The Art of Craft: Fendi’s Latest Art Collaboration Recalls the Fruitful Friendship Between Designer Karl Lagerfeld and Illustrator Antonio Lopez

Creative director Kim Jones worked with the estate of Antonio Lopez, a key collaborator of designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.
Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

In 1969, fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez met Karl Lagerfeld at the suggestion of the editors of French Elle, who proposed that Lopez sketch a collection for Chloé, the French fashion brand for which Lagerfeld was then creative director. Lagerfeld connected instantly with Lopez, whose illustrations brought unprecedented character and verve to the garments, models, and personalities he sketched, capturing, as fashion critic Cathy Horyn wrote in a recent article for The Cut, “the era’s energy and sexuality—on the dance floor as well as the streets.” 

The two became close friends for many years. While they didn’t collaborate on an official basis, Lopez inspired Lagerfeld endlessly, in both his personal and professional life, in part through the close circle of friends he moved in, which included notable figures from both art and fashion, like the Warhol muse Donna Jordan, Jerry Hall, and model Jessica Lange, who later switched to acting; Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, and Tina Chow; and his own friends, a group of young, fashion-obsessed partygoers from the Bronx, where the artist grew up after his parents moved there from Puerto Rico. Lopez championed diversity in fashion, showing how personal style could vary, and how glamorous it could be in all its forms. And though he and Lagerfeld eventually had a falling out—failing to reconcile before Lopez’s death in 1987, shortly before which he was diagnosed AIDS—his influence continued to be felt in Lagerfeld’s designs.  

Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images.

Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images.

It is not so surprising then that in late September, Fendi creative director Kim Jones debuted a spring/summer collection featuring a tribute to Lopez and Lagerfeld’s fruitful relationship by reimagining a number of the artist’s illustrations for his handbags and clothes.

Working in collaboration with the Antonio Lopez estate, which is run by Paul Caranicas and his niece, Devon Caranicas, Jones realized Lopez’s signature color schemes, motifs, and bold shapes— pronounced zig-zag patterns, freehanded black brushstrokes and sensuous figures formed using just one line—for swishy caftans, minidresses, and all manner of signature Fendi handbags, from the Baguette to the Croissant to, most notably, the Peekaboo. The latter piece—arguably the collection’s most striking accessory—features a design that reveals a body twisted away from the viewer and the underside of a skirt-clad hip, from which fans out a series of rainbow stripes that in many ways recalls Lopez’s stripe-centric explorations while he was working as a freelance illustrator for The New York Times Magazine in the ‘60s.  

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

What the bag—and the rest of the collection—exemplifies so well, the Caranicases feel, is Lopez’s spirit. Though he wasn’t the first to pay homage to the artist’s work—a 2017 Kenzo collection by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon famously featured it—Jones brought it to life uniquely through the infusion of his own ideas and motifs inspired by those of Lopez, in lieu of faithfully reproducing them on his pieces.

“What’s so exciting about Fendi is that they’ve not so literally translated the artwork,” Caranicas told Horyn. It’s an especially interesting endorsement given that the overseers of artist estates usually closely guard how an artist’s work is interpreted and how it is used for present-day product releases like this one, often disapproving of reinterpretations. Usually, they are reluctant to turn over access to an artist’s archives for fear of their being misrepresented, or lend support.  

Photo by Estrop/Getty Images.

Photo by Estrop/Getty Images.

But not in this case—in fact, the Caranicases felt that Jones being able to bring Lopez back into the fold at Fendi in a sense mended the falling out the artist had with Lagerfeld and the Italian house, and additionally showed them that Jones was the right one to bring Lopez’s sensibility to bear on this new collection. “Things come full circle and there’s no real explanation of why these things happen,” said Paul Caranicas in his interview with Horyn. “Kim is obviously a very talented person and recognizes Antonio’s genius. I think Karl was a little bit jealous of Antonio’s genius, and maybe in that way it’s poetic justice that things come around full circle.” 

The bag and collection will be available to for purchase in the near future.

 


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