At Fendi, big bows, tall collars and a touching tribute to Karl Lagerfeld

At left, the finale of the Fendi fall and winter 2019 runway collection presented Thursday during Milan Fashion Week, the final one designed by Karl Lagerfeld, whose death had been announced 48 hours earlier. At right, a video clip of Lagerfeld that played afterward.
(Antonio Calanni / Associated Press)

Barely 48 hours after news of Karl Lagerfeld’s death sent shock waves through the fashion world, the designer’s final collection for Italian luxury label Fendi came down the runway Thursday at the brand’s showroom space during Milan Fashion Week. The show was full of tributes to the man who served as creative director of the house for more than half a century.

First, there were small cards at each seat with the capital letter “F” in black; a red heart where the horizontal tie would otherwise be and Lagerfeld’s signature in the lower right. The date of his death was printed on the reverse side. His signature was also affixed — and back-lighted — above the entrance at the top of the runway. And the show notes began with an acknowledgment of the long-running relationship between the German-born designer and the Rome-based brand.

“The Fendi women’s fall/winter 2019-2020 collection is the final collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld,” the show notes began, “representing a lifetime of dedication and creation from 1965 until today.”

At left, a fall/winter 2019 look sketched by Karl Lagerfeld that was included in the show notes. At right, the front and back of the business-card-sized note left at each seat at the Fendi show Thursday.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

Kicking off to the sound of Lou Reed and John Cale’s tune “Smalltown” (“When you’re growing up in a small town / You say, ‘No one famous ever came from here’”) and wrapping up with David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the runway show was full of Lagerfeldian flourishes, most notably in the form of high-collared shift dresses that called to mind his own signature style, and the curling “Karligraphy” double F monogram logo (which he designed in 1981) rendered on intarsia fur jackets, tulle body suits, tights and cabochon buttons.

It was inevitable that the timing of Lagerfeld’s death would cast a long, pony-tailed shadow over the show, but one of the things that made him a true master of his craft was that even when it was all about him it (and it was), it was really about creating beautiful clothes for women. And in that regard, his final work for Fendi had the designer going out on a high note.

Looks from the fall and winter 2019 Fendi runway collection presented Thursday during Milan Fashion Week.
(Antonio Calanni / Associated Press (left) and Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images)

Grounded in neutral tones of ivory and terra cotta with pops of sea green, daffodil yellow and tangerine orange, the collection was filled with strong shoulders, outsize contrast bows (some at the neck, others at the small of the back) and an assortment of the season’s undeniable trend — the full-to-overflowing trouser leg. A diamond pattern — which had already caught our eye in a memorable harlequin-esque look at Wednesday’s Gucci show — turned up here in spades large (thanks to laser-cut leather dresses and outerwear) and small (latticework pieced in with sharply pleated skirts).

After the last model had cleared the catwalk, the house lights came down and a snippet of video began to play. First, it was just Lagerfeld’s gloved hand sketching the name Fendi on a piece of paper. Then the image of the designer himself filled the screen as an off-camera voice asked, “Could you draw yourself on your first day of work at Fendi?” Lagerfeld responded by sketching — and describing the hat he was wearing; the shape and color of his jacket; and some of the details that made him instantly recognizable, like the long hair and the dark glasses. One last time — and for the ages — it seemed the designer was able to sketch out the caricatured version of himself he wanted to fix in our collective conscience.


Karl Lagerfeld had the last word.

At left, Gigi Hadid in the final runway look of Karl Lagerfeld’s final collection for the house. At right, one of the many looks with distinctive collars that evoked the designer’s personal style.
(Antonio Calanni / Associated Press (left), Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images (right))

Lagerfeld Lore

That’s not entirely the case. There’s hardly a person on the fashion-week circuit who doesn’t have some bit of Lagerfeld lore. Before Thursday’s Max Mara show, renowned runway photographer Dan Lecca recounted the time he was tapped to photograph Lagerfeld some years ago.

“I was hired to shoot a portrait of him in Miami during a Chanel resort show,” Lecca said. “I was told I had an hour to shoot the portrait, so I got all set up, and when he came in, he said, ‘You have five seconds.’ I didn’t even have time to put the flash on, so I shot them right in a row — 10 shots — and then just worked with that. But that’s the way he was. On the go, on the go, on the go.”

That energy level was something Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele mentioned at his Wednesday night post-show news conference, saying he got to know Lagerfeld while working at Fendi years ago. “He used to call me the DJ because I had short hair, was blond, [wore] a lot of chains and always had some music with me. He was obsessed with music — he was obsessed with everything, actually — but when we worked together, it was like spending time with a 14-year-old boy. He was sort of [like] Peter Pan.”

At the same show, Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Baily, who has a deep bench of Lagerfeld lore, shared a particularly vivid memory with The Times.

“When I was thrilled to be honored by the queen and I was getting an OBE,” Bailey said, “I talked to Karl about it, and he said, ‘I have to make you a suit. What color is the medal? Chanel couture is what you have to wear.’ So I wrote back to him and said it was on a pink ribbon, and he said, ‘Pink!’ So I, of course, arrived from New York — with all the accessories prepared to go with a pink suit — and opened up the garment bag … And there was a navy blue suit. I wrote back and said [to him], ‘Well, I guess navy blue is the pink of England!’ And we laughed so much.


“For him, it was always about working at the highest level and producing the impossible,Bailey whether it be a cut of the sleeve or telling an incredible story in a way that had never been seen or done before. Whenever I went to his atelier to preview a collection, it didn’t matter what dress I was wearing, he [would] turn to me and tell me about the origins of the dress; he just had this encyclopedic knowledge of fashion. There will never, never be another Karl.”

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn