fendi: it wouldn’t be a party without you

In a fashion climate of revolving doors, Karl Lagerfeld has held his position at Fendi for more than fifty years. In 2016, the Roman house Kaiser Karl calls home celebrated its 90th birthday!

by Anders Christian Madsen
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05 January 2017, 12:45pm

It's not surprising that the most famous fairytales in the world find their origins in the cold north. From the Brothers Grimm in Germany to Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark, the gloom of Northern European winters have always made for vivid escapism. They're the fantastical stories Karl Lagerfeld grew up with just south of the Danish border in the 1930s, when the Great Depression was drifting its dark cloud over a reactionary Germany on the brink of another war. He read the gothic tales of Selma Lagerlöf, observed his glamorous mother and dreamed himself away to a magical realm he would eventually come to rule. Kaiser Karl that realm now calls its 83-year-old court couturier — a testament to the larger-than-life talent and character, which have made him an emperor of fashion. Lagerfeld, of course, is far too unsentimental to ever acknowledge these things. His greatest strength as a monarch is an unwavering forward-thinking devotion to reform.

"I'm interested in what's going on, not what has happened. I never look at the archives. I hate archives," he told the Financial Times in 2015, in a conversation paradoxically meant to be about his 50th anniversary as Creative Director of Fendi. That point of departure didn't make 2016 an easier year for the anti-nostalgic Lagerfeld, who - next to Silvia Venturini Fendi, whose family first hired him for the job in 1965 - was faced with commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Roman house. With their rightful claim to most of the magic of the Renaissance, Italy never really had a need for a great fairytale tradition — instead, Lagerfeld took an unprecedented look to the past: his Nordic roots, and the fairytales he grew up with. "It was in a way the mood of my childhood, the Northern fairytales," he said of his reference for July's Fendi haute fourrure show in Rome. It was the book East of the Sun and West of the Moon from 1914, featuring drawings by Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen that Lagerfeld transformed into a wardrobe, which—once upon a time—could have clad the court of an enchanted kingdom.

To show Fendi on a crystal bridge over the most famous fountain in the world? If that's not a fairytale, I don't know what a fairytale is.

Could it be that the ageless Herr Lagerfeld was having a rare moment of nostalgia? Absolutely not. Despite his admission of childhood memories, his Fendi spectacular wasn't a tribute to the legacy of a designer, but a manifestation of the regency of a sovereign. While Lagerfeld also has an eponymous brand, his life's work has been the daunting responsibility of ruling over two of fashion's most historic established houses - Fendi and Chanel - securing their existence for generations to come. In that sense, he's not dissimilar to the real kings and queens of the world, born to watch over their monarchies. (Only, Lagerfeld can be as political as wants and he's paid a lot better.) In these uncertain fashion times where creative directors only seem to last a handful of seasons designing for big houses, his 50 year legacy in Fendi's 90 year history is way more than a tenure, the word now used to describe a designer's generally short-lived residency at a house. His is a reign.

So you can't blame him if big anniversaries like Fendi's and his own conjure realisations of grandeur — not that Lagerfeld has ever denied himself the odd pat on the shoulder. "I would like to be a one-man international phenomenon," he once said, spoken like a true Roman Caesar. And so, for Fendi's 90th anniversary, Lagerfeld stepped up to the task trusted with any great fairytale king: he made dreams come true. Covering in plexiglass Rome's iconic Trevi Fountain - recently restored to its former glory thanks to a generous donation from Fendi - he had his models walking on water, eventually taking his own turn at the messianic dance arm-in-arm with Silvia Venturini Fendi for their final bow. "In my wildest imagination, I never thought something like this could exist," he said. "To do this on a crystal bridge over the most famous fountain in the world? If that's not a fairytale, I don't know what a fairytale is."

Call it megalomania — Lagerfeld probably wouldn't mind. "I'm very down to earth. Just not this earth," he's quipped in the past. In an age where any functioning royal's greatest virtue in the public forum appears to be modesty, Lagerfeld has become the consummate rebel: more provocative at age 83 than most youths around him. In a genius twist, he used Fendi's 90th anniversary to prove just that, turning a celebration of old age into a demonstration of youthful thinking. When the time came for Fendi's spring/summer 17 ready-to-wear show in September, the Kaiser continued his regally rebellious streak, referencing the rococo of Louis XVI - the one the French guillotined - in a delicately opulent collection Lagerfeld reminded us wasn't entirely un-Italian. "Don't forget the Queen of Naples was the sister of Marie-Antoinette," he shrugged backstage. And how could you?

To Fendi, 2016 was an illustration of the cultural institution it serves as in Rome, in Italy, in the industry, and an exercise in the dream-making Fendi excels in more than most other house. To Kaiser Karl, it was an expression of what he represents in fashion: the last father of the industry, even if that title is way too sentimental for his liking. "Why should I stop working?" Lagerfeld once asked a reporter. "If I do, I die, and it'll all be finished." Long may he reign — and as Fendi's CEO Pietro Beccari said at a dinner after the couture show, having just congratulated Lagerfeld on his water-walking models, "Karl responded, 'Yes, but now we need to think of the 100th anniversary!'"

Credits


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Matteo Montanari
Styling Emilie Kareh
Hair Marki Shkreli at Tim Howard Management using Marki Hair Care
Make-up Georgi Sandev at Streeters using M.A.C. Photography assistance Leonardo Ventura, Melnie Smith
Digital technician Diego Sierralta
Styling assistance Omar Thomas
Producer Gaby Schuetz
Production Select Services
Model Selena Forrest at Next
Selena wears all clothing Fendi