pages,” she said. “I loved the glitz and the glam.” While Aki never aspired to design clothes, she wanted to work in the industry.

While Caldwell, who lives in Brooklyn with her filmmaker husband and their young son, always dreamed of creating her own label. “One of the ideas I loved back then was that most fashion designers were under the radar,” she said. “Obviously, that’s not the case today.”

The two authors talked with fashion merchandising students in November and credited the program’s emphasis on internships with helping them achieve their career aspirations. “We were really blessed with some tremendous professors who take pride in their students,” said Aki.

“The summer after my freshman year, while I interned at a women’s clothing shop in my hometown of El Paso, the owner asked if I wanted to go with her to New York on a buying trip,” said Caldwell. During that trip, she met the showroom manager for Moschino, an upscale Italian label. The manager later offered Caldwell an internship the summer after her junior year. Caldwell graduated a semester early to take a fulltime position in the company’s sales department. She stayed with the brand for five years, eventually become its sales director.

Aki, meanwhile, landed an internship with W magazine in Manhattan, worked as a stylist’s assistant for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Nylon. (A highlight of that gig was steaming wrinkles from singer Norah Jones’s gown for the Grammy Awards.) Aki later rose through the ranks to become men’s fashion editor at DNR, part of the Women’s Wear Daily group publications. When DNR closed in 2008, Aki interned at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bloggers are so relevant these days.
Stacey Caldwell

“I’d loved my History of Costume Class at TCU and interning at the Costume Institute reignited that passion,” said Aki who subsequently enrolled at Bard Graduate Center in New York to pursue a master’s degree in decorative arts. Her first trip to Paris was to conduct research for her thesis on celebrated 1920s fashion designer Jean Patou (a direct competitor of Coco Chanel’s).

Aki eventually started a video production company that specializes in fashion. She and her filmmaker husband live in Paris with their daughter, whose godmother is Caldwell. Besides producing fashion-related videos, Aki founded a website geared to the expatriate community called Manna Paris.

For the Where’s Karl? project, Caldwell and Aki created alter ego, Florence de la Sabine (“Fleur” to her friends), a French-American fashion blogger who reveres Lagerfeld. Fleur is quirky but well-intentioned pal, said Caldwell. “Bloggers are so relevant these days.”

“With Fleur, she’s both a little obsessive and relentless in trying to meet her muse,” said Aki.

We wanted to reach three tiers of readers: industry insiders, fashion enthusiasts and kids
Ajiri Aki

The blogger’s quest to rub shoulders with “Kaiser of Kool” takes her to 15 destinations on the fashion map. Her adventures start in Milan at an fête for Fendi, and she travels from Marrakech and Moscow to Monte Carlo and St. Moritz.

The book is packed with illustrations of pop culture glitterati from film stars (Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their brood) to pop stars (Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell) to fashion luminaries: Tom Ford hands out issues of Vogue Japan in Tokyo; Michael Kors juggles on the Mexican beaches of Tulum; and supermodel Claudia Schiffer hops off a boat in Paris.

“We wanted to reach three tiers of readers: industry insiders, fashion enthusiasts and kids,” said Aki. She and Caldwell credited illustrator, Michelle Baron, with translating their fashion-world vision into a whimsical pictorial primer.

Social media played its part in creating the book. “We couldn’t have done the book without Pinterest,” said Caldwell, who notes they found Baron through the digital site.

“We spent hours and hours on Pinterest creating boards of celebrities in their real outfits,” said Aki. “What they wear in the book are actually their clothes in real life.”

In every scene, Lagerfeld is in his signature uniform of black sunglasses, white powdered ponytail (yes, he does powder it), fitted black suit and fingerless driving gloves. As for the real man, Caldwell and Aki were anxious to hear about Karl Lagerfeld’s reaction to their parody project.

“Through the fashionista grapevine, we knew Karl was aware of the book before it came out,” said Aki. Caldwell added: “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to approach him in a sensitive way.” The authors decided Lagerfeld’s birthday in September was the perfect time to approach the famous designer.

After reading about Lagerfeld’s favorite florist, Aki visited the Parisian shop with book in hand. The florist promised to create a special arrangement with Where’s Karl? tucked into the blooms. To Aki’s surprise, the florist delivered the bouquet to Lagerfeld’s home rather than his office.

Then…nothing. “We didn’t hear a thing from him, which was nerve-racking,” said Caldwell.

But a few weeks later Lagerfeld answered questions about Where’s Karl? on French radio and TV shows. He found the book ‘amusing,’” reported Aki. Caldwell said: “You just never know when you’re dealing with a living person.”

Soon thereafter, Lagerfeld’s people contacted Caldwell and Aki about signing copies of the book at seven of the designer’s stores including locations in Munich, Dusseldorf and Brussels.

The project’s success has spurred Caldwell and Aki to ponder a follow-up. While they have an ide about Fleur’s next obsession, they are not dropping any names. “It has to be someone great to rival Karl,” said Aki. “In the meantime, we are having so much fun with the book signings all over and the Instagram page and the press coverage. We are definitely in the moment.”