Fendace Is Verdi Real

It’s dubbed The Swap, but in a world with too many labels and too much clothes, are the Fendi and Versace I-do-you, you-do-me collections necessary? Are they at all nice?

It looks like Milan Fashion Week has its climax show to end the festivities. The “unexpected” Fendi and Versace or Fendace collaboration, or “hack”, to steal from present-day, pandemic-poised parlance, really took place after the initial rumour grew more heads than on Medusa’s. And rather than a reprisal of the Gucci/Balenciaga manoeuvre in April (or vice versa), Kim Jones (and design partner Silvia Venturini Fendi) traded places/brands with Donatella Versace to “interpret” the other house’s aesthetics and codes. The result is high on the marketing potential of the idea than the ideation itself, more brash than dash, more Versace than Fendi. It isn’t clear yet, which brand will stand to gain. Versace, fresh from a showing just three days earlier had already jog one’s memory about those ideas that make the house instantly recognisable, do they need another splashy retelling? Or, is this Fendi trying to go hipper, playing down Mr Jones’s banal muliebrity in his reimagination of the brand?

It is like his Shein moment, her Boohoo, all TikTok-ready, influencer-approved. Sure, we understand that we are living in such times, but must we see Fendi go from soignée a week earlier to meretricious now, Versace go from Versace to Versace Max? It is understandable that brands love mash-ups and, possibly, their customers too, but is it really time to blur aesthetic lines when no side gains? One SOTD reader was clearly dismayed when he texted us this morning about Versace’s interpretation of Fendi, “In the end, it just looked like two Versace shows; one better than the other! Apart from the monogram, there was sadly, no Fendi to speak of.” Make that three if you count the spring/summer 2022 show of the main line. “It’s the first in the history of fashion,” Ms Versace said through a media release. On both front, yes.

No one is mistaken that this is Sacai’s Chitose Abe doing Jean Paul Gaultier and certainly not, if a pop reference is preferred, Lady Gaga doing Cole Porter! It is all about the hype. Do we still remember that? Or has hype been so over-hyped that we are more immune to it than one relentless virus? Is hoopla so blah that we need to revive it. And throw in some old-time catwalk excesses (a revolving Medusa logo reveals the double F?) and other-era models to up the surprise factor (since there are none in the clothes)? Sure it is a delight to see Kristen McMenamy playing Donatella Versace, Mariacarla Boscono still looking good, and Kate Moss looking not, but when it comes to Naomi Campbell closing the show, it really is a bit jelak. Did she not just appear in the earlier Versace show, in the same swagger?

There is the laughable name too. Sure, the project can be cheekily referred to as Fendace (the lazy conflation of Fendi and Versace), but when it is actually spelled out as a real brand, it sounds like something you would find in Mahboonkrong Centre in Bangkok, among the Armanee jeans, Frid Perry polos, Adibas kicks, and Relax watches. Clearly ‘Verdi’ is not allowable—a national icon deserves far greater respect. Perhaps this is a dig at the Chinese counterfeiters who can’t spell. Still, could they not think of something less Qipu Lu, Shanghai? We have no idea if this would appear as a label on the back of the clothes, but since Fendace is already there as a belt buckle and on the bags (including those Book wannabes), so expect nothing less. According to reports, the project was brewing since February although the news broke that it would be a sudden coming together of the brands only this week. Designers taking over as new creative directors of other brands have precocious less to work with. A waste of resources, just to feed the empty hype?

The show opens with Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi doing Versace. One senses this is really the job Mr Jones was after, rather than the Fendi appointment. Loud is waiting to jump out of him, and he creates the chance to allow it to radiate, but could he do loud better than Versace has been? It is not hard to see that Mr Jones is not particularly adept at handling or mixing prints. Or squeeze out more. The florid Versace silk dresses and separates look like they could come from a lame season of the now-defunct Versus. Donatella embracing Fendi, a house so unlike the one her brother founded, conversely, appeared the more triumphant among the trio, leaving every identifiable Versace hallmark where they can be left, like a canine marking her territory. Even the Fendi monogram is treated to Versace-esque colours. No garment is free of Medusa heads, animal prints, Oriental frets, Baroque swirls… whatever could be squeezed onto a silk screen. If not, there is always the chain mail.

Is it because the show took place on Versace’s turf? Would it be different if it is staged at Fendi’s headquarters? Will it be there next? Would there be a next? Where would the clothes and accessories be sold? Both lines at each other’s stores? Just as the show was live-streamed on both brands’ website, on visually similar pages? High-high pairings (in this case, one French-owned—LVMH and the other by American upstart Capri Holdings) may be trending now, but how Fendace will pan out is perhaps too early to tell. The idea may not have been explored before, but the execution is nowhere near radical. And, it is hard to see the sustainability (in every sense of the word) of The Swap. It is a showy novelty set up to wane.

Photos: Fendi/Versace/Fendace

Two Of A Kind: The “Half-Suit”

It first appeared in 1982. Now Fendi is reviving it. Is half better that one whole?

Fendi Vs Philip Garner

Intrigued by Fendi’s lobbed-off suit-jacket shown in the recent spring/summer 2022 collection, we Googled to see if there was a precedence to this unsettling outfit. And true enough, there was. In 1982, this tailored piece (right) was proposed as an alternative to wear when it is scorching, as seen in the book of humour Philip Garner’s Better Living Catalog. Called the “Half-Suit”, it was shown worn in the same way as Fendi’s—with a cropped-off shirt and tie. The original version was preppie to just above the solar plexus, offering “abbreviated midsection for comfort and physical flair” (Fendi omitted the latter!). The author described the Half-Suit as “a new concept in warm weather business attire.” It does not seem to us that Fendi intended theirs for the corporate office or meetings with a bank’s relationship manager. In the book, it was further recommended that the Half-Suit “may be worn with shortened pants…” An idea that Fendi, too, adopted.

Philip Garner, 79, is an American artist and author (another book of his went by the title Utopia or Bust: Products for the Perfect World), known for his satirical take on consumer products that he cheekily—but not inaccurately—called “inventions”. They included such unlikely items as the Palmbrella, and one unimaginable “high-heeled roller skate”. He even appeared on late-night talk shows, such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, to tout his wares. Today, we’ll gladly labelled all that ‘fake’. In the 1980s, Philip Garner began developing a separate identity and started transitioning to Pippa Garner. Her new gender is more than a reassignment; it was also an “art project,” as she said, “to create disorientation in my position in society, and sort of balk any possibility of ever falling into a stereotype again.”

Silvia Venturini Fendi made no reference to the Half-Suit. Well, not yet. It’ll be interesting to see if Fendi’s version will take off when the Garner original elicited mostly laughs. Unlike the RTW of Fendi’s, the Half-Suit of 1982 was sort of customised. As stated in the out-of-print book, interested parties were asked to “send us your suit(s) for professional quality Half-Suit modification in our modern facility.” And happily it offered more: “For a slight additional charge, zippers can be installed, allowing rapid full-length reconversion at the onset of chilly weather.” Fendi’s very likely do not come with that welcome option.

Photos: (right) Fendi and (right) Delilah Books

Fendi’s Cropped Tops

are hot not! Or is this a pandemic-era aberration soon to go normal?

Fendi has a best-selling bag called Peekaboo. The name could also well apply to some of their fashion pieces in the latest collection for spring/summer 2022. Has there been so little happening in menswear of late that Fendi has to make something eventuate by going to extreme lengths, and in doing so, put very cropped jackets out, those so brief that they make a bolero looks positively long? For a moment we thought these were Balmain! Or are these strategically placed so that women will be the ones salivating after them, just as they once did, after Hedi Slimane’s painfully skinny suits at the former Dior Homme, once upon a time? But that may not be so. There are other cropped tops in the collection, all abbreviated as in womenswear: the hem sits just below where the bust line would be. They expose the navel (with chains and pendants for waists!), just as a belly dancer would.

Copped tops for men are, of course, not entirely new. We’ve seen them worn by body builders working out and dancers rehearsing. But Fendi’s versions aren’t ultra-short knit tops or regular tees, ripped to yield a certain sensual athleticism. The most prominent is the suit-jacket (top) truncated to chest level (with sleeves that end alongside the hem), under which a shirt that is similarly shortened (the tie seemed hacked too). It looks uncannily like one particular version humorously proposed in 1982 by the American artist and author Phillip Garner in Philip Garner’s Better Living Catalog. Fendi’s boasts impeccable tailoring, no doubt, but its precise brevity brings to mind men in China who roll their tops up in summer to beat the heat. Or, is this really what Silvia Venturini Fendi means when she referred to giving men “ a sense of freedom”, now (still) missing when so many are still working from home or staying put? The new going out top?

Men, more than ever, have the freedom to wear, whenever they want, what they want, even t-shirts and track pants to the office. Or even shorts, which are the star items at Fendi. From afar, some of them look like bloomers. If you look closer, the end of the shorts are lined with tiny pouch-cargo pockets, akin to those you might find on battle belts or those commonly seen on army webbing. Despite the seemingly military details and the extra 3-D pocket details of the short shorts, there is a certain prettiness to them, a quality that Gen-Z guys, bending gender norms, would welcome. Additionally, the blousiness of the tops too, the dress-likeness of a tunic, and the elasticised waists of fluid walking shorts add a relaxed, soft, and gentle spin to the Italian idea of what dressing to enhance one’s machismo has been, and is now ready to be redefined. Is Ms Fendi walking away from traditional binary constraints?

The 45-look collection was staged at the Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana, Fendi’s striking headquarters in Rome, and streamed online. The house didn’t participate in an IRL runway show, as many of their eager-to-go-back-to-normal compatriot brands have. The view of the city from the upper floors of the Palazzo is an interplay of light and shapes, and is reflected in the collection. This looking down is also augmented by manly prints of archival maps of Rome, and patterns that mimic the earth seen from outer space. From the International Space Station, we wonder, could a different kind of swagger be seen, abstract or not?

Photos: Fendi

And The Luxe Goes On

Despite what’s going on around us right now, Silvia Fendi does not believe in an abstemious life. Her latest collection for autumn/winter 2021 continues to pile on the luxe and is not short of ideas, proving that her strength is in menswear

“Hello,” goes the matronly voice above the not-yet-loud electronic beat, “it’s Silvia calling. I just wanted to tell you about humanity, colour… about what is normal today, about light… and darkness…” That’s how the Fendi show started. These days, the creative heads behind luxury houses want to speak to you directly. Silvia Venturini Fendi does so through the soundtrack by Not Waving, the London-based Italian “musical artist” Alessio Natalizia, for the live-streamed men’s show. She does not sing. Instead, she speaks as if through a phone, or Zoom without the video turned on. It is reminiscent of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1989 dance single How To Do That, in that he too didn’t sing, but Mr Gaultier sounded like he was having fun, rather than encourage a discourse on what matters now. Ms Fendi’s wanting to tell you about “what is normal today” could be prelude to what her Fendi men’s might look like.

But only, it isn’t really. This is not some elevated athleisure or loungewear 2.0 frippery; this is whatever you wish to call it, with extra doses of the deluxe. Not quite the fashion of WTF, unless you live in a country estate in, say, Buckinghamshire, England, the look that reflects a still-precarious time. We can’t place exactly where these clothes might be worn to or where they might feel right, but we are drawn to them, if only because they look like we might be able to snuggle in them or turn one of the quilted coats into pillow or blanket. These are not exactly clothes for a lockdown (or for retiring, socially); they look like they would want to be worn somewhere. And clothes have such appeal if they are destined to be seen outside, in the world, no matter how awful or lamentable it is. What’s normal for Ms Fendi, as it turns out, is not quite so.

Such as shorts in winter. Although quilted, they might be insufficient for, say, Sapporo. Or too much for Hong Kong, where winters rarely warrant quilted garments. So they will be a fashion item, distanced from the practical obsessions of a now-different world. The head-to-toe knits too (we like the overalls with the turtleneck sweater), which could be for a log cabin apres ski (who really wears sweater-knit slacks outdoors?). Or, for that matter, the quilted dressing gowns? The dandy vibe is not lost, although it’d be eye-opening if there are, at this time, or nine months later, men who’d want to express their predilection for clued-in elegance by adopting such symbols of deep refinement and eccentric aristocracy. But it is the unlikely, by way of the practicable or visual, that we find this collection compelling.

The first look sums it all up. Two quilted coats together is unusual enough, but it is the cable-knit sweater worn underneath that draws our interest: it has a collar (if you can call it that), seemingly made from two joined sleeves. The styling allows these two ends to just hang down the chest, but we suspect that, for the more fashion forward, they could be tied into a pussy bow! Ms Fendi, as head of menswear, kidswear, and accessories, has, in these past years, made Fendi men a considerable force. Her women’s line, after Karl Lagerfeld’s death, banked too much on Roma retro, and did not quite excite, which may explain Kim Jones’s taking over in the upcoming season. Whether extreme or conspicuous luxe for menswear shall stake its place in a pandemic-ravaged world remains to be seen, but Silvia Fendi has positioned the now-LVMH-owned brand well, and with wit to boot.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Is This Why Fendi Needs Kim Jones?

Or is this just an in-transition, passing-the-baton collection?

Fendi without Karl Lagerfeld has not been the same. For 54 years, Mr Lagerfeld gave Fendi the fashion DNA it did not quite have, imagining a Roman style through his German eyes, but with a firmly French touch. Mr Lagerfeld started with the Fendi sisters and, later, Silvia Venturini Fendi, the grand-daughter of the fashion house’s founder. Throughout, Mr Lagerfeld has forged a Fendi that’s, at first, known for their youthful, almost avant-garde way with fur, and in the last years before the designer’s demise, noted for a smart prettiness characterised by lightness, as seen in some of the best fabrications the house had ever shown. Mr Lagerfeld seemed surer then ever what he wanted Fendi to be.

Three days before the Fendi autumn/winter 2019/20 show, Mr Lagerfeld passed. Silvia Fendi took the customary bow at the end of the show, suggesting that from then, we thought, she’d be setting the design directions for the house. But the subsequent collections did not quite build on the foundation that her predecessor had strengthened. They were essentially store-friendly clothes. Ms Fendi took her family’s brand on an even more commercial route than the one Mr Lagerfeld—himself a commercial designer—embarked, one that, to us, was a stroll through Via del Corso, the Rome shopping stretch for high-street brands and what’s considered Roman.

This season—supposedly Ms Fendi’s last before she hands the creative reign to Kim Jones—is Fendi in pensive mood. According to media reports, the collection was based on photographs that Ms Fendi took from her bedroom window during the lockdown months in Italy. Shadows of gloomy windows and silhouettes of trees and foliage that rose beyond were projected onto white drapes, as if a scene in a horror film, set in an attic, with the floating curtains and an unknown entity creating the mood. It was strange that, as one of the first IRL shows of the Milan season with an actual audience (however not-packed), the Fendi presentation was this subdued, nearly cheerless. And the clothes mostly reflected this stay-at-home-and-look-at-the-window melancholia.

To further underscore the domestic (and, we’re told, “familial”) setting in which the clothes could look right, Ms Fendi talked of bed linens that inspired some comforter-looking outerwear (for spring/summer?). She said that they reminded her of Karl Lagerfeld, who collected sheets, and is known to travel with his own (possibility including quilt covers?). Interestingly, window drapes has a link to the man too. He once regaled the press by saying, “My mother said: ‘I’m going to have to take you to the upholsterer. Your nostrils are too big—they need curtains.’” 

We’ere not sure if Mr Lagerfeld wanted to be remembered for bedsheets and window curtains, but Fendi did consider them. Regardless of what will happen next spring and summer, it would probably still have to do with what many have discovered during lockdowns and social distancing: comfort dressing, or how we’re supposedly attired at home. This could possibly be Fendi’s least dressed-up collection since dressing up is not presently quite on our minds. Sure, there is the lace skirt for lunch with the BFFs, the body-con dress for dates, the jumpsuit for running errands. And, oh, pantsuits for, presumably, work. But it isn’t easy to place them in the present or why Fendi thought that, in six months’ time, when the workforce may be entirely back to the office, women would want a three-piece suit.

To be sure, the clothes will be considered desirable since they don’t require unpacking to understand. With the references to soft furnishings of home, they could easily be a wardrobe that can be worn just outside the wardrobe. Or, on a trip to the supermarket. Ensuring that fashion touches were not altogether eliminated, there were the sheerness (some printed with the afternoon shadows you might catch on window drapes), the appliques to lift otherwise plain fabrics to a higher level, or those seen-before pencil-like lines outlining coats and dresses. But is the sum adequate to give Fendi the edgines (or buzziness) that other brands under the parent company LVMH are able to project? Silvia Venturini Fendi is probably aware of her limitations. Kim Jones is just the name to headline her family’s 95-year-old brand.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Walking Out Of The Shadow Of Karl Lagerfeld

Is Silvia Venturini Fendi now tracking her own path? Or did she learn well from a former part-time employee?

 

Fendi AW 2020 P1

Fendi. The moment they tried moving the focus away from the founding business of fur (for obvious reasons), the Roman house has placed significant emphasis and resources on its ready-to-wear unit, which is today 43 years old. While the late Karl Lagerfeld has been credited with modernising Fendi’s fur designs, not many—even members of the press—seriously note (or remember) that it was Mr Lagerfeld who launched the furrier’s RTW in 1997. And steered its direction till his death last year. Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld were synonymous. Although Mr Lagerfeld did credit third-gen Fendi, Silvia Venturini (she of the Baguette bag fame), as co-creator of the RTW, the designs had been in the aesthetical signature and whim of the German designer.

It has been a year since Mr Lagerfeld passed on rather suddenly. There was no known succession plan at Fendi. His design partner at the house since the mid-’90s decided that she could go on. Alone. Ms Fendi largely kept to Mr Lagerfeld’s codes for the house in her first solo RTW outing last season. A theme (something “solar”, if we remember correctly) running through the collection, however, saw Ms Fendi dancing dangerously on the grounds of parody. In addition, it was too post-Lagerfeld, a wobbly stance between homage and breaking free, which led to some observers fearing that Fendi would be like Chanel: lost. Perhaps it was take-over jitters. However, Ms Fendi now seems to have found her footing. Or, able to express herself without the “captain”. And the collection she presents for next fall is surprising, and a joy to view.

Fendi AW 2020 G1Fendi AW 2020 G2

Ms Fendi has learnt well from her former collaborator: don’t let a good idea fade into the surfeit of the mediocre. This season, there are those statement sleeves, based on the idea of what could be a baguette shape (that bread again!), pulled down and away from the edge of the shoulder. Sticklers of conventionally-set sleeves may find Fendi’s elongated puffs ungainly, but we do consider them a welcome study of volume for a part of the body usually preferred when slender. What’s amazing is how, with manipulating the size and proportion, it is then applied on a wide variety of garments: coats, blazers, dresses, cardigans, blouses (sheer, as well), even rompers!

Ms Fendi’s known love of cinema is also captured, saluting how and what it was before in the movie world, on screen and off screen. That the clothes are imbued with bygone romance than cliched cinematic glamour make them more than facsimiles of period trends. A couple of beautiful dresses with seemingly thrown-on scarves (but are, in fact, part of the outfits), forming an X across the upper bodice fall in with the gracefulness and elegance of those designed by Hollywood costumer Adrian. Others could have been gleaned from Italian movies—vintage-y prints; contrast collars; slim, calf-length skirts—are in sync with the Italians’ love, this season, of lady-like dressed-up given just the right touch of the kooky. And la dolce Roma.

Fendi AW 2020 G3Fendi AW 2020 G4

There is some aesthetic/visual contradiction too. Ms Fendi showed double-breasted suit-jackets and their leather cousins with boning that suggests corsets. Nothing wrong in emphasizing the waist, until two plus-sized models later appeared, with one of them in the similar suggestion of a constricted middle. Not to make an issue of it, but the incongruity is noticeable, and the different effect of the horizontal boning on the skinny and not are just as evident. It is not clear what the intention is other than to join the increasingly audible chorus demanding inclusivity. Would Fendi welcome diverse body types beyond this season’s token two?

Splendid coats, striking dresses, sapid skirts, and between them elements that come together to spell stand out—Silvia Venturini Fendi is on to a good (re)start. And a re-positioning for the now LVMH-owned brand beyond furs and accessories. In addition to the legacy of Karl Lagerfeld, Ms Fendi, too, has the input of two British fashion forces, the stylist Charlotte Stockdale (also one-half of the label Chaos), as well as Mr Lagerfeld’s right-hand consultant at Chanel, Amanda Harlech. Could this be the new power trio to re-energise Milan Fashion Week? Let’s see.

Photos: Fendi