And Just Like That, Fendi Goes Beyond the Baguette


Four elephantine handbags cast their long shadows over the Fendi runway on a breezy Wednesday as Milan Fashion Week began.

They loomed — white and sculptural, like altars to a great consumer civilization — over Kate Moss, sitting in the front row, and Linda Evangelista and Demi Moore, all come to pay their respects at the temple of Santa Baguetta.

Why not? The Baguette was, after all, a guest star in the most recent season of “And Just Like That”; Carrie’s (a.k.a. Sarah Jessica Parker’s) love affair with her purse turning out to be her longest love affair of all. It’s no secret that it’s often bags that power the brand engines of desire, more than skirts or dresses or coats.

Besides, Kim Jones, Fendi’s women’s wear designer, walks to work in Rome every day past the towering remnants of empire. He was simply calling a spade a spade, or a profit center a profit center. Whatever the label, though, the irony is: Acknowledging it seems to have freed him to make great clothes.

On his runway, for the first time, the clothes left the bags in the shade.

For the past three years, since he became artistic director and started trying his hand at women’s wear, Mr. Jones has been struggling to define Fendi beyond the bags (those masterminded by Silvia Venturini Fendi) and the furs, the brand’s other former tent pole product (fur having fallen out of fashion as it fell out of favor politically). To be fair, he didn’t have that much to go on, other than a pair of Fs and a penchant for brown; even his longtime predecessor, Karl Lagerfeld, treated Fendi more as a lab for experimentation than a building block of personality. But this season, Mr. Jones has finally figured it out.

He’s making clothes that are effectively serenity mantras for the busy brain.

Knit dresses and leather skirts and jackets connected the blocky roadways of the uppercase F to Mondrian and the de Stijl movement via color blocking in bright orange, cream, chocolate and slate blue, with a shot of butter yellow. Some were wrapped with a notional obi belt, one end left to dangle in the wind, or mixed with a piece of easy men’s wear tailoring. Cardigan arms were tied at the rib cage or around the waist, creating layering without bulk. Some banana-shape pants or shorts came with one side of the waistband folded down, for breathability.

They looked grown-up without looking stuffy; comfortable but also streamlined, echoing the holistic hybridization of wardrobe genres that began during the shows in New York. Printed sleeveless silk shifts were sprinkled with little Fs that segued into a python pattern, in a nod to the house’s past expertise in skins and (perhaps) its future without them. Or with fewer of them, anyway.

The same way you stuff your life into a handbag and feel pulled-together, you could stuff your self into these clothes and feel equipped to make some margin calls.

There’s a tendency, in our era of short attention spans, for both fashion observers and employers to write a designer off after a season; even to end a contract. This collection was as good an argument as any for why it is worthwhile to give creative directors time to parse a brand out for themselves.

Most models cradled a shrunken handbag, as if it were a pet Chihuahua or a toy poodle, in the crook of one arm, or swung an even tinier envelope bag from a long chain — accessories put in their rightful place. As Brunello Cucinelli said before his presentation of athglam (think tennis dressing meets his signature sequined knitwear and silver lacquered cargo pants), “We need to bring balance back” — when it comes to fashion, as to all things.

Mr. Jones did.


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