Having been raised in close proximity to both Virgina Woolf's Monk's House and Charleston Farmhouse, British designer Kim Jones developed a lifelong obsession with the Bloomsbury Group - a set of British writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists from the first half of the 20th century. Strong, intellectual women including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Vita Sackville-West were among the set. 'I admire the way that they lived their lives, the freedom that they created for themselves and the art that they left behind for the world,' said Jones.
For his hotly anticipated Fendi couture debut yesterday, Jones translated the concept of a chosen creative family into his casting choices, no doubt lifted from the spirit of the Bloomsbury Group; mother and daughter duo Kate and Lila Moss walked the runway in shimmering ensembles, alongside sisters Adwoa and Kesewa Aboah, Christy Turlington and her nephew James, and Leonetta and Delfina Delettrez Fendi. 'Here, I am surrounded by strong, powerful women who I love and respect, and want to bring their energy into what I do,' said Jones.
Literary allusions abounded. Woolf's binary-blurring 1928 novel Orlando was the central reference of the collection, as exemplified through the androgynous menswear couture looks and the slick, fluid hairstyling courtesy of Sam McKnight. Some of the models held metal-bound book clutches and lines from Orlando were inscribed into mother of pearl minaudières and leather boots. Extracts from letters exchanged between Woolf and Sackville-West during their courtship were read aloud by friends and family of Fendi during Max Richter's classical composition, which scored the show.
The models walked among interlocking F-shaped glass partitions interspersed with trees and bookshelves curated by Peter Harrington Rare Books. Stuffed with rare books, manuscripts and ephemera, the shelves chart the decades-long relationship between Woolf and Sackville-West. After the pair fell in love in 1922, Sackville-West went on to inspire Orlando, the temporality-blurring novel which her son later referred to as 'the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which (Virginia) explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.'
The first ever copy of Orlando read by Sackville-West sits on one of the shelves, specially bound with her initials stamped in gold and inscribed by Woolf. 'I can’t say anything except that I am completely dazzled, bewitched, enchanted, under a spell,' said Sackville-West after reading it. Elsewhere, the blank pages of the mock-up copy of To The Lighthouse - gifted by Woolf to Sackville-West - are inscribed with a foreword: 'In my opinion the best novel I have ever written.'
A cabinet curated in tribute to Woolf’s sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, includes her own copies of the author's books alongside her watercolour designs for book covers and catalogues advertising works she made during trips to Rome alongside fellow artist Duncan Grant. Another contains a trove of correspondence between Woolf and Bell’s husband, Clive Bell. The literary works of Sackville-West stand facing those of Woolf.
Finally, early hand-printed books published by the Hogarth Press (Virginia and her husband Leonard's publishing house) with marbled paper covers are displayed. They include a rare first edition of T. S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem The Waste Land.
Jones is an avid collector of rare books (he owns around 20,000), including nine versions of Orlando, displayed on the vast bookshelf in his West London home.