Fashion Review: At Fendi, Raising the Bar in Farewell

Fashion Review

At Fendi, Raising the Bar in Farewell

Karl Lagerfeld’s final collection for the house, and the question of vision at Gucci and Alberta Ferretti.

Fendi, fall 2019CreditCreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

MILAN — Normally before a fashion show the decibel level is close to that of a small zoo, as people pass the time in gossip and air kisses and yelling into their phones. But Thursday at noon, as the crowd filed in for Fendi, the noise was just a whisper.

It was the last collection that Karl Lagerfeld, who died on Tuesday, had designed for a brand he had shaped since 1965. Though much attention has been lavished on his work at Chanel, in many ways he was even more integral to Italian fashion, and everyone was there to honor his legacy.

There were double FFs in fur and celadon green cotton and canvas on audience members everywhere you looked. A small card with an F (the lower leg replaced by a heart) and Mr. Lagerfeld’s signature scrawl had been placed atop every seat; the date of his death was on the back. At the end of the runway was a handwritten sign reading “Love Karl.” According to Serge Brunschwig, Fendi’s chief executive, Mr. Lagerfeld had been working on the collection until the end.

It showed.

Atop a base of sheer hosiery and bodysuits speckled with the rococo italics of a 1980s logo that Mr. Lagerfeld had created and called “karligraphy” was layered men’s tailoring in irony-tinged 1970s shades of brown and camel, purple and green; the backs of jackets and high-collared shirts (a reference to the style Mr. Lagerfeld favored for himself) sashed with a lavish taffeta bow. Leather coats laser-cut to mimic technical athletic mesh were paired with sheer pleated wrap skirts; governess dresses shifted just so over the body to suggest the branded underthings beneath.

It was easy and entirely contemporary; built on heritage, dipping in and out of trend (sports, suits, the soup of decades past) but indebted to neither. It was smart, in every sense of the word.

After the last model had filed past, Silvia Fendi, the designer for men’s and accessories and Mr. Lagerfeld’s partner on the creative side of the business, took her bow alone. A short video was shown of Mr. Lagerfeld sketching his first look for the brand, and explaining the power of a healthy dose of disrespect.

His work gave proof to his words but it didn’t matter: Respect was what he was due, not just because of what he had achieved but because of what he had just made. And backstage, everyone — models, modélistes, hair and beauty teams, executives — was in tears. As his last gesture he had raised the bar for everyone.

Gucci, fall 219CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Milan Fashion Week began in the shadow of Mr. Lagerfeld’s death, and it cast a strange, uneasy light on the opening shows.

“Sometimes you are blinded and sometimes you are dazzled — this is life,” summed up Alessandro Michele, gamboling in his mental pastures during a news conference after his Gucci show on Wednesday.

He wasn’t speaking of the general mood, though it would have made sense, or Mr. Lagerfeld’s legacy, though that would have made sense, too (and, in fact, Mr. Michele had started his career working at Fendi). Rather, he was talking about the wall of strobe-like L.E.D.s that flashed in formation throughout the show, shining directly in the eyes of audience members, forcing them into temporary sightlessness. What was going to happen next? The timeliness of the effect was a coincidence but a resonant one.

Still, it wasn’t entirely necessary. Everyone was feeling blindsided enough. If not by the fashion news, by the Brexit news or the news of the Jussie Smollett fake-hate crime allegation or the news of what’s going on in the Catholic Church (Mr. Michele was born in Rome, and did set the show to a choral march).

Which may be why, once you blinked away the spots on your retinas, what was visible on the runway was a play on all kinds of masks — blank-faced and S&M leatherette and filigree metal, some full-face, some playing peekaboo with eyes and mouth — and Mr. Michele’s now-signature exaggerated vintage grabfest of gender-bending costume for both sexes.

Suits were blown up to zoot-like proportions: waists nipped in, shoulders jutted out, lapels built into pyramids, pants blouson in the extreme, some ties rendered wide. Sometimes basting stitches were left dangling, like an unfinished thought (Mr. Michele has lots of those). There were exaggerated pastry-crust ruffles and sofa florals; tiny brocade 1960s dresses and lace tights; sneakers carried dangling from a wrist like a handbag, and Gucci kneepads. There were smoky-bar sequins. Models who weren’t wearing a mask wore gold and silver casts on their ears, like a death mask for one of the senses. There were a lot of very sharp-looking spikes.


Max Mara, fall 2019CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

It was a little Venetian and a little Freddy Krueger; frump punk, cut with a dash of Hannah Arendt, the German philosopher who wrestled with questions of totalitarianism and freedom and was liberally referenced in the show notes.

(As it happens, Mr. Michele wasn’t the only one having something of a writerly moment; Max Mara also name-checked the texts of Camille Paglia and Roxane Gay in its collection description, and then used those words as a head-scratching passport to an urban safari in Boss Lady cashmere explorer’s vests and shifts, leather and faux-croc saddlebag vests, and not-in-nature knit combinations of tiger and zebra stripes. Plus, of course, a dash of camel(s).)

Anyway, back to Mr. Michele and Gucci.

“Garments are like a mask that we use to defend ourselves and define ourselves,” he said after the show, which is true on a macro level and an individual one: Gucci recently experienced its own moment of blindness with a controversy over a sweater that seemed to reference blackface, and the brand has been on an extended listening and learning binge since then. Mr. Michele just puts it all on the catwalk. He’s been doing that for awhile.


Jil Sander, fall 2019CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

The show had bouquets of references and free-association fantasy. It probably had commercial hits buried underneath. What it did not have were any revelations or surprises.

Maybe we’d had enough for this week, anyway. Continuity! Sometimes it looks awfully good.

So if there was familiarity in the checkerboards and pomegranate prints in midcentury modern shapes and shades at Arthur Arbesser and the masculine/feminine play at Jil Sander, where Luke and Lucie Meier layered sweeping shirtdresses sliced to the hip and dish towel tunics over trousers wide and slim, that’s O.K. Brunello Cucinelli has built an entire theory of fashion on the virtues of merely nudging along his hand-knit cashmeres (now mixed with a base of chiffon) and earthy tailoring.


Alberta Ferretti, fall 2019CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

In any case, the result was more appealing than the unexpected swerve that’s been going on at Alberta Ferretti, where this season the designer veered even further backward into 1980s power-woman-meets-Vegas-sound-and-light-show territory. Guess she’s really not interested in being associated with those delicate pintucks and frothy Oscar frocks any more. Fair enough.

The problem is what was offered instead: shoulders — big ones, sometimes complete with fringe-bedecked epaulets. Jackets with shiny brass buttons. Jodhpurs and pleated stonewashed gray denim jeans. Cowboy boots and flat-brimmed hats. A whole lot of gold and silver and magenta lamé, in the form of jumpsuits, one-shouldered Komodo dragon ruffled minis, and high-waisted suspender trousers. Yes: suspenders.

They left you rubbing your eyes.

Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedman

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Published at Thu, 21 Feb 2019 15:09:53 +0000