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Kim Jones Is Mapping Fendi’s Future by Embracing Its Past

The brand’s new creative director speaks to Tim Blanks about balancing fashion, family and fur.
Fendi Autumn/Winter 2021. Fendi.
Fendi Autumn/Winter 2021. Fendi.

When Kim Jones appeared in Fendi’s crystal maze at the end of the premiere of his first ready-to-wear presentation for the brand, he reminded me of someone. The bleached crop, the sweatshirt and jeans, the spotlight-shy diffidence… he could almost have been Lee McQueen’s baby brother. Something else he shares with the designer who was practically an early mentor is an all-encompassing vision for the collections he creates. It was in full effect for Fendi on Wednesday afternoon. The maze was a repurposing of the set of the couture show, but here in Rome, instead of the books that stocked the vitrines in Paris, there were busts and pillars and shattered fragments of empire forming a haunting classical backdrop for Jones’s collection. Very much of this moment on Michel Gaubert’s soundtrack, and equally haunting in its own way was “S/He is Her/E” a piece of music by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, pandrogynist and long-time scourge of any form of orthodox thought, word and deed. It was a very Jonesian touch, wrapping big brand luxe in an aural tapestry with a distinctly personal resonance. As recently as that couture debut in Paris, he’s proved himself remarkably adept at infusing his own quirkiness into the grandness of his day jobs.

But with this collection, Jones deferred to heritage as he finds his feet. “Looking at what works for the brand already, what can bring it forward,” was how he defined the job. “More of an evolution than a revolution.” He’d never really got to know Rome before, and inevitably the city’s fluid interplay between past, present and future, kind of outside time, had struck him. Jones said the muted palette, with an emphasis on rich camel, reflected that. “It suggests clothes that last for a long time: sophistication, ease, with a lounginess, but also the rigour of something very chic.”

One of his main inspirations was a famous photograph of the formidably chic Fendi sisters, the five of them lined up on a staircase, radiating strength and purpose. Since they hired Karl Lagerfeld in 1965, the house has always had a male designer at the helm. “But it was really run by women,” said Jones. “And that’s really the message.” Yes, he may be creative director but he embraces the Fendi perspective that a close working relationship with family scion Silvia Venturini Fendi provides. She has clearly been very taken with his respect for the brand’s near-100-year history and now her daughter Delfina has signed on as creative director for jewellery, he’ll be working closely with two generations of the family. The layout of the invitation clarified their faith in him, Jones’s name above Fendi. You’ve never seen that at other luxury brands, however stellar the creative director.

Credit his supreme confidence. There were surely those who, familiar with Jones’s track record in fashion, might have found some incongruity in the Fendi appointment, but it’s not only his personal compatibility with Silvia which has made him so comfortable in his new role. “They sell a huge amount of outerwear, which is one of my favourite things to design.” No surprise that the double-faced cashmere coats and jackets were standouts. The drama was focused on the front, with fringed trompe l’oeil mufflers. A similar effect was created by the scarf-fronts of silk dresses, the fluid draping a house signature. If you’d told me five years ago that Kim Jones would be turning his hand to the boudoir languor of bias-cut slip dresses and pink satin pyjamas, I’d probably have snorted in my negroni. But I would have been much less surprised by the bandeau tops, the bare midriffs and high-waisted shorts, because they had the kind of luxe physicality with which Jones made his name in menswear. He said he’d been musing on the girls he thinks are cool, and how they wear their clothes. “Each look is a different friend of mine dressed up in different ways,” he claimed. “That was something I like to do for myself.” I don’t know how close Jones is to Dua Lipa, but I was feeling her presence.

He has already acknowledged that one challenge he will face is that the F in Fendi has also stood for fur for as long as the house has existed. It’s a sensitivity that Silvia apparently shares. Here, the most lavish coat was upcycled from furs in the warehouse. It wasn’t the only one. And Fendi has been tricking the eye with shearling more often than people realise, Jones added. It will be intriguing to see what else he can come up with to make F stand for a more ethical Future for Fendi.

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