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“I was thinking about normality, and normal things,” said Silvia Fendi, a couple of hours before her family brand’s AW17 show in Milan. Read that as Fendi normality, when the show opens with a guy wearing a leopard print rabbit coat and a wide headband knitted with the word “FENDI”. Actually she meant the tracksuit that it was worn over, the blousons in the collection, the blazers. It just was that a certain notch had been turned up. “That’s why I give it a touch of Fendi, otherwise you go to Uniqlo,” she said. This was fashion with jazz hands.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about a Fendi men’s show, which used to feel inconsequential. Recently though, something has changed. The brand does not disclose or break down any sales figures, but buyers at department stores report that the clothing is flying out. Men are responding to luxury fashion that has a comic book optimism. In a Milan season where absence and decline is the presumed narrative, with no shows by Gucci or Bottega Veneta, it’s worth looking at a brand that pops.
What’s working here is a wardrobe that relates to the novelty of its accessories. Like Versace, Fendi looked to emotive words as a response to the current political status quo. Some of the words — “listen”, “try” — were taken from affirmative statements by Ernest Hemingway. “Listen” was shaved into a shearling coat, which may never have been an ambition of Hemingway’s for his work, but still. Other words were about naivety: “yellow” on the yellow front of a knit sweater. Guess what was written on the pink back?
Fendi gave a reason for her love of menswear. “I am a very practical person,” she said. “I come from the accessories, so I take into consideration the functionality.” She went over to a cotton blouson, which had a detachable lining with pockets for phone, wallet etc. “This little jacket, you can zip or unzip like a bag,” she said. It was a neat piece.
Fendi was quietly content with the growth in menswear. “We do not do Fendi advertising for men,” she said. “It’s growing word-of-mouth, with no pushing.” For the past few seasons, Fendi has worked closely with the British stylist Julian Ganio, fashion director of Fantastic Man magazine. It is clear that their relationship is working. “We have a lot of fun with Julian,” she said. “We share the sense of irony. We laugh a lot. It is good because it is effortless.”
We had finished looking down the rails and were at the mood board, pinned with images that influenced the collection. Below the Hemingway quote was a photo of Louise Bourgeois. Below that was an image of Pat Butcher, a character from the BBC soap East Enders. The wardrobe of Pat Butcher was a character-definer: proud, tacky, vulgar. “I asked Julian, why did you bring this photo, who is she?” said Fendi. “He said, this is something you cannot know.”
Let’s be real. There was only one piece in the collection I found truly covetable: an orange shearling coat that purposefully looked like a cheap fleece lining. This was not a show to push Fendi as a major part of a menswear dialogue. But is the brand looking to take such a place? Probably not. It has its customers, ones with the deepest pockets, and it knows what they want. For that they are, most likely, very content.