There is a sense of mild panic on the opening day of Milan fashion week. Despite some big hitters showing (Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Valentino), with three A-list fashion labels absent from the calendar (Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Versace), it is hard not to link this shrunken lineup with the impact of the the coronavirus pandemic on the industry.
It has been nearly a year since Giorgio Armani had to cancel invites to his show and presented his collection behind closed doors because of the virus. Business has continued to decline – according to estimates by the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI), which organises Milan fashion week, total turnover at Italian fashion companies has declined by 25%.
So if you are a fashion designer, there are reasons to be glum. But Fendi’s creative director, Kim Jones, remains optimistic. “Our sales have been crazy,” he says during a pre-show Zoom interview. “People are buying everything they buy normally – there is that element of dressing up that people are desperate for. They want to dress up.”
For Fendi – perhaps best known for its baguette handbag and Karl Lagerfeld’s stewardship – its customers have not stopped living la vie en rose. “The customers have not stopped buying, they can’t do what they normally do, so they are buying lots of things,” he says. “I’m constantly surprised by what people buy.”
The spending power of the Fendi woman can be seen in the collection, which focuses on opulent minimalism. Film noir-ish capes, snakeskin boots and unfortunately enough fur to feel problematic. The sleek looks, which would not look out of place on Killing Eve’s Villanelle or The Flight Attendant’s Miranda Croft, were modelled on the women in the Fendi dynasty: the menswear creative director, Silvia Venturini Fendi, and her daughter Delfina Delettrez.
“This collection is for them – I’ve got the best group of women who I want to dress,” said Jones.
Still, the shadow of Lagerfeld, who was with the label for more than 50 years, must cast a dominating spell. Something which Jones is quick to dismiss. “Nobody is Karl and I respect that.”
He calls the label’s new era an “evolution not a revolution” and this season’s ready-to-wear collection a “palette cleanser” for where Fendi is going. Unlike Jones’s ornate couture collection from last month, there were no star turns from the likes of Demi Moore, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and daughter Lila Moss; instead, this collection has an electric energy about it which suggests a girl about town (pleated wool shorts, oversize handbags and body-con dresses, with a good lashing of the shade of the moment, brown) in an urban sprawl we can only dream of exploring.
It is an achievement considering the circumstances Jones was creating under. “We were working through an exceptionally challenging time, working through Covid, Brexit,” he says. “I’ve gone from being in isolation, to working with a small team, to being in isolation.”
The digital shows are also a challenge. Despite the last Milan fashion week in September reaching more than 43m viewers via an official streaming channel, a digital show is not the same as a physical one, with Jones saying he misses the crowds. “It’s hard doing two big debuts without an audience, you miss the community at shows.”
Despite the obstacles it is a hopeful collection, optimistic in that it suggests that going out again, and even the “roaring 20s”, are within our grasp.