Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld Celebrate their Golden Anniversary

by Long Nguyen

Halfway Between London and Los Angeles Is Roma
The curtain rises in the Théatre des Champs Élysées for the Fendi Haute Fourrure show, revealing a colorful panoramic print of “Piazza d’Italia,” an oil canvas painted in Paris in 1913 by Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, a model enters wearing a full-length Russian sable hooded opera coat with silk taffeta lining, and metallic leather thigh high boots. This performance is the celebration of the 50-year-old collaboration between Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld that closed the Paris Fall-Winter couture season.

At this same theater more than a century ago, the premiere performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacré du Printemps ushered an era of revolutionary changes in the arts, music and fashion towards modernity. The audience purportedly rioted after disagreements surged about the novel artistic approaches; Printemps deliberately eschewed existing accepted repertoires in favor of experimental sounds, movements, and styles, unleashing a novel approach to art and culture.

Experimentation and innovation are the pillars, which transform industries, arts, and society; they are particularly critical for fashion, especially couture or high luxury fashion that excels in technical expertise in the pursuit of original clothes.

An innovation that erases and pushes boundaries is at the heart of the longest working partnership in fashion between designer Lagerfeld and Fendi. The collaboration has transformed fur—a central part of the house’s DNA—into a relevant currency responsible for the material’s resurgence as a high fashion material. “Fendi is a global brand with high quality and modern design,” says Lagerfeld, “it is moving forward, changing and enticing. That’s what fashion is about.”

The Fendi atelier’s constant invention of new techniques in response to the exigencies of the creative designs has been instrumental in this relationship and has modernized fur, a Fendi specialty since the house first opened. “When I met the five sisters [Founder Adele Fendi’s five daughters joined the company in 1946] they were known in Rome for expensive and beautiful furs. I had a modern vision and they asked me to create a small collection with furs worn in a different way,” says Lagerfeld, recalling his initial encounter with the Roman house.

Fendi is the only major fashion house today operating a large fur atelier of craftsmen with specialized skills to handle the pelts. The creation process starts with a sketch from Lagerfeld; the atelier translates the drawing by making paper patterns that will eventually become the backbone of a coat in the form of a muslin prototype, then materials are selected from different kinds of pelts chosen for weight. A coat can take up to 600 hours of hand labor depending on the degree of difficulty.

To solve different creative problems like rendering furs into a soft fabric or infusing them with other materials to enhance the pelts’ versatility, the atelier develops complex methods like the Gheronato technique which renders the fur pliable and softer by lengthening the furs without interruptions and laying them diagonally so that the inner side appears seamless.

Technical prowess anchored within an artisanal approach produced the marvels in this Haute Fourrure show—a metallized chinchilla, a multicolor mink, fox and feathers on crêpe de chine cropped jacket, and a silvery Russian sable on white duchesses 3-D flower coat embroidered with vinyl and crystals—the climax of which was indisputably the white swakara and mink cape with golden feathers sprouting from the sleeves and collars like bird wings on white duchesse satin crafted in conjunction with the Paris feather experts Lemarié and the specialty fabric maker and embroiderer Hurel.

“The lightness is really the signature of the Fendi Furs pioneered by Karl,” says Silvia Venturini Fendi, Anna Fendi’s daughter and Creative Director since 1994, “This is something very unique only at Fendi. When it moves, the Fendi Fur becomes very sensual.”

Photographer: John Michael Rusnak at johnrusnak.net.

Style Director: Long Nguyen.

Model: Alexander Dominguez for rednyc.com, New York.

Photography Assistants: Eric Vogel and Carl Schwartz.

Location: Two Ponds, Harpersfield, NY. from the series “Wild Boy,” (2015).

Grooming Notes: Tom Ford ‘Oud Wood’ Body Moisturizer and Oribe Original Pomade.