Listen to this article
A fresh wind was blowing through the Fendi SS17 collection. In a landmark year of events celebrating the label’s 90th anniversary, its move into a new headquarters, and its clean-up of the Trevi fountain in Rome, the house’s native home, to which Fendi pledged €2.2m — and then commandeered as the set on which to stage their spectacular July huge couture show — it’s finally time to move on.
For Karl Lagerfeld, who is the house’s creative director, along with Silvia Fendi and a man who despises retrospection, this show was a breath of air. In the ephemeral world of fashion, this “was the unbearable lightness”.
It was lots of things. The muse was youthful, modern and rococo in spirit. The looks featured modern sportswear, tailored jackets with outsize pockets, stripey trousers, scalloped sleeves. Spots of fluoro pink and yellow were paired with jacquard florals depicting Capodimonte porcelain designs from the 18th century, or feather-light printed chiffons, or liquidy-thin leathers, or apron skirts of the type Marie Antoinette wore to garden at her Trianon.
For the proudly Italian house, the references seemed unusually French. “Well, don’t forget, Maria Carolina the Queen of Naples, where the Capodimonte porcelain factory was founded, was the sister of Marie Antoinette,” explained Lagerfeld as he sketched an Antoinette-style “wind apron” with a broader skirt panel to illustrate how it should cascade from the waist. I hadn’t known to forget, I admitted as he crumpled his sketch into a ball. That’s the joy of spending any time with Lagerfeld and his inexhaustible encyclopedic mind. You always learn something.
Historical references aside, the show was quite directional. Some of the models wore ribby neon knits, like sports tops, and most wore a hybrid boot that married athletic socks with a curvy, striped renaissance heel. Sporty clothes have become a key signature across the industry and a staple in the modern wardrobe, where tracksuits and tailoring happily coexist. Is atheleisurewear a street-up influence? “I don’t know where it came from,” said Lagerfeld. “But it’s certainly not from any other period.” He despairs of design which draws from explicit periods of history. He can’t stand the current trend for “1970s looks which look like film costumes”.
Despite reporting a downturn of 1 per cent in revenue across the LVMH portfolio in the group’s half-year report in July, Fendi’s fortunes have been less affected by the slump in tourist sales that were blamed for the group’s current woes. The house, under chief executive Pietro Beccari, was singled out in the report as one of its better performers. Though its precise revenues are incorporated with other houses, and therefore unknown, Fendi was described as showing “impressive growth and an excellent performance . . . led by product creativity”.
Asked what that meant, Lagerfeld pointed to this show’s eclecticism and busyness by way of example. In an era of individualism, he suggested, Fendi offers consumers lots to work with. “No model looked the same, the looks were all completely different — even the hair and make-up changed for every look,” he said. “And I mixed all the colours so they were all completely opposite, a shocking pink and a pastel, a floral jacquard and leather.”
Increasingly, the luxury market is about the bespoke details, and creating a look or owning something utterly unique. Fendi have been exceptionally nimble in that market — first with their £400 Bag Bugs, and now with a whole host of other accessories. The SS17 bags were decorated with a clutter of fur emojis, initial key fobs and rosette leather-covered straps, which can all be swapped and changed each season. There were sweetie-coloured hair pins, and the clothes were also a mix-and-match of separates that could be styled accordingly. It was playful. Lagerfeld liked that the collection had a slightly untethered quality, or “a floating feeling”, as he described it. Like the wind: it could go in any direction.