“It did not feel like a funeral,” wrote Suzy Menkes of today’s Fendi show. How could it? “How could Karl Lagerfeld be dead?” It was a question which befell us all. The thought of Fendi’s fearless, unwavering, seemingly indomitable leader not walking out to take his bow an idea impossible to accept.
A few days before his death, Karl Lagerfeld called Silvia Venturini Fendi. He spoke nothing of his ailing health, “his only thoughts were on the richness and beauty of the Collection.” It was a true testament to both his character and tiring work ethic, but also his love and unrelenting passion for his craft and the Fendi brand. Lagerfeld had been working on the collection until the end. And today in Milan, it showed.
Despite a kind of aching sadness, it was a strong, triumphant show heavy in Karl-isms. It was as if, eerily, he knew of his fate and designed with this in mind, sewing the past into what would be his final collection. In abundance, lay what Silvia Fendi called “those facets of him”, the classic signatures he so deftly embedded into the brand since his Roman arrival in 1965. Those deeply rooted signatures played out fatefully with both brilliance and sadness as they had for the past 54 years, reflective of the symbiotic relationship between Fendi and Lagerfeld.
A collection steeped in this devotion, it sprung from the defining sketches of the season, rising above with a kind of newfound awe. Perhaps we were just mourning and particularly reflective, but everything seemed that little bit more beautiful. Simple, majestic silhouettes swanned down the runway with trenchant detail. Poetic puffer made way for wallpaper prints on cloque, organza and satin. Wrapped knife-pleated skirts sat alongside leather outerwear laser-cut like technical athletic mesh. Sheer transparent silks subverted lofty patent leather with seduction. Fluid and tempered with an irresistible light, it shone like we expected it to.
Even his own personal style made an appearance, with starchy cotton poplin collars drawing on his own inimitable look.
And of course, the classics. Its iconic ‘baguette’ – that bread-y bag of the 70s – refashioned in an embossed pillowy quilt. Karl’s curling “Karligraphy” FF logo – contrived in 1981 – monogrammed cabochon buttons and fur intarsia. Trompe L’oeil – an enduring trope of the brand – was redefined opulently. Fur – the very root of the Fendi – cuffed coat sleeves and draped shoulders. The final Fendi gesture was what Silvia described as “the romantic silk foulard,” referencing the silk scarfed bows which tied in the collection. The Fendi hallmarks reimagined one last time by their master.
But not one for nostalgia (particularly not his own), the rest of the collection remained staunchly new. The strong tailoring in particular, was in Fendi’s words, “quite new”. A sharp Pagoda shoulder jutted out. Suit jackets double breasted and boxy. Waists cinched with taffeta bows. A sumptuous, delicious last hurrah that was equal parts retrospective as it was revolutionary.
Touching tributes at every turn, even Sam McKnight’s hair an ode his creative partner and friend with models wearing slicked, low-stung ponytails like Karl’s. Atop every seat, sat a placard with his signature scrawl; a red heart, his final sketches and a hand-written ‘Love Karl’. On the back, the date of his death.
As Gigi Hadid walked in a gauzy canary yellow dress to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, the crowd rose to their feet. A clip of Karl played. In it, filmmaker Loic Prigent asked Lagerfeld to sketch his look on the day he arrived in Rome to work for Fendi. In deft, effortless strokes, he drew a 60s Karl in a red and yellow tweed Norfolk jacket, printed cravat, French knickerbockers, a sharp Cerruti fedora and of course, dark glasses. A look he described as “mauvais gen” [disreputable], it was a spine-tingling moment that roused one last applause.
But as the show went on, backstage, it was a different story. The team wept. Sobbed. They “cried for Karl,” as Bella Hadid so eloquently put it. Hairstylists, makeup artists, models clung to each other in tears, overwhelmed by emotion. In this moment, life couldn’t present a more telling symbol of Lagerfeld’s legacy. But amongst the tears, a tribute lay bare. This was a celebration of the man that defined Fendi, and largely, Italian fashion, for over 50 years. A farewell to their patriarch, and what a fitting farewell it was. A final, standing ovation for the brilliant Karl Largerfeld, it was Silvia Venturini Fendi’s final thought which perhaps summed it up best:
“The bond between Karl Lagerfeld and Fendi is fashion’s longest love story, and one that will continue to touch our lives for years to come. I am profoundly saddened by his passing and deeply touched by his constant care and perseverance until the very end…He shall so be missed.”