“Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations…” So resounded the voice of Virginia Woolf in the opening of Kim Jones’ debut collection for Fendi Couture.
The show was designed in homage to Jones’ adoration and admiration for the Bloomsbury Group, which has profoundly influenced his creativity and spirit from childhood; he spent a significant part of his youth in rural Sussex, in close proximity to Virginia Woolf’s home, Monk’s House. Jones’ fervent literary passions eventuated in frequent excursions to the Charleston Farmhouse, where he would observe and absorb the most minute of details and aesthetics of the house, often sketching the frescoes and Italian furniture that ornamented the home.
Part One of the Fendi Couture collection, a traditional runway show streamed digitally, was shown in Paris at the Palais Brongniart in a purpose-built set that encompassed individual plexiglass spaces; some filled with botanical elements (no doubt in reference to the gardens at Charleston) and others with bookshelves stacked with literature curated by Peter Harrington Rare Books. Models and actresses including Kate Moss, Demi Moore, Naomi Campbell and Adwoa Aboah appeared in the show.
Woolf’s pioneering novel Orlando contributed to the aesthetic and philosophical qualities of the show, apparent in the androgynous style of both the clothing and the casting, which also included men. Orlando’s quote, “Nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy”, was also inscribed on an exquisite mother-of-pearl minaudière, while other literary gestures came in the form of gilded clutches that resembled Bloomsbury-edition books.
The relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, says Fendi, was “at the heart of the collection”, and indeed greatly inspired Jones’ vision, as evidenced by Part Two of the collection: a poignant and romantic short film. Models and actresses floated through space, reading, lost in reverie and reciting tenderly Woolf’s love letters to Sackville-West. “If I saw you, would you kiss me?…I’m rather excited about Orlando tonight: have been lying by the fire, making up the last chapter,” echoes the voice of Kate Moss over a soundtrack created by Max Richter.
In tandem to the show was an exhibition of literature and ephemera exploring further Bloomsbury intricacies curated by Sammy Jay, a literature specialist at Peter Harrington Rare Books who has worked closely with Kim Jones for many months in developing and curating a collection of Bloomsbury related items for the occasion.
Within the exhibition were rare and precious books, such as the first copy of Orlando read by Sackville-West, inscribed by Woolf herself and uniquely bound with Sackville-West’s initials stamped in gold. There was also a mock-up copy of To The Lighthouse, which Woolf gifted Sackville-West with the amusing foreword: “In my opinion the best novel I have ever written.”
Other highlights were a cabinet curated in tribute to Vanessa Bell, which included her personal copies of Woolf’s works, watercolour designs that she made for book covers and catalogues promoting works made during travels to Rome alongside Duncan Grant.
Kim Jones is a devoted collector of rare books, manuscripts, and literary ephemera, and has amassed a remarkable collection at his home in West London. Just at Sackville-West reflected on Orlando: “I can’t say anything except that I am completely dazzled, bewitched, enchanted, under a spell,” so too should we reflect on the profoundly personal and touching creative offering presented by Kim Jones with the same sentiments.