Fendi: Once Upon a Time

Fendi celebrates its storybook history with a year of furs, fashion, and fountains.

Fendi Fashion Show

July 2015 through July 2016 turned out to be quite a big year for the fashion house of Fendi. The Italian maison, whose name has been synonymous with luxury for more than nine decades, has a new home in Rome, and celebrated a pair of milestone anniversaries.

Kicking off the event trifecta was the iconic Karl Lagerfeld, celebrating 50 years with Fendi, the longest collaboration ever between a designer and a luxury house. Fendi fêted the occasion with its first-ever haute couture show. Extravagance reigned Lagerfeld’s runway on July 8, 2015, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, with most of the line consisting of the world’s finest furs. The Haute Fourrure collection wowed the well-heeled, presenting 30 fur looks, including a floor-length sable stunner with each follicle coated in pure silver for a shimmery effect that’s plush to the touch.

Palazzo Della Civilta Italiana Rome

Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, Rome.

Karl Lagerfeld And Silvia Venturini

Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi at the 90th anniversary show at Rome’s Trevi Fountain, 2016.

By the time everyone recovered from the utter exquisiteness of it all, the October fall breezes had rolled into Rome, bringing with them a bold move. Rome’s Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, a breathtaking architectural beauty, had been sitting empty since the 1930s. Throughout seven decades, the windy, light-filled halls saw the occasional event renter, but never an owner who would dare to call it home. Enter Fendi chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari, who immediately recognized the historic structure’s potential.

After 18 months, Palazzo della Civilta Italiana was fully restored, uniting the Fendi global headquarters—for the first time—into one iconic space. From the basement archives to the seventh-floor fur atelier, a ground-floor exhibition space open to the public and rooftop terrace with sweeping views of Rome, it was a move that is still earning ink in the worlds of fashion, business, and architecture.

The grand finale of Fendi’s eventful year left everyone breathless on July 7, 2016. To mark its epic 90th anniversary, Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi, creative director of accessories and menswear, staged the Haute Fourrure Show (its second couture ever) at Rome’s Trevi Fountain to launch the Legends and Fairy Tales Collection. With models appearing to walk on the fountain waters, ornate dresses, capes, and furs, intricate embroidery, handmade appliqués, and a dreamy color palette, Fendi’s fantastical dreamworld, inspired by the early 20th-century children’s book illustrator Kay Nielson, came to life.

“To do this on a crystal bridge over the most famous fountain in the world? If that’s not a fairy tale, I don’t know what a fairy tale is,” beamed Lagerfeld.

Fendi Sisters And Karl Lagerfeld

The Fendi sisters with creative director Karl Lagerfeld, 1986.

The crystal bridge was a plexiglass runway, atop the fountain waters, and it set the scene for a magical night worthy of the company’s multimillion-euro renovation of the Trevi Fountain itself. (In 2013, Fendi and the city of Rome embarked on an ambitious Fendi for Fountains project to revive Rome’s landmark fountains.)

“If someone would have told me we could walk on water inside the Trevi Fountain I would have said ‘impossible!’,” related Venturini Fendi.

Storied History, Revered Heritage

Fendi’s origin story is a matriarchal tale of legend and lore, detailed in an anniversary coffee table book from Assouline entitled Fendi Roma. It started in Rome in 1925 when Edoardo Fendi and Adele Casagrande officially established the haute house of Fendi. By 1926, the couple expanded it to a small leather goods and fur works shop. Craftsmanship was key, and in 1933 they introduced a kind of leather with a natural yellow tint—it would become Fendi’s unintended identity.

Adele And Edoardo Fendi

Founders Adele and Edoardo Fendi, 1920s.

Between the 40s and 50s, the five Fendi sisters came on board. Paola, Franca, Carla, Alda, and Anna (Venturini Fendi’s mother), influenced the direction of the maison in ways that became mythic. They brought a unique stylistic approach, farsighted vision, innovation, and enthusiasm. At a time when working women were a rarity, they started adding a feminine touch to the collections, like streamlining the fur silhouettes.

In 1965, Karl Lagerfeld, a German freelancer based in Paris at the time, brought his design eye to the team. He had not yet catapulted to icon status, but the sisters saw his skill and were crazy about him. The double-F logo was his creation, a symbol for “fun fur.”

Fast forward to 1992 for the official arrival of Venturini Fendi, and then five years later for her big Fendi craze: in 1997, the fashion world fell in love with the now-famous It Bag, the Fendi Baguette. More would follow and in 2001, the luxury label conglomerate LVMH invested a major stake in Fendi fashion, immediately driving the company’s future growth and international expansion.

Fendi Remodeled Structure

The remodeled structure fuses classical architecture with modern touches.

Following a few of the steps in her mother’s well-accessorized path—though decidedly independent—Delfina Delettrez Fendi, daughter of Venturini Fendi and a jewelry designer in her own right, now partners with the house from time to time. She worked on the jewelry collections for both Spring/Summer 2014, Fall/Winter 2014-15, and at Baselworld 2016, the world’s biggest jewelry and watch fair, where Fendi Timepieces unveiled Policromia, the haute jewelry watch on which she collaborated.

Fendi Policromia timepieces—there are 20 in the collection—celebrate the roots and heritage of the Roman maison and recall the architecture of the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana. Each one is elaborately adorned with precious elements, be it the brilliant cut white diamonds, malachite, lapis lazuli, green or blue mother-of-pearl or the genuine alligator straps, handmade in Fendi’s Roman ateliers.

“The elements and materials used in the watches celebrate Rome and its eternal magnetism in a whispered way,” imparted Delettrez Fendi. “Elegant ellipses create overlapping surfaces on the watch’s dial, inspired by the architectural structure of the city of Rome with its unique streets.”

Diamond Fendi Watch

Fendi's Policromia timepieces were inspired by the new headquarters.

The name Policromia originates from the Greek words poly (multiple) and khrôma (colors), embodying the idea of several colors together. Multiple shaded pieces, precious inserts, and asymmetrical bezels made in noble materials create the watch’s daring silhouette, with a unique three-dimensional effect.

Today, there is a triumvirate at the helm of the luxury label, causing many to dub this as Fendi’s new golden age. Lagerfeld, Venturini Fendi, and visionary chief executive Pietro Beccari are reinvigorating the house, and it’s working.

The Spring/Summer 2017 collection picked up where Legends and Fairy Tales left off, in a decorative opulence twisted with an athletic élan. And so, for now, the happy ending seems all but guaranteed, with Fendi, Rome, and fans living fashionably ever after.

[©Image 1 & 2 courtesy of Fendi; Image 3 courtesy of Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock.com; Image courtesy of 4, 5, 6, 7 Fendi; Image 8 courtesy of Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock.com; Image 9 courtesy of Fendi]

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