Male designers and their supersized egos have dictated what women wear for most of the past century. But it is the female side of the Fendi family who have been in the driving seat throughout the 98-year-old history of their Italian luxury house, and the British designer Kim Jones is smart enough to realise that Fendi is not about him.
“Fendi is a female-led, multigenerational house, and that is what I love about it,” said Jones backstage before the catwalk show, which opened Milan fashion week on Wednesday.
Silvia Venturini Fendi, whose grandparents Adele and Eduardo founded the house, now designs menswear and accessories; her daughter Delfina does the jewellery. “So with Silvia, Silvia’s mother, Delfina, and Delfina’s daughter, who is nearly 16, I have the point of view of many women.”
The Fendi women are a tribe of “sophisticated working mothers who also enjoy having a good time”, said Jones. “They are a really fun family. They are women who like to do stuff. Women who are always evolving, who are interested in what’s new.”
This season, Jones zeroed in on 36-year-old Delfina Delettrez Fendi, and her specific gift for making archive Fendi pieces look modern. “The first day she walked into work she was wearing blue and brown, and I thought she looked so great. There’s a chicness but a perversity to the way she twists Fendi, which is what I love.”
The result was a sophisticated, covered-up wardrobe very different from the pastel-toned, crop-topped Y2K stylings that dominated the previous Milan fashion week. Silhouettes were soft, with slinky knit dresses that warped gently around the body, shirt buttons undone, skirts with rippling pleats. Coats were the colour of milky coffee, tailoring a Brutalist cement grey. A few pieces of scarlet eveningwear brought a slash of drama, such as a bold red lip.
In some moods, Jones can be a fashion showman in the grand tradition of Karl Lagerfeld, one of his predecessors in the Fendi job. For his other job, at Dior Menswear, Jones recently staged a jaw-dropping catwalk show in front of the pyramids of Giza. But it has not escaped his notice that the craze for attention-grabbing fashion week antics has begun to leave a vacuum where fashion that women want to wear should be. “I wanted this season to be clean, no fuss, just all about the clothes,” he said.
The late Karl Lagerfeld, who worked at Fendi for more than 50 years, will be back in the spotlight in May when an exhibition in his honour opens at the Met Museum in New York. This collection included “a nod to Karl”, Jones said, in a knit dress with a vertical stripe that reworked a look from a 1996 Lagerfeld collection.
“The exhibition is a big moment for us, and we are dressing a lot of people for the [Met] Gala,” said Jones. “So there is just one Karl archive look, which feels like we are closing that chapter.”
The polish and elegance was grounded by utilitarian touches: pinafore straps on a dress, a boilersuit, slashes through the shoulders of knit sweaters. “That’s my Englishness coming through,” Jones said. “It’s a nod to punk.”
Not, however, a tribute to Vivienne Westwood, he clarified. “No, because no one can do what she did. If you had seen someone coming down the road wearing Seditionaries in 1977 they would have looked like they were coming from the future. That was the last pure moment of modernism. What she did was amazing and no one has achieved it since.”