“I want the bow.” That instruction came to Silvia Venturini Fendi from Karl Lagerfeld on Monday, the day before his death. Backstage after showing her and Lagerfeld’s beautiful Fendi collection, the last of their long-term collaboration, Venturini Fendi was emotional as she greeted well-wishers; she had known Lagerfeld up-close for most of her life. He started working with her mother and aunts at Fendi in 1965, a record for collaborative longevity and excellence that will never be approached. Her comments confirmed that which many who knew Karl had long assumed: If he couldn’t live forever, he would go engaged in the most important thing in the world to him — work.
Lagerfeld was fully engaged until the end and planned to attend the show. “He was supposed to come. We organized everything for him to be here,” Venturini Fendi said. “This collection made him live longer. Because we had been working a lot.”
It showed. Over the years Lagerfeld took Fendi in numerous directions, most recently, one that infused high polish with a sporty attitude. He achieved this mood via intricate cuts, layerings and working with remarkable materials, the fruits of Fendi’s incredible research and development. He would bring it all together ingeniously, the complications of construction belied by an inviting visual ease. That was the case here, in a collection that radiated relaxed authority.
The collection highlighted the single item most closely associated with Lagerfeld himself — the crisp, buttoned-up shirt collar. Whether he initiated that motif or Venturini Fendi encouraged it, the homage element felt neither maudlin nor fussy. Rather, it played perfectly into the mood of smart sportif. First look out: cocoa-hued miniskirt suit with double-breasted jacket with white “shadow piping” on the ample pockets and one side of the notched collar, over a white shirt punctuated with a stark bow at the neck, as per Lagerfeld’s mandate. In addition to the shirt, this look introduced two other themes, tailoring and a mostly neutral palette, that would unify the diverse lineup.
Tailoring came both relaxed and lady-fied; the former often in men’s wear-derived coats and jackets, the latter in curvier silhouettes, some built on pagoda shoulders. Throughout, the shirt got a serious workout. It appeared in numerous incarnations: its most classic form, crisp white cotton, tucked into trousers; under lean, sleeveless dresses; with fluid asymmetric pleated skirts; as a sheer aqua shirtdress over printed second-skin underpinning. This and several looks had soft sashes, worn half undone and tied in back into Karl’s bows. Throughout, Lagerfeld went back and forth between flou and body-con, the latter at its freshest in athletic-inspired mesh, including leather mesh. Either way, the clothes looked great.
As for fur, it was conspicuous by its dearth. Of course, there were some coats, including a sporty shirttail version, and numerous hats and bags. But given that this was a fall Fendi collection, the fact that Lagerfeld and Venturini Fendi paid it so little attention couldn’t be missed, even though the house started some time ago to shift its focus from being the world’s most luxe fur house to a full ready-to-wear and couture house. “Of course, I live in real life and so I’m interested about [the growing antifur sentiment], very much interested…” Venturini Fendi told WWD last year. “I’m very confident in the new technologies, so we will see. We are open to investigating [adapting Fendi technologies to non-fur products]; Fendi has been always very democratic.”
Democratic — depends upon your interpretation of the word. Ultra chic and ultra current — absolutely, having spent the last half-century-plus under the creative watch of the man who possessed, among many other gifts, a genius at sensing the cultural moment and responding to it with bravado and high style. He did just that here. Backstage, Venturini Fendi was sad at her great loss, but pleased to have realized his final vision for Fendi. “Karl would like it,” she said, blinking back a tear.