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Lagerfeld Was Right: You Can Have It All

Milan’s first few days prove Karl was a role model for fashion’s modern multi-taskers.
Models walk the runway at Diesel's Autumn/Winter 2021 show in Milan.
Finale at Diesel's Autumn/Winter 2021 show in Milan. (Indigital)

MILAN — It’s been three years since Karl Lagerfeld died — three years! Who knows where the times goes? — but his presence loomed over the first days of the Milan shows when a handful of designers matched his protean talent in their ability to straddle design houses which demand (often radically) different things of them. Kim Jones showed womenswear for Fendi mere weeks after a beautiful men’s collection for Dior. Glenn Martens may be man of the hour: first, the presentation of his own label Y/Projects in January, followed by a brilliant guest stint for Gaultier’s haute couture, and now, his first runway show for Diesel. Then came Prada. Miuccia moonlights with Miu Miu, which delivered one of the strongest shows from last season, and Raf Simons’ own collection digitally debuted earlier this week with a strong group of outerwear typically teased and tempered by flashes of distant pasts and futures.

The flash bulletin that it’s the fashions of the Y2K moment that resonate most strongly with the children of tomorrow wouldn’t surprise Kim Jones. His sense of the zeitgeist is such that he’s already spun his new Fendi collection from Karl Lagerfeld’s outing for Spring 2000. But his approach to flutteringly-seamed sheer chiffon dresses versus his predecessor’s spoke volumes. Lagerfeld’s were decorated, distracted with detail. His Fendi was all about flibbertigibbet change, often delightful but seldom resting anywhere for long. With his own revamp of Fendi, Jones has made a point of calming the motion, streamlining and elongating the silhouettes, cleaving to an indolent languor. There was something very 1930s about it. He scoffed at the notion, insisting he’s designing for his friends in the very here and now. But in the interregnum between Lagerfeld and Jones, Silvia Fendi presented a collection that evoked the hazy, doomed glamour of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece “The Conformist,” set in the ‘30s, and there were echoes of her show in the clothes that Jones offered.

The set was a series of concrete arches, Italian brutalist architecture revisited. Jones loved the contrast between concrete and chiffon. “Women are hard and soft,” he said. I thought of Dominique Sanda, iconic star of “The Conformist.” She’d have looked hella good in the tweed topcoat over the deco-patterned jumpsuit. The art deco colour palette — pale taupe, eau de nil — and the block-heeled pumps compounded the ‘30s impression. Silvia loved the Sanda suggestion. “Kind of a liberated woman, who lives in a strict way,” she mused. I was crossing over into full haute bourgeois Roman fashion fetishism by this point. “Rome is the city of spirituality and sin at the same time,” Silvia said, in an effort to bring me back to earth.

The geometric patterns actually came from a blouse that Silvia Fendi’s daughter showed up in one day at the studio. It was from a collection Lagerfeld designed in 1986, when he was in the full flush of his passion for Memphis, the post-modernist Milanese design collective. Whipped off Delfina’s shoulders and onto Jones’s research rail, the motif became as central to the collection as the huge belt-cum-pocket he found in the archive. Jones’ curatorial eye is so acute that he can see opportunity in a detail that has been overlooked for decades. What needs to happen now is that he relaxes his looks, so that their innate sensuality finds its way into the world and the Fendi woman can live and breathe and move.

But grant Jones this: he appreciates the grand design. So does Glenn Martens, whose grasp of scale turned his runway debut for Diesel into a euphoric kick in the eye. And I mean euphoric as in HBO’s “Euphoria,” Sam Levinson’s part heaven/part hell teen fantasia.

The runway was scattered with huge blown-up bodies, crotches lubriciously forming arches. Diesel’s raison d’etre denim was torn and frayed into sculptural forms, or feathered into giant coats. Skirts were little more than a belt. Nothing was big or small enough. A soundtrack that clattered like gabba back in the days of haute rave underscored a feral edge: the toxic colour palette, the leather shirt that ended in an unfinished skin, the cut-outs, the fabrics shredded into a new life form. Martens is one of the smartest designers in fashion. Challenged to resharpen Diesel’s edge, it was so easy to imagine him presiding over a harder-faster ethos in the design studio. One model’s face was entirely painted in red glitter. She passed by so quickly she left a retinal sear. Later, there was a trio of X Girls, head to toe, pink and gold and teal. Same thing. There are aliens among us. Martens knows this.

Storm Reid from “Euphoria” was in the front row at Prada. Hunter Schafer from “Euphoria” closed the show. Trying to find a connection — aside from the obvious halo of media heat that the show is generating — I settled on the fragmentary nature of Levinson’s show. Lives are shattered and effortfully put back together — or not. That was what the Prada show was about. Fragments of lives, as they have been recorded in decades of collections designed by Miuccia Prada. Now, of course, she has Raf Simons at her side and their collaboration is dutifully documented as a 100 percent melding of minds. But this collection felt like Miuccia in her prime. It was gorgeously womanly, generously shaped, packed with ideas.

The models stepped out of an illuminated corridor that looked like TV’s Time Tunnel, so right away, it was obvious there would be evocations of the past. The other day, Miuccia was talking about “a history of women” and there was definitely something of that in the first look, which combined a white cotton tank with a skirt in a tripartite construction of grey flannel, wrinkled satin and embroidered mesh. Four stories in one look. It got even more intense later on when the triple layers were leather, lurex and pink chiffon, or leather, fishnet and wool. “Any narrative has been stripped away,” Simons insisted in a statement issued post-show. And yet, by their very randomness, these clothes seemed saturated in narrative, just like in The Time Tunnel, where you never really knew where you were going to end up.

The helmets of polished hair said couture matron. The shaped grey flannel jackets and flaring pleated skirts said vintage Dior. The patches of glitter, the clusters of sequinned flowers, the collarbones strung with pearls delivered on Miuccia and Raf’s promise of embellishment, in keeping with the couture subtext. But there were jacquard knits that echoed Prada’s “ugly” motel sofa phase. And there was a whole slew of pieces that riffed on the men’s collection of a month ago: a solid herringbone coat with arms ruffed with pink fake fur was easily the tastiest. An item like that did feel like two voices talking, Miuccia and Raf, pushing each other’s buttons.

Frederic Sanchez provided a soundtrack of Depeche Mode classics, a kind of riposte to all that old Human League stuff he played during the men’s show. To hear Dave Gahan intoning “Let me see you stripped down to the bone” while a corral of models from an another era in fashion walked by felt oddly melancholy. In other words, it felt entirely appropriate. We don’t know where we’re going anymore, so why don’t we all head back into The Time Tunnel and cross our fingers for something better?

Further Reading

Inside fashion’s most idiosyncratic, influential duo and the challenge of balancing creative complexity with a big brand’s need for clarity.



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