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Milan, Day One: The Elegy and the Ecstasy

A solemn Fendi and a rave-y Diesel were both, in their own ways, studies in extremes, writes Tim Blanks.
Fendi Spring/Summer 2024.
Fendi Spring/Summer 2024. (Getty Images)

MILAN — When he’s in Rome, Kim Jones’ favourite music to listen to as he walks to work, down the Spanish Steps, past the Trevi Fountain, is frequent collaborator Max Richter’s mashup of his “On the Nature of Daylight” with Dinah Washington’s 1960s track “This Bitter Earth.” It’s a piece of music which is simultaneously, paradoxically austere and opulent, and that made it the perfect accompaniment to the collection that Jones showed for Fendi on Tuesday afternoon.

Rumours about changes at Fendi have been persistent enough that some in the audience thought the melancholic soundtrack struck an elegiac note, compounded by the turnout of famous fans, from Linda Evangelista to Christina Ricci, that you might expect from a last hurrah. But Jones kissed off the speculation with a show that re-emphasised his subtle but significant evolution of the brand. His Fendi signatures were in full effect, from his celebration of the elegant but twisted alta borghesia style of Silvia Fendi’s daughter Delfina to his ongoing activation of the archive, expressed here in a handful of quotes from Karl Lagerfeld’s Spring/Summer 1999 show: a python print, a chrome yellow accent, a clutch of asymmetric cutouts. One of the enduring pleasures of Jones’ work has always been the way he manages to insinuate his own idiosyncratic design lexicon into whatever house he’s designing for. For instance, he’s loved a particular shade of pale blue since the days of his own label nearly two decades ago. Now dubbed Woolf Blue in honour of his sweet Virginia, it’s become a staple of his work at Fendi.

It’s not only Delfina whom Jones insists he’s addressing with his clothes. On Tuesday, he talked about “busy women who are looking for stuff that’s going to last a long time.” He said they wanted discreet clothes, too. If satisfying that desire has occasionally made him a little over-cautious at Fendi, this new collection had a winning punchiness: a heady splash of vermilion, a chic geometry in knitwear woven with a Constructivist double FF, and a handful of sharply intarsia-ed pieces which emphasised the degree to which leather has replaced fur at Fendi. Stars of the accessories that are fundamental to the brand were ballet flats and the Flip, a new bag formed from a folded-over Fendi F.

Denim is the democratisation of fashion, rave is the democratisation of dance. Put the two together and you got the overdrive of Diesel’s Spring/Summer 2024 show on Tuesday night. Seven thousand people were invited, gin-based cocktails flowed freely from 5.30pm for a 9pm showtime, the scene was set… then the rains came. The sea of umbrellas, lit by phones held aloft against the deluge, looked more like a scene from a 21st century remake of “Dark City” than the joyous techno free-for-all that designer Glenn Martens had in mind. But he wants his Diesel to celebrate life, and there is little like a shared hardship — even if it’s only a rainstorm — to bond humanity. His invitation included a little happy-snaps camera, the kind you take to your local drugstore to get the pictures developed. Pictures you can’t edit or delete. That’s real life, Martens would say.

Under his direction, Diesel presentations have become all about the spectacle. Look at last season’s condom mountain. Martens acknowledged that many of the most ingenious, enthralling and complicated outfits he designs are purely for the show, in which case his one-night-only creativity wasn’t particularly well served by the scale of Tuesday’s spectacle, no matter the size of the screen relaying the action on the catwalk to the people way back in the stands. It was gigantic! And in keeping with the democracy of Diesel, it will be showing free movies for the Milanese over the next few days, family stuff like “The Fantastic Mr Fox” by day and more adult fare at night, culminating in “Mulholland Drive” on Friday night. “It’s nice to give back,” Martens said.

With that mini-film festival in the planning for a year (damn the weather!), Martens took movies as a theme. He even had a clutch of models painted up like Oscar statuettes. And film posters were a major component in the layers of distressing that he has elevated to an art form. Two would be stuck together with poster glue then the top layer distressed, to look like a poster that had been ageing on a brick wall in a back alley for months. (I recognised a fragment of “Dune,” a hint of “Kill Bill,” a blast of “Batman.”) Sticking to the movie theme, poster glue was also used to stick shards of deadstock leather together to create the huge, organic pouf of an artisanal jacket.

The co-relative that springs to mind is the modern German master Gerhard Richter. When you stare at his abstract canvases, you can’t quite fathom how many layers of paint you’re looking at, and how exactly they are applied. Same with Martens. He’ll explain away the magic — “Indigo jacquards with a polyester underlay, both printed, put in an acid wash, then the jersey dies, so the garment is distressed inside and out” — but I prefer to maintain the mystique. Martens also acknowledged the connection with Richter when he credited the artist’s technique as the inspiration for the interiors of the new Diesel store in Antwerp.

His signature is dressing up for the End of Days, more gorgeous, more unsettling by the season in tune with the gathering storm clouds. Spring/Summer 2024 was the most post-apocalyptic yet, “more distressed than I intended,” he said. But there is something perversely commercial, too, about the idea of clothes that look so good despite their obvious distress that there is nothing you can do to them to make them look less good. Now everyone else just has to wise up to that notion. Because, even as the heavens open, Glenn Martens is a ray of light.

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