Kim Jones made his Haute Couture debut for Fendi on January 27 at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. Named Artistic Director of Women’s collections of the Roman house last September, the British designer is also head of Dior Men. Inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf and timeless Italian codes, Kim Jones proposes a romantic vision of the Fendi woman.
The only surviving recording of writer Virginia Woolf is from a 1937 BBC radio broadcast series called ‘Words Fail Me’. Kim Jones chose her mysterious voice to open his first haute couture show for Fendi, setting the tone for the collection: “Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations – naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries”.
Words infuse the collection, from love letters written by Virginia Woolf to her lover Vita Sackville-West, to her novel ‘Orlando’, inscribed on mother of pearl minaudières or leather boots. The set for the show also referenced the author in a glass labyrinth decorated with bookcases to create intimate ‘rooms of their own’.
For his first haute couture show, Kim Jones surrounded himself with longtime friends including Demi Moore, Kate Moss and her daughter Lila, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Cara Delevingne. They took to the runway alongside androgynous models with carmine lips wearing long flowing capes to the sound of Max Richter’s soundtrack.
Fendi represents artisanal quality of the highest order, and it is all about family. It is in its third generation with a Fendi at its helm, and I am guest starring while bringing in the fourth.
In addition to literature, Kim Jones also found inspiration in the murals painted by Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell at Charlheston Farmhouse, the regular meeting place of the Bloomsbury group to which they belonged. Her decorative motifs are embroidered on gowns. Another key theme of the collection is marble, mirrored on an imperial gown worn by Naomi Campbell. The marble palette is a tribute to the Galleria Borghese in Italy, a country adored by the Bloomsbury group, and above all the native land of the Fendi family.
The history of Fendi provided a final and equally central inspiration for Kim Jones’ maiden haute couture collection. He paid tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, who shared his love of literature and was his predecessor at Fendi for over 50 years. The final Fendi monograms designed by Karl are beaded onto boots. The history of Fendi is that of the family that founded the Maison in 1925. Silvia Venturini Fendi is today Artistic Director for menswear and accessories, while jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez Fendi also walked the runway. As Kim Jones noted, “Fendi represents artisanal quality of the highest order, and it is all about family. It is in its third generation with a Fendi at its helm, and I am guest starring while bringing in the fourth”.
The job of artistic designer at Fendi has finally been filled. The storied Roman fashion house and fur specialist announced on Wednesday that the British fashion designer Kim Jones would replace Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February of last year, in the role.
Mr. Jones will be responsible for the haute couture, ready-to-wear and fur collections for women, Fendi said in a statement. He will also maintain his current position as artistic director of Dior Men in Paris. It is the second major designer move by Fendi’s owner, LVMH Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the world’s largest luxury group by sales, since the coronavirus pandemic began, – the French company appointed Matthew Williams as Givenchy’s new designer in June.
As such, it reflects the luxury group’s commitment to forging ahead with its brands and buzzy designers, even as questions swirl around the future of fashion, shopping and the entire traditional show system. In a statement, LVMH’s chief executive, Bernard Arnault, called Mr. Jones ‘a great talent’, adding that he had proved his ability to adapt to the codes of assorted LVMH Maison’s ‘with great modernity and audacity’.
The hire represents a doubling down on a bet by LVMH that fur will continue to be a hallmark of luxury, at a time when it is increasingly being seen as an unethical relic of another era. And as the industry faces a reckoning on race and diversity, the hiring of a white man already in its employ at Dior for one of the most plum design titles in the business also could be seen as going against the trend of confronting fashion’s systemic racism, and LVMH’s stated commitments to tackling that.
The choice of Mr. Jones is the culmination of more than a year of discussions and apparent soul-searching by LVMH, which built Fendi into a billion-dollar brand. Fendi has been a core pillar of its fashion empire since it purchased an initial stake in the company from the Fendi family in a joint venture with Prada in 1999 (in 2001, LVMH became the brand’s sole owner).
Along with Silvia Venturini Fendi, the only family member still in the company, who will continue to design Fendi accessories and men’s wear once Mr. Jones arrives, Mr. Lagerfeld was integral to that growth. Over a 54-year tenure at Fendi, Mr. Lagerfeld created the concept of ‘fun fur’ when fur was seen as the stale province of the bourgeoisie. He held ‘haute fourrure’ shows on the couture calendar even as fur increasingly fell out of fashion. He and Ms. Fendi appeared on the catwalk together at the end of every women’s wear show.
Though it was often suggested that Ms. Fendi, who referred to Mr. Lagerfeld as a mentor, might assume sole creative ownership of the brand after his death, executives at LVMH were open about their belief in the benefit of two creative personalities sparking off each other. Along with Mr. Jones, another name thought to be in the running for the position was Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of women’s wear at Dior.
Designer pairings can be a risk, given the egos that are sometimes involved. But along with Miuccia Prada’s recent decision to name Raf Simons as co-creative director of Prada, pairing Mr. Jones and Ms. Fendi may also signal a new approach to team-building in fashion. A fetishisation of the single visionary has more often been the norm, and several high-profile talents like Mr. Jones and Virgil Abloh have increasingly juggled multiple design responsibilities across top fashion houses. Fendi’s chief executive, Serge Brunschwig, called Mr. Jones “one of the most talented and relevant designers of today”.
I would like to profoundly thank Mr. Arnault, Mr. Brunschwig and Silvia Venturini Fendi for this incredible opportunity. Working across two such prestigious houses is a true honour as a designer and to be able to join the house of Fendi as well as continuing my work at Dior Men’s is a huge privilege.
After graduating from the London art-and-design school Central Saint Martins and one of the brightest stars on the luxury men’s wear scene, the London designer worked for several brands, from Iceberg to Mulberry. And while he’s best known for designing menswear for Louis Vuitton, Dior and his own brand, he’s scored many a female fan (including close friends Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and the Karadashians-Jenner). In fact, when he joined Dior Hommes, in 2018, there were rumours that he was going to lead all of the collections for the Parisian fashion house, including womenswear.
Before joining Dior Men he worked at Louis Vuitton as their men’s wear designer for seven years. At Vuitton, he brought his longstanding love and encyclopedic knowledge of luxe streetwear – athletic tech fabrics, big sneakers, oversize graphic T-shirts and elegant tracksuits, but also crocodile backpacks and cashmere baseball tops – to a superbrand that had been overly content to sell its male clientele little more than monogrammed leather cases, belts and wallets.
More recently, at Dior, his shows merging suiting with streetwear and reworking tailoring for a modern audience generated buzz beyond the men’s market. They have shown Mr. Jones to be more plugged in to the outside world than some of his industry peers.
In July, for example, a week after the brand was criticised for casting an all-white ensemble of models for its women’s wear couture presentation as Black Lives Matter protest raged worldwide, Mr. Jones featured only models of color in his spring 2021 collection. It was designed in collaboration with the acclaimed Ghanaian portait painter Amoako Boafo. In December, Mr. Jones was named designer of the year at the Fashion Awards in London.
He will be expected to bring some of that magic to Fendi. The brand has seen robust growth in recent years, fueled by its savvy leather accessories, fur designs and a burgeoning fan base in China and Southeast Asia.
“I look forward to taking the Fendi universe to the next level with Kim”, Ms. Fendi said. Though Fendi is planning to hold a physical show – for fall-winter 2021/22 – on Sept. 23 in front of a reduced audience during Milan Fashion Week, Mr. Jones’s debut collection is planned for February, the company said. We can’t wait. Come into the beautiful world of Fendi.