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The Kaiser shows he’s in charge of his kingdom: Karl Lagerfeld defies his age in Milan with a collection of lightness and modernity


Italian press releases love a “protagonist”. It’s a word applied to everything from chantilly lace to a bamboo-handled handbag. But surely the real protagonist of a fashion collection is the designer, the hand behind the clothes we see on the catwalk? They’re the most important characters in the whole thing, after all.

During the second day of the Milanese spring 2014 collections, we saw two very different interpretations of that. Karl Lagerfeld is a protagonist, sure, but he’s part of a revolving ensemble cast at Fendi – his right-hand woman Amanda Harlech is backstage talking journalists through the clothes, he takes his bow alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi, a scion of the dynasty who works with him on accessories.  It’s very much a group effort.

And yet Lagerfeld’s authorship is unquestionable. He’s been at Fendi since 1965, and much that is Fendi is actually pure Karl. In this collection, it was the lightness and the modernity, despite the fact that Kaiser Karl is an octogenarian.

These were young clothes speaking a young language. Lagerfeld jokingly said the collection was about the internet: the looks were “hyper-linked,” which is presumably a pun on, say, the matching of a transparent plastic skirt with quilted plastic shoes, or circuit-board patchwork on a fur coat and silk dress, channels of transparency running like wires around the figure.

Colours were fluorescent, shockingly so. And while Lagerfeld threw about html-ish phrases such as “static positioning” and “informatics,” these were clothes for offline, not online. The tactic surfaces of fur  and organza petals begged to be touched, and worn. In all honestly, it lacked the audacious punch of Lagerfeld’s winter Fendi collection, but it was still strong. From an ensemble cast to a monologue: Miuccia Prada stands proudly, defiantly alone. Miuccia is an island, as were we. At least, we were seated on a conceptual one, staring out at a catwalk circling the space.

We were also staring at a series of murals by contemporary artists, titled In The Heart of The Multitude. They were translated to a multitude of the clothes too, faces by Jeanne Detallante printed across a handbag, the work of an artist known as Stinkfish splashed across a mink coat or a beaded evening dress. The murals were inspired by the different guises of a woman – a Prada-ism that has been given great mileage. Here, she could be anything from a showgirl, via bead-encrusted external brassieres and mink coats, to an athlete, as per the leg warmers sported by every model. Those harked back to Prada’s winter 2007 collection – Mrs Prada was wearing a coat from it when she stepped out to take her bow.

That was a collection, like this, that revolved around surface: then it was texture, today  decoration, embellishment, and colour. There was also a wry reference in those notes to the modality of fashion. What goes around, comes around. The rest of the fashion world is filching from her archives, but evidently Prada does it better.