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In Milan, Democracy Triumphs at Diesel While Fendi Finds Its Feet

Glenn Martens and Kim Jones had a very good day on Wednesday. Wookies! Chuba Chups! Whatever next!
Diesel Autumn/Winter 2024
Diesel Autumn/Winter 2024 (Launchmetrics Spotlight)

MILAN — Democracy may be challenged on many global fronts at the moment but there is one corner of the fashion industry where the essence of the idea is thriving.

Glenn Martens opened Diesel up to the world before his latest show: 72 hours of live streaming every last detail about the preparation of a fashion show, complete transparency in an industry which prefers a veil over its activities. For the show itself, Dieselettes around the world were invited to join online; a thousand people signed up within a minute. They created the digital front row that was the backdrop for Wednesday’s presentation. I’m not sure they were all of this realm. There was at least one full-blown alien. But maybe that’s testament to Diesel’s new reach. Under Martens’ unique and unyielding vision, Diesel has finally begun to click with the universe. Parent entity OTB Group confirmed as much in releasing 2023 results last Friday.

But I wasn’t thinking about cash while I watched the show. Instead, David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs swarmed my brain. More specifically, Future Legend, the album’s grand opening: mutant eyes gazing down on Hunger City, ten thousand peoploids splitting into small tribes, ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald…and so it goes. Martens has honed a particular kind of post-apocalyptic vision at Diesel, road warriors and fearless amazons composing a new world from literal shreds of the old, but this time, he glossed it all with a layer of finesse, of elegance. And it was gorgeous.

There were still the survivalists in huge shearling parkas, cropped pants and brutal boots. Some padded coats burst with tufts of electric stuffing. Others looked like they’d been blowtorched to reveal the wadding inside. And there was a new story with men and women dressed like puli dogs in shaggy coats, shrugs, balaclavas, even a tailored skirt suit. Like I said, Diesel now reaches everywhere, even Svalbard.


But the takeaway from the collection was a new level of construction rather than destruction, of finery tailored from tatters. Martens has developed a way to layer fabrics then dissolve them so that what remains is an elusive fusion of what was and what will be. The way that a leopard coat literally evaporated into florals, or an elegant peak-shouldered dress with a fitted, ruched skirt turned into a tattered memory before our eyes was a tribute to whatever extraordinary Frankenstein’s lab that Martens has working at full tilt back at Diesel HQ. The show opened with looks that artfully duplicated sweatstains in armpits and on chests, which made fabric transparent. But by some strange alchemy, the effect was delicate, almost lace-like, rather than EWWW!!!!

However extraordinary they may be, the technical achievements that glossed denim so it took on the appearance of black leather, or gifted it with a deep, velvety pile that exploded into a Wookie ruff, are part of the Diesel repertoire now. It was the chicness of this particular collection that felt new. Like the Diamond Dogs themselves, it was emblematic of a seductively transgressive sophistication. And, if there is any justice in the fashion world, Glenn Martens is a Future Legend in the making.

Diesel Autumn/Winter 2024

Kim Jones has already felt the warmth of that moment when you can move the dial for the whole industry with the fusion of street and salon which originally launched him as a menswear designer. His tenure at Fendi’s womenswear has been marked by sober restraint, lean, elegant, untroubled, with the emphasis on silhouette and fabrication. Maybe too tentative, it was almost like he was over-emphasising his maturity as a designer. And yet there have always been swirls and eddies running under his collections for Fendi, and it might have been the surfacing of those that gave the kick to Wednesday’s show that made it his best yet for the brand.

Jones is a born archivist, a forensic specialist in fashion’s past, and, poking around in the files, he uncovered sketches by Karl Lagerfeld that reminded him of the 1980s in London, an era that Jones is umbilically connected to as a collector of clothes by labels that are now lost in the mists of time. Somewhere between the New Romantics, the utilitarian bent of designers like Willie Brown and Modern Classics and the extravagance of Leigh Bowery, he isolated a common ground with Fendi’s own longtime appetite for mixing tradition and perversity. You don’t need to know much more than this: the Chuba Chups lollipops dangling off the big squishy bags on the catwalk came from Silvia Venturini Fendi’s memory of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava’s 1973 film “Lisa and the Devil,” with Telly Savalas as a lollipop-sucking psycho killer (“How can you turn something so ordinary into something so macabre?” she wondered), while the embroidered dots that decorated filmy chiffon skirts were inspired by Bowery’s designs. (Completists might fancy a deep dive into @trojan_garybarnes.) The first dress — stark, black, shapely — reminded Jones of something his friend Princess Julia might have worn as a shopgirl in Covent Garden’s PX boutique in the 1980s.

But all that would be mere bull’s wool if the collection itself hadn’t had a convincing and very clear point of view. Strong lines seductively softened into rounded shapes. Delfina Deletrez Fendi’s jewellery mixed metal and wood in a similarly potent blend of hard and organic. Her own personal style continues to influence Jones’s approach to the brand, and here it reached a critical mass in trompe l’oeil iterations of her casually draped sweaters which echoed the Japanese influence that was strong in those early 1980s years in London.

Fendi will be 100 years old next year so it was appropriate that the strongest look in the collection should be one that felt like the brand bringing past and future together: a mid-length leather shift topped by a coat stitched with the artisanal selleria technique that has been a Fendi signature since Adele and Edoardo founded the house in 1925, all of it, bag, boots and Chuba Chup included, in a muted but luxurious mulberry monotone. When Kim Jones takes on a brand, he always learns how to speak its language fluently.

Fendi Autumn/Winter 2024

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