Did Karl Lagefeld know that this would be his last collection for Fendi?
For someone who only looks to the future, probably not (“what is important is what I will do, not what I have done in the past”, he tended to say). Yet there is a sense that he gave all he had for this Fendi collection with the view that there might not be another. This is arguably one of the best collections he had conceived for the Roman house, where he had served as its ready-to-wear design head for 54 years—“the longest collaboration in fashion”, he had declared. The tailoring is sharp, the quirkiness unmistakable. This is fashion for those who cares more about stylish clothes that house codes.
Being a Karl Lagerfeld-designed collection, however, some things won’t be absent: the high, conspicuous Edwardian collars; straight but not overly emphatic shoulders; no-nonsense shirts, proper but not uninteresting skirts. Yet, there is not anything what might today be called ‘iconic’. They come together with other elements to form ensembles that are appealingly current—not cloyingly feminine, not unnecessarily street, no extremes. Despite the collection’s youthful vibe,you do not sense it is designed by an octogenarian trying to do young.
Between the two brands Mr Lagerfeld designed for those many decades, we have always preferred Fendi, the Roman label once run by five sisters (the cheekily wicked say six!) and is now part of the LVMH stable of luxury names. Mr Lagefeld joined Fendi—the other brand after Chanel that offered him a “lifelong” contract—in 1963. In luxury fashion, this is an anomaly: a freelancer working for one brand for over 50 years. During his time there, he not only revolutionise Fendi as furriers, he created their ready-to-wear from scratch.
In Fendi, it is possible that Mr Lagerfeld found the freedom to really express. From the beginning, he had no interest in leaving a legacy or creating what other brands call DNA. In the years designing for other brands, he was happy to create what he thought was au courant. While lightness was always associated with Karl Lagerfeld (even the Fendi furs, at some point, were light, including those designed to be worn in summer), there was not a discernible Karl Lagerfeld look. Aesthetically unshackled, he would create a Fendi not burdened by a past. Fendi could be whatever the trend of the moment is. Perhaps this “flexibility” endeared him to other brands. When Chanel had him on board in 1983, they were probably certain they would not be getting a variation of Fendi. But if Karl Lagerfeld didn’t have a distinct style and Fendi does not have the history that Chanel does, it would appear that Fendi has no look either.
While Fendi as a brand has succumbed to the street wear craze, it has remained largely true to its Italian elegance, offering stylish clothes with just the right touch of off. They are not Marni, of course, but in the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, they have kept to a femininity that is not frothy, but ethereal (compounded by incredible fabrics they are able to develop), all the while tempered by Mr Lagerfeld’s not exactly soft tailoring. There is none of the intellectual heft of Prada, nor the culturally-derived goofiness of Gucci, but compelling nonetheless.
For us, this collection leaves behind a good memory, a neat end to an era. We like the the surprise of the sash tied at the rear of shirts, coats, even dresses, like a forgotten belt; the mix of sheer or skin-visible with the solid (but not heavy); and, especially, a sense of the sublime without trying to be too clever about it. Fendi, as it appears, has a solid foundation.