‘Becoming Karl Lagerfeld’ Recap (Episodes 1-6): Who Was Jacques De Bascher?


Ever since I heard of the TV show Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, I’ve been referring to it as Mr. Chanel, solely because that’s the legacy he’s most remembered by. Of course, the man had many successes and vices; however, nothing was as magnificent as his career at the Parisian couture house. Becoming Karl Lagerfeld tells the story of the anonymous man who spent 20 years of his life building up a career that anyone would kill for. In all honesty, the show seems to be a shallow take on the designer’s life because, despite its aggressive title, it delivers nothing about his creative process, simply his internal demons. Though I must admit, it does a rather good job at that bit. You’ve got to watch the series with a grain of salt, knowing what the man was actually like. The series begins in the spring of 1972, 10 years before Karl’s reign at Chanel. The brisk 6-episode series takes off when a man named Jacques de Bascher, who is intrigued by Karl, decides to take him for himself. The story of ambition, love, lust, and betrayal begins. 

Spoiler Alert

Who was Karl’s biggest enemy? 

Jacques sees Karl as a larger-than-life genius and can’t take his eyes off him. He then casually makes his way into the designer’s life, slowly but surely. It’s clear from here on that Karl isn’t really interested in love or companionship. He’s a workaholic who works anonymously for multiple houses with big names like Fendi and Chloe and lives with his mother. He’s a German designer trying to make it big in the Parisian scene, an impossible feat, what with the war and such (even if it is many decades later). On the other hand, Jacques is a sex-positive youngster who desires more with every passing minute, but somehow still finds himself intrigued by Karl. They do develop a companionship, one that is solely based on conversation and money, because, at some point, Karl starts to take care of Jacques financially. The budding writer forgets his purpose and decides to become the ultimate muse, a sad boy with alcohol and drug issues. 

We know that Karl lives with his mother, who is quite harsh on him and doesn’t really appreciate Jacques’ presence in his life. Jacques pretends to be an aristocrat, but he is, of course, just a country bumpkin who’s embarrassed by his true identity. Or rather, he doesn’t believe it’ll get him anywhere. What’s abundantly clear is that Karl moved to Paris with a big dream at age 15. However, this dream faded, and he became this shell of a man who simply works relentlessly for other people. On the other hand, his dear friend, who we can assume could’ve been an early companion, Yves Saint Laurent, chased his dream of fame and became a haute couturier. It’s true that Karl has affection for Jacques; his affection is simply different from what the younger man expects, which causes a big rift between the two. So much so that when Jacques notices Karl’s envy of Yves, he decides to betray him for some fun, only to see how it would affect his supposed lover. 

It is not as simple as it sounds. Couture and pret are completely different industries, one that allows you to be a creative genius and the other that forces you into a box that’s nailed down by business tycoons with only one vision: profit. So, when Karl sees Yves being successful and happy, with his new companion Pierre Berge, as well as wildly famous, it afflicts a really deep wound. However, to make things worse, Jacques takes advantage of this situation and ends up sleeping with Yves, Karl’s nemesis. The thing is, along with having someone who we can assume is the love of his life break his heart by sleeping with the enemy, Karl also struggles with the question of style. What he’s become fantastic at is adaptability, but what he struggles with is leaving his own mark on the design. This becomes especially clear when Karl is asked by German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich to come have a conversation with her. From one German to another, the first thing she asks him is if he has style. What makes this situation much worse is that Karl attempts to leverage Dietrich’s beauty for a 10-pager in Vogue for his designs. However, when he decides to experiment with the design for the legendary Dietrich, she insults him by calling it absolute garbage, an “ugly” garment. Another opportunity was lost. So, I’d say Karl’s real enemy was his bitter shadow, which, at the time, didn’t allow him to fight for his potential. 

While the show doesn’t really explore Karl’s hatred for himself, we do see glimpses of his self-destruction, binge eating sweets in stress, or wearing a corset for perfect form. Hey, at least we know he was meticulous. What the show does is show how Jacques weaponized Karl’s prudishness, or what comes across as his asexuality, to continue to be in his life. I’m not sure if this was really love; if he cared enough for Karl, he wouldn’t have gone back to Yves so many times. It is also Jacques who leads to Yves being sent to a mental hospital to get treatment for his very obvious clinical issues. There are many parallels between Yves and Jacques’ lives. They’re both addicts and free people, though Yves pursued his dream and achieved fame, whereas Jacques was lackadaisical and survived solely on Karl’s bucks. 

Why does Jacques move back? 

Karl even buys a massive chateau for him, and Jacques tries to win him back after an ego-game, but when Jacques attempts to awaken Karl’s love, the latter runs away, leading to Jacques calling his love lonely. On the other hand, Karl tries to move on from Chloe, where he’s worked for many years but doesn’t feel rewarded. He attempts to start a line of his own, only to be told by a businessman named Biedermann that he needs to work on sportswear to become big in America (sheesh). Karl promises to stay at Chloe if he is able to start a perfume line where he gets 50% of the profits. But things get completely out of hand when Pierre blames Jacques for ruining Yves’ career (the show really pushes the idea that this is mostly true), ruins Karl’s reputation, and even physically slaps him. So the question posed to journalists who are meant to come to the Chloe show is whether they will choose Yves or Karl. Of course, they choose the established couturier. This is when Jacques moves home to his Catholic family, and Karl works hard to ruin Yves’ career for good. Or at least fix his own reputation (same thing at this point, no?). Yves gives a press conference about how his mental health is a mess and that he’ll try his best to recover. On the other hand, Karl lets Pierre know that if he so much as lays a finger on Karl, he’ll spread Yves’ letters to Jacques to the media, leaving him ruined for good (to keep in mind, it’s still illegal to be homosexual at this point). It works, and Karl goes to Jacques’ home and brings him back. We don’t get to see it, but Karl also looks after Jaques through his father’s death. 

At the same time, Karl’s perfume is a huge hit, just as he’d imagined, but as he gets his first taste of fame, his mother suffers a stroke, and Karl returns to Paris from his world travels. At the same time, Karl also has the opportunity to dress Paloma Picasso, a well-known YSL muse, because of Yves’s mental health deterioration. Once a genius, now just a former king made by Pierre Berge. Karl’s mother sends him back to work, and we see the pain in his eyes. The thought of leaving her means that he might never get to see her again, and unfortunately, that’s what happens. Four months later, after Karl’s successful dress for Picasso, his mom dies in the house he and Jacques were building together. 

I suppose Jacques and Karl were simply bad for each other (in the show, at least). When Karl sets up Jacques to do some photography for Fendi, Jacques agrees to do it only if he can make a film. The film is actually good, and the women at Fendi love it, but Karl can’t stand the thought of letting Jacques fly as a free bird. Maybe because he struggled so much in life, and yet Jacques excelled in something new at his first go! There is an especially poignant dance sequence that relays the truth of their differences very beautifully. 

Does Karl finally get what he wants? 

In Becoming Karl Lagerfeld‘s ending, we see him teaming up with fashion foetus Thierry Mugler against Pierre and “team couture.” It’s not really a showdown; it’s more of a challenge he has to overcome, or rather push through, to achieve his final goal. At the same time, Karl notices Jacques’ deterioration and decides to take him away to Monaco. Jacques is delighted by the prospect, or so it seems, but I think by this point, the spark between them has faded. Maybe they stick to each other as creatures of habit. Jacques is an elixir that helps Karl see clearly. Karl attempts to get Chloe a couture license by speaking to Madame Gres, but she basically calls him an outsider and says no. So, with no choice, Karl attempts to speak to Pierre instead, and Pierre tells him to vote against Mugler and the other newbies in the scene. It’s basically a competition between the new and the old, and Pierre tells Karl to choose the old, and he’ll give him the couture license. Ultimately, though, Karl chooses the newbies because he knows Pierre will never give him the couture status he dreams of. 

However, nothing to fret about because at the end of Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, while he’s chilling in Monaco with Jacques, he gets an offer from the Chanel Couture House to become its new artistic director, and the rest, as we know, is history. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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