Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi put Marie Antoinette's style centre stage
Karl Lagerfeld's long relationship with the house of Fendi — and more particularly his work with Silvia Venturini Fendi — hit a high, sweet note in Milan, as the designer focused on the Rococo period for an enchanting summer 2017 collection.
Karl, who was holding court backstage wearing a shimmering silver jacket, described the shows influences as: "Floaty, Capodimonte (referring to Neapolitan porcelain figurines) and the Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette's hangout in the grounds of Versailles)."
That was after the last Marie Antoinette figure had walked the runway, pretty enough from the front in her satin apron of a dress, tinted silver as if with a paint brush, and revealing at the back, where, below the apron ties, peaked a pair of silken underpants.
This figure was no louche young lady. She looked contemporary as she tripped along in her ankle boots, swinging her little bags on a variety of straps — which Silvia explained could be used in different ways — and with 'toys' like balls of fur attached to tiny hooks.
The show seemed as if the duo had picked up where they had left off with the "Legends and Fairytales" show in Rome to celebrate Fendi's 50 years with Karl as creative director.
This time, there were no coins to throw into the Trevi fountain and a sense that Karl was turning his antennae towards France — hence the pursuit of prettiness in a palette of macaroon and sorbet colours, with the sugary side matched by curvy tailoring silhouettes.
"It was very much inspired by the Rome show, the intonation of the event and that idea of legends and fairy tales," explained Silvia.
"So we were inspired by legendary women like Marie Antoinette, whose clothes were strict, but who was very open to breaking rules."
I am not sure that I could imagine the young Queen of Versailles showing off her lingerie when she turned round. Had underwear even be invented in that period?
Wouldn't she have had the French revolting even before 1789? But Karl has this extraordinary ability to twist the impossible until it becomes a reality.
“My inspiration is not the 1960's or '70's — nothing," the designer said. And the pert short skirts or the longer flared shapes, painted with a sheen of flowers outlined with a top edged with scallop frills, really did not look in any way vintage.
Nor did the dainty striped ankle boots, rather different from the Burberry over-the-knee stretch leather boots worn by front row guest Serena Williams.
Who will wear these cute dresses or even mid-calf floral skirts, topped with a jacket that looked like linen pretending to be denim, smothered with appliquéd flowers? As a contrast, there were highly contemporary ankle-high sneakers.
Karl has the long experience and the skill to make everything he does credible — especially during a mesmerising event. And the duo's magic seems to be working. Fendi's shows are now a hot ticket on the fashion schedule — so in demand that the police asked them to close the road to their headquarters, where the vast room was filled to the rafters with guests spilling over the upper areas.
According to Pietro Beccari, Fendi's CEO, there were 1,300 seated guests and another 600 standing.
"This might be the best summer collection he has ever done for us," said the executive. And he is not wrong. The Fendi collections were once focused on fur to the extent that cloth always seemed secondary.
This show was almost without obvious fur, give or take a bumblebee striped yellow and black jacket, and those funky handbag extras. But the clothes had a real rock-the-Rococo feeling.
Marie Antoinette would surely have been a customer.