A salute to 50 years of Karl Lagerfeld with the Italian fashion house Fendi, and Fun Furs, a concept he transformed.
Founded in 1925 and born primarily as a fur house, Fendi revolutionised fur, raising the bar with exceptional quality, technology and research, coupled with excellent craftsmanship and creativity to redefine fur as coveted luxury.
“My 50-year collaboration with Fendi is the longest collaboration in fashion,” said Kaiser Karl. “Nowhere, even designers of their own [labels]; no one lived long enough to do it for such a long time. And I am not tired of it at all. I even think I work better today.”
In order to commemorate the relationship between the five Fendi sisters back in the 60s and Lagerfeld, Silvia Venturini Fendi (head of menswear and accessories) announced a remarkable book. The fashion house also made its entrance in the couture world for the very first time in its own history. Fendi presented its first couture show at Paris Haute Couture Week this July and Lagerfeld decided to make this event absolutely extraordinary. Focusing on the brand heritage he showcased “Haute Fourrure”, a collection made to remark Fendi’s impeccable quality in fur crafting. This was also a celebration of the enduring bond between the Maison and the visionary designer, always with an eye projected towards the future and with mutual passion and esteem, since his beginning in 1965.
Kaiser Karl has always been iconic for Fendi. He changed the brand’s logo to the iconic double ‘F’ monogram that stood for ‘Fun Fur’. It was a concept he turned on its head for the house, by revamping processing techniques, experimenting with tanning methods, exploring new leather cuts—basically, giving fur a completely fresh spin. “For me Fur is Fendi and Fendi is Fur, Fun Furs! Fendi is my Italian version of creativity. The Fendi Haute Fourrure fashion show is the opportunity to stage the Royal Furs of Furs,” said Karl Lagerfeld.
Fendi, together with Karl Lagerfeld, has elevated fur to new heights, proposing luxurious yet innovative designs. A revolution based on unprecedented research and avant-garde experimentation, transforming fur into a luxury yet modern icon, as a light and contemporary garment.
Remember the fur and leather cape that was inspired by an aerial shot of rice field patterns in ’79? Or the 3D evening fur coat of ’82 that was based on a damaged cushion cover found at Karl’s place? And then there was the grungy military coat with piercings, in keeping with the rebellious streak of the ’90s. In 2013, little tufts of fur changed into the best-selling series of adorable Fendi bags.
After a designer has led a house for quite so long, it’s easy to take them for granted. It is also sometimes forgotten because Lagerfeld’s prolific work for other brands occasionally overshadows his Fendi output. Not creatively, necessarily, but by sheer heft. Lagerfeld designs no fewer than eight collections a year for Chanel, and a slew of products under his eponymous label (generally emblazoned with his name, visage, or consisting of the monochrome clothes that have become his uniform). “Fendi is my Italian version, Chanel my French version and Lagerfeld is my own version, what I always wanted. I never mix it up,” said the designer. If Lagerfeld’s Chanel paved the way for the revival of a myriad of moribund labels, his work with Fendi paved the way for accessory-peddling labels like Prada and Louis Vuitton to expand into the rag trade proper. Lagerfeld’s less ideological and more physical innovations at Fendi included the popularisation of “poor” fur, like rabbit and squirrel; the use of fur without lining or interlining, creating lightweight coats that reflected modern lives.
Other innovations were less accessible, like fur painted with 24-carat gold, or strips of sable knitted into a lightweight cardigan. Those have helped propel Fendi to astronomical success: LVMH, the label’s majority owner (it purchased 51 percent in 1999), doesn’t publish revenue for individual brands – but Fendi’s is reputed to top $1bn (around £650m) annually according to Exane BNP Paribas.
In the book titled Fendi by Karl Lagerfeld, a compilation of interviews, drawings and recorded conversations with Lagerfeld spanning the last five decades, history has been compiled for posterity. The legendary German designer talks about his earliest memories of working with Fendi, his favourite Fendi anecdotes and his first visit to the atelier in Rome. Most special of all though, are his signature collection sketches – black pen and outlined in a rainbow of crayon hues of course – which really capture the essence and the progression of the man who adopted the Roman label as his own in 1965.
But through all these iconic milestones, Lagerfeld is cool and subdued, but obviously proud. “I don’t think about it. I live for today, tomorrow, and maybe after tomorrow. It’s a world record; nobody has ever had a contract for 50 years! I’m the only one,” he signs off with his signature drawl.