Silvia Venturini Fendi recalls that she was 5 years old when she first encountered Karl Lagerfeld. It was at Casa Fendi—the real one—in Rome. “I didn’t know what he was doing,” she reminisced this afternoon. “I thought he was a painter.” In a working relationship that goes back to 1965 (way before Chanel was but a twinkle in his eye), Lagerfeld has become profoundly insinuated within the fabric of both the Fendi business and family. Or as Venturini Fendi put it today: “In my fantasy world, he is the only man related to Fendi. So yes, he is the man in my life.”
Given that, it’s surprising that what came to pass at today’s Fendi menswear show has not happened previously. Lagerfeld was both the inspiration for, and a contributor to, the collection, the latest and most prominent in the series of guest star collaborations that have marked recent seasons here.
For the collection, Lagerfeld sketched a strong-shouldered double-breasted jacket with a shawl collar on the right side and a notch on the left. This in-your-face asymmetry in a menswear genre typically defined by symmetry—tailoring—was one starting point for the series of complementarily opposing dualities that ran throughout the lineup: the half-and-half jackets, the interplay of calligraphic monogram and futurist logo, the kinkily veiled back-and-forth between transparency and shine.
Also influential was the personal style of Lagerfeld himself: a play in several acts that included his Caraceni years, his Japanese interludes (Comme des Garçons, Undercover, Number (N)ine), and the Dior Homme coup. Even the physical mementos of Venturini Fendi’s almost lifelong collaboration with Lagerfeld were included here. The collage print on suitcases, plastic trenches, and a voluminous seamless piumino were made up of a lovingly assembled cache of the notes and images the designer has sent her over the years.
This collection was a wearable expression of Lagerfeld’s encyclopedic knowledge and history of self-expression through menswear—indeed, the show space was a re-creation of his personal library in Paris—but it was not an homage or an exercise in costume design. Certainly you could never imagine him wearing any of the metallic technical outerwear pieces, sometimes in organza overlay for extra shine. As Venturini Fendi noted, “I have never seen him wearing sportswear; he is always wearing tailoring in a contemporary way.”
What the use of Lagerfeld achieved so cleverly here was to remind us that while tailoring might seem like old hat right now, it is a dynamic form that constantly evolves. Venturini Fendi declared that she would love to see a younger client discovering that dynamism, which is perhaps why—as a pretty hard-to-resist sweetener—she teamed many of the tailored looks with what she said was the first-ever-for-men iteration of the Baguette. Redesigned in collaboration with the Japanese technical luggage specialist Porter-Yoshida & Co. to be harnessable at the waist (or, of course, slung cross-shoulder), it came in various sizes and fabrications—nylon, crocodile, shearling, metallic leathers, and more.
Inspired by the man in Venturini Fendi’s life, this collection deserves to find a place in the lives of many other men, too.