Romantic Melancholy. Fendi Couture SS21

Kim Jones‘ big debut at Fendi‘s womenswear hit off with a haute couture show. You might know that I wasn’t his fan at men’s Louis Vuitton, and I’m not overly obsessed with his current Dior menswear venture. So I didn’t expect much from his arrival at Fendi. The spring-summer 2021 couture show is an example of a fashion spectacle, where everything wows the viewer except the actual clothes. First, the literary and artistic sources that shaped Kim’s Fendi line-up started in Charleston Farmhouse, the 16th-century Sussex retreat of the Bloomsbury set located not far from the village of Rodmell, where the designer was partly raised and owns a house. Young Jones would spend school trips exploring the house and learning about Bloomsbury’s bohemian members. Those dreamy stories stayed with him. Second, his Fendi collection showed a demonstration of how Jones expresses himself in form and decoration in womenswear.  Of carving out that silhouette, Jones said he observed “the reality of what women around me are wearing. I have friends that just buy couture clothes, and they don’t buy big ball gowns. They buy real clothes, things that fit their bodies.” Above all, he wants to create work “reactive to the time we’re living in.” And three, enter ‘Orlando’, Virginia Woolf’s time-traveling tale of androgyny and fashion’s favorite lexicon for the study of genderlessness. “’Orlando’ was published in 1928, and Fendi was founded in 1925,” he pointed out. The “journey from Bloomsbury to Borghese” interpreted Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s frescoes of Charleston in hand-beaded prints and the marbles of the Galleria Borghese in painted tailoring, meanwhile dresses evoked the wet drapery of its Bernini sculptures. It all sounds delightful and thorougly considered, but the effect was overcharged, heavy and most of the time, simply unflattering. In the prerecorded show, Jones echoed ‘Orlando’’s themes in a coed cast featuring many of his high-profile friendships: Demi Moore, Kate and Lila Moss, Christy and James Turlington, Adwoa and Kesewa Aboah. The family constellations celebrated Fendi’s values as a matriarchal fashion dynasty, whose class-act custodian, Silvia Venturini Fendi, still serves as artistic director of accessories and menswear. Joining the cast were her daughters, Leonetta Fendi and jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez, whom Jones has now named as creative director of the brand’s jewelry. Delettrez’s supersized murano glass chandelier earrings accompanied each look, and must have been heavily inspired by Romeo Gigli (if this name doesn’t ring a bell, you better Google him!). Tailoring felt more rigidly structured for male anatomy, framed by floor-sweeping capes. At times, forms grew shapeless, like a pink look of highly textured layers topped off with a lace coat webbed from roses or a mound of marbled garments draped over Naomi Campbell (I love Naomi. But this look didn’t serve her at all – she drowned in it!). Jones’s juxtapositions culminated in split-personality dresses hybridized from half an evening gown and half a blazer or shirt. The inspiration was found in the sketches of his predecessor, Karl Lagerfeld, who left 54 years’ worth of archives behind him when he died two years ago. Lagerfeld’s Fendi was epitomized by Roman modernism, a handsome glamour that often found time for quirk. Jones’s approach was romantic (and suffocating) melancholy in contrast. Of course, most ‘major’ debuts go wrong. It’s the beginning of a new chapter at Fendi, and I’m looking forward to see what Jones will bring next to the table.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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