It did not feel like a funeral, not with a curvy jacket, a stiff bow at the neckline and thigh-high shorts on the model who swanned down the runway. Nor did it when Fendi had a chic exit line of a bold ribbon and a big bow bouncing at the back.
How could Karl Lagerfeld be dead? He popped up on film at the show’s end, displaying the dexterity of his hands as he drew yet another new design. He told me recently that Fendi had amassed 50,000 drawings during the 54 years that he had been artistic director, the longest tenure of any designer at a single fashion house.
It was only when we moved backstage, with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ on the soundtrack and everyone in the Fendi team weeping, that it seemed possible that this colossus of a designer had left us. He died on Wednesday after completing shows for Chanel and Fendi.
“I never wanted this moment to happen,” said Silvia Venturini Fendi, the remaining symbol of the furrier family that had started the brand back in 1925 and who had been Karl’s partner in brand-building for at least the past two decades.
Now that Fendi is owned by LVMH, it was the youngest of the Arnault family, Alexandre, who’ll be 27 in May, who remembered somberly his year working at Fendi in 2016.
“I wanted to be here to show respect and to remember that year,” he said.
The rest of the Fendi friends, supporters and craftspeople were too overwhelmed to speak as they grasped each other, sobbing.
What had Karl brought to Fendi? Continuity, of course, the most important service to a house that bears another’s name – and perhaps the least appreciated. His grasp of Italy with its mix of noble sculpture and baroque decoration, made Fendi into a Janus, with three parts elegance to one part froufrou.
That had meant, in the past, flowers and furbelows, most especially for the Fendi bags and their bread-shaped, bestselling ‘baguette’. That reappeared this season, transformed into an embossed pillow with a utility strap.
This autumn/winter 2019 collection had more than a breath of northern wind, from its sharp Pagoda-shaped shoulders to the nip in the waist, while pleated trousers were placed firmly to the masculine side.
“The sartorial – that was quite new,” said Silvia of the firm tailoring.
What blew in from Italy were the colours: green, orange and sunshine yellow, compared to earlier offerings of beige.
Perhaps, too, the seductive side was drawn in the semi-transparent skirts revealing legs; or a sportier version in netted see-through.
The surprise element was what Silvia Fendi described as ‘the romantic trace of a silk foulard’, meaning the satin bows, made from silk scarves, that gave a lush elegance to the back of otherwise sober outfits. Karl, who was never known as a romantic, had been showing his softer side recently at Fendi with flowers. The bows served the same purpose: Protestant cutting versus Catholic decoration.
The show included a scattering of furs, the roots of Fendi, and the subject of angry howls and chants in an anti-fur demonstration outside the company building.
Where Karl intended to take Fendi – a separation from fur or a focus on sportswear – we shall now never know. His presence had seemed eternal.
As Silvia herself put it: “The bond between Karl Lagerfeld and Fendi is fashion’s longest love story. He will touch our lives for years to come. I am profoundly saddened by his passing and deeply touched by his constant care and perseverance until the very end.
“When we called just a few days before the show, his only thoughts were on the richness and beauty of the collection,” Silvia continued. “He will be so missed.”