When fashion is stranger than fiction

Image of Vanessa Friedman

Years in fashion have taught me never to use the phrase “You can’t be serious”.

I’ve learned, for example, that saying, “Patrick Thomas, chief executive of Hermès, you can’t seriously expect someone to buy that €1.5m diamond-covered gold handbag?” will prompt both a pleased grin and the perplexed response, “Yes, of course, why not?” And I’ve learnt that noting how all the models in a catwalk show have been reimagined as birds and transformed with moulded headpieces, and how the designer can’t be serious about expecting any woman to wear that, only means that said look is more than likely to appear on Rihanna a few weeks later.

So a number of new fashion initiatives that have been landing on my desk shouldn’t have provoked even a raised eyebrow. And, largely, they haven’t – not even the $11m laptop sleeve from a little company in Rotterdam (I’m serious – see picture).

But there were three that caused even me to give a surreptitious gasp. The first is pitched as the ultimate in customisation. After the success of an in-store programme that allows consumers to pick from a variety of leathers and precious skins to create their own one-of-a-kind Selleria or Peekaboo bag, Fendi is offering what has to be the platinum standard of this trend: starting from the beginning not of the manufacturing process but of the skinning process.

Facilitated by parent company LVMH’s purchase of Singapore-based skin specialist Heng Long last October (and perhaps inspired by the Journées Particulières experience that same month, when LVMH allowed the public into their workrooms), it has created the Pesce d’Aprile package for consumers to travel to Singapore, go to the Heng Long headquarters and the crocodile farm, and actually select the reptile from which their Peekaboo will be made. They can then follow its progress through adulthood, skinning and tanning via a specialised iPad app, so they will be intimately familiar with the process every step of the way.

It is the fashion equivalent of “know your food” and will resonate with connoisseurs interested in the artisanal deep dive (though I am not sure what the Peta people will make of it). Granted, it’s an awfully long process: currently it takes four to six months for the regular made-to-order bag and this will more than triple the wait time. But you know what they say about anticipation.

Food plays a part in Karl Lagerfeld’s latest show vision for Chanel. Following the aeroplane he built for his couture presentation last January and the crystalline cave he created on the floor of the Grand Palais at March’s autumn/winter shows, his plans for July’s couture shows derive from Chanel’s success in India.

The Kaiser’s voracious reading habit has led him to the chapter of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Grandpa Joe tells Charlie the story of the Indian prince who asked Willy Wonka to build him a palace out of chocolate; Wonka, of course, told said prince that it was not a good idea, but the prince insisted. The palace gets built, his lordship says it is too beautiful to eat, and then comes a very hot day (it is India, after all). Even if you haven’t read the book, you can guess the rest.

Apparently, Lagerfeld has commissioned a chocolate Taj Mahal to be built within the Grand Palais (it reminded me of the iceberg he had trucked there from Sweden in March 2010). After the show, guests will be invited to break off a piece to take home. It sounds delicious, although, given the event will take place under a glass dome in high summer, the literary parallels could prove ominous. Or is that Lagerfeld’s intention?

The final entry in my list of jaw-droppers has taught me never to assume I know anything about what is in a designer’s mind. To wit: the next super-secret (OK, not so super-secret any more) H&M collaboration, following this month’s popular Marni line and coming next September, will be ... wait for it ... Tom Ford!

The keenest style-watchers among you will be really shocked by this one. The man who is so obsessive about protecting his designs that he won’t release any pictures until the clothes hit stores, is partnering the high street? The man for whom everything is “hand-cut” and “gold-dipped” and otherwise unattainable is entering the world of the assembly line? It’s enough to make one think the H&M move is something of a reversal of position but Ford says not. As with his upmarket line, his lower-priced work will be limited and unavailable for viewing until the moment it lands on the high street.

As to why the collaboration happened, it seems that the hoo-ha generated when Jennifer Lawrence wore a backless Ford design for a premiere of The Hunger Games prompted the designer to begin thinking about how to reach the client of the future, and this was the result. You couldn’t make it up. Except, I confess, all three of the above examples have been made up by me for this weekend’s April Fool’s column. If you didn’t guess they were, then I guess that proves my point. When it comes to fashion, even the most far-fetched idea might just be possible.


More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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