Walking into Fendi’s S/S17 menswear show was something like wandering into a David Hockney painting; the catwalk was the perimeter of a long, rectangular swimming pool, its water completely, unnervingly still. A Fendi-yellow diving board, stamped with the house’s name, protruded over the top in an explicit analogy to Hockney’s fêted painting A Bigger Splash and its uneasy tension between serenity and explosion. This was the abiding sense that prevailed throughout the collection, one which sought to find the “perfect balance between normality and complexity”. Silvia Venturini Fendi found that equilibrium in the worlds of Hockney and Picasso, in these mid-century men who she said were “capable of breaking conventional rules, and who used also clothes to express their world”. She cited their eclectic holidaywear in particular as having inspired the collection, but it was also a little more personal than that: the terrycloth robes and crisp shirts were a fetishisation of normality from a woman whose world is anything but.
Fetishising the Normal
“I was raised with such complex personalities around me,” explained Fendi, who grew up in the house ateliers under the care of her designer mother, as well as Karl Lagerfeld. As a child, she would wear Fendi to school – chic little black dresses and show looks rather than the ordinary outfits of her classmates – and starred in the house’s advertising campaigns and fashion shows. “Fashion is not an easy way to meet normal people, so I always like normality; to me, it’s fascinating,” she said.
“Fashion is not an easy way to meet normal people, so I always like normality” – Silvia Venturini Fendi
It makes complete sense that, through the eyes of a woman who has always been embedded in this bizarre industry, banality is covetable, even exotic – and this reverence of the mundane was manifested in S/S17 through the plainest beige and white chinos, executed with impeccable finesse. “These are clothes that look deceptively ‘normal’ yet hide ‘complex’ workmanship,” declared the show notes – and, with exquisitely tailored anoraks, ‘simple’ striped shorts and luxuriant linings, Fendi was eschewing the sensationalism that can so easily overshadow craftsmanship in this industry, embracing the hyper-real rather than the explicitly opulent.
A Bigger Splash
While Milan menswear was distinctly travel-focused – Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, etc. – it seemed like Fendi’s man might be on holiday, but he wasn’t going anywhere. Pinned onto the moodboard were photographs of men like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso dressed in louche resortwear, and these were the sorts of men whose mid-century style she was celebrating, their poolside robes worn with Panama hats. “The mood was just holidays and good times,” she said, and so silhouettes were relaxed, leathers a little sun-worn and pristine shirts gently crinkled as though they’d been kept in a suitcase. They were clothes “for long days outside.”
“Anything simple always interests me” – David Hockney
Yet there was something a little unsettling about this impeccable attire and its exceptional finishes; a dissonance between visual perfection and apparent ease. It was that same crisp yet disturbing beauty that you find in Hockney’s work; a fascination with and subversion of the ordinary. He too, after all, proclaimed that “anything simple always interests me”. The Bigger Splash metaphor extended beyond the diving board.
Fun (Fur) in the Sun
“You know, when I invented the double ‘F,’ it stood for ‘fun fur’,” Karl Lagerfeld once told The New York Times – and fun (and of course, fur) has since been at the very heart of the house. This season, Fendi explained that “the theme of the show from the very beginning was sun and fun, because everybody feels so much happier when there is sun – then, your day starts with a good vibe,” and, besides clearly being filled with Vitamin D, her pool boys were accessorised with plenty of jolly accoutrements. There were the floral appliqués that looked like they’d been added in felt tip, the Picasso-style faces that appeared on backpacks, the multi-coloured Fendi name on bucket hats, the stripy bags that looked like they’d been coloured in by children. Rather than turning the theme of normality into something staid, there was a frivolity to it all that was completely charming.
“You know, when I invented the double ‘F,’ it stood for ‘fun fur’” – Karl Lagerfeld
Plus, of course, there was fur – a collection themed around sitting in the sun doesn’t mean that Fendi is going to abandon its tradition; it is, after all, a fur house. Those terrycloth robes were described as “summer fur,” but for those who remained unconvinced, there was a particularly good green Mongolian chubby teamed with shorts and sliders, and plenty of fur linings and inserts. As we sat there, listening to the ever-so-merry sounds of holiday music – think Emmanuelle, Jenny Luna and Disclosure – we were gently sprayed with a mist of water. It was a bit like being at a theme park, and it’s a brave move to dampen the coiffed hair of Milan fashion week’s elite, but it finished everything off delightfully.