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The fashion world, with sunglasses off

Fashion Critic

Karl Lagerfeld loves the smell of construction sites, hates people who can't be alone, and he won't fly without the cushion his nanny made for him nestled on his stomach. He's pro-prostitution, one of his favorite art supplies is Wite-Out and he doesn't believe in reincarnation.

He's one of the most important fashion designers of our day, but more than that, he's a fascinating character, as evidenced by Rodolphe Marconi's terrific documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential," which has its U.S. television debut Monday night on the Sundance Channel. The doc kicks off a week of fashion programming leading up to the next round of runway shows in New York. Other films include "Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House" (Wednesday) and "Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills" (Thursday).

Filmed over the course of three years, "Lagerfeld Confidential" offers a sunglasses-off portrait of the designer, who took over Chanel in 1982, following him through his cluttered Paris apartment -- where bowls overflow with silver jewelry and drawers overflow with his signature crisp white collars -- to a photo shoot with Nicole Kidman and onto a private plane to Monte Carlo.

He's more of a dreamer than a designer, admitting that he couldn't make the things he sketches. Sometimes, but rarely, the idea for an entire collection, sets and all, comes to him. But it's not exactly clear from the film how his creative process works.

Lagerfeld, 75, is a photographer and a philosopher, throwing out bons mots such as: "Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous and unfair" and "The question keeps changing; that's why I do the job -- because there is no answer."

He reveals that he was actively homosexual by age 13, and that he believes possessions are burdensome, which is ironic for someone who makes stuff. But clearly, he enjoys playing the role to its fullest. "I am a complete improvisation," he says. "I don't want to be real in other people's lives."

If Lagerfeld is fashion's lovable caricature (Steiff modeled a teddy bear after him), Marc Jacobs is its conjurer, as revealed in Loïc Prigent's lively documentary "Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton," airing Saturday. Prigent followed Jacobs as he worked on his spectacular 2007 ready-to-wear collections for the two labels, showing the designer in his studios in Paris and New York, protein bar in one hand, cigarette in the other, his assistants still sewing up the last dress as celebrities take their seats for the runway show.

Jacobs, 45, is the most influential designer of his generation. He approaches fashion the way a rapper approaches music, sampling a little bit from here, a little bit from there, always with a healthy dose of irreverence. Prigent captures beautifully Jacobs' ability to synthesize the zeitgeist on a runway, drawing inspiration from Cubism to create a 35,000-euro (almost $46,000) patchwork Vuitton handbag made from remnants of other Vuitton handbags, and riffing on a plate of colorful macarons and the work of Japanese polka-dot artist Yayoi Kusama to create a logo bag covered in colorful discs.

We see him "aging" his frothy dresses and skirts with bleach on a Paris rooftop to capture the idea of "random destruction," and witness how a dowdy purple vintage acrylic sweater inspires a new one for the Jacobs label with the addition of a few asymmetrical seams.

"Is it so horrible that it's good?" That's the question Jacobs asks himself when he's designing, and that's the question we ask about his designs. The answer is usually yes.

It's a concept that's worlds away from the work of old master Yves Saint Laurent, whom we see designing his final women's collection in 2001, in David Teboul's documentary "Yves St. Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris," airing Feb. 15.

This "inside the atelier" film is the least entertaining of the three designer docs, probably because Saint Laurent, who died last year, is so meticulous, agonizing over every nuance of color and construction. For him, fashion design is theater and the art is in his hands. He drapes, he considers a bolt of fabric, he re-drapes, he pins, all while obsessing on the finer points of a balloon skirt versus a flare. It does give you an appreciation for Saint Laurent's extraordinary workmanship. They don't make 'em like that anymore, and they probably never will.

Sundance Channel's fashion programming block airs nightly, starting Monday, through Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. Pacific time.

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