Can fashion ever be art? This age-old conundrum has always raised questions—with some fashion collections evoking powerful emotions through their narratives and sublime craftsmanship. Others have devoted their lives to the mastery of craft—creating something more artisanal than artistic. No matter what your take, it’s clear there has always been a dialogue between the two, and nowhere was this discourse more apparent in 2016 than at the ambitious Haute Fourrure collection Fendi showed to commemorate its 90th anniversary in Rome.
Expectations were high: It would take a lot to surpass Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi’s 2007 display at the Great Wall of China—a world first, staged at the precise moment when all the world’s eyes were on Asia. How would a presentation at a Roman icon fare by comparison?
Related article: Exclusive! Backstage At Fendi’s Spring/Summer 2017 Show
Under the Fendi for Fountains initiative announced in 2013, the luxury Italian brand funded the US$2.4 million two-year Trevi Fountain restoration, culminating with the unveil at Fendi’s Haute Fourrure show in July this year. “It’s our duty to pay tribute to the city of Rome, which has given us so much and is part of Fendi’s creative heritage,” explained Silvia Fendi, the house’s third-generation designer. With the Trevi Fountain seated as an everlasting icon in Rome, this collaboration solidifies Fendi’s links with various art disciplines.
Related article: Milan Fashion Week: 10 Best Looks From Fendi Spring 2017
Earlier, guests had been invited to preview the exhibition “Fendi Roma – The Artisans of Dreams” at the Palazzo di Civiltà Italiana, celebrating the craftsmanship of its ateliers and accompanied by a handsome 270-page tome. In various spaces within the Palazzo, the duo curated an experience that highlighted the skills of its many artisans responsible for bringing each Fendi piece to completion. From the hit Bag Bugs (suspended in a mirrored cube room filled with every incarnation imaginable) to the comical graphic faces on sheared lamb fur bags from the men’s collections, art—and the art of handicraft—transformed Lagerfeld and Fendi’s designs into fashion hits.
On July 7th, under a clear evening sky, with the Trevi Fountain water cascading down the monument, history was about to be made down the clear Perspex runway suspended in the sacred waters. Throughout the défilé, models coiffed resembling Rossetti paintings glided upon the clear platform erected in the middle of the fountain, looking otherworldly and divine. It was the discovery of Danish artist Kay Nielsen’s folkloric illustrations in a copy of East of the Sun, West of the Moon that transported the co-creative directors back to their childhood and set them off on a fairy-tale odyssey.
Related article: Couture Diaries: Celebrating #Fendi90Years At The Trevi Fountain
Woodland motifs appeared on clothes in both literal and abstract forms, while original Nielsen graphics were printed or patchworked with fur on an empire line gown and a full-length cape. This was haute couture at its best: Each of the 46 dreamy looks were grounded in extraordinary technique. Feather experts Lemarié were called upon to lend their lightness of touch to dense, luxe pelts, with one Persian-lamb dress boasting 5,000 hand-cut holes to replicate lace. Couture legend, Lesage, embellished the collection with sumptuous beaded embroidery, while Fendi’s own ateliers performed acts of fashion alchemy by shaving mink into flower petals and collaging pieces of dyed fur into vivid scenes straight out of a storybook.
Not since the perfect storm of Diaghilev and Bakst has the translation between art and garment been managed so seamlessly. In the hands of Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi, art, the artisanal and fashion truly are the stuff of fairy tales.
By Gerald Tan