To Fendi & Beyond: An Afternoon with Silvia Fendi

To think of the FENDI Empire as homegrown is difficult considering the nearly century-old Italian fashion stronghold has its roots firmly placed in the future; but an afternoon spent with Silvia Fendi sheds new light on the idea.

 “Really FENDI was a company built from five women working together with Karl [Lagerfeld], so it was an équipe work—always an exchange of ideas and points of view.”

Bayside at Miami Beach’s Standard Hotel, Silvia Venturini Fendi sits proud, breeze blowing through her hair, in the good company of her FENDI team and her daughter-cum-jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez-Fendi to chat with Haute Living about her latest venture. Another feather in her hat, if you will, in terms of the strides Fendi has been able to make in blurring the lines between fashion, technology, art, music, and most recently, architecture.

Fendi swept into town for DesignMiami/ to celebrate the unveiling of the brand’s collaboration with contemporary, New York-based architecture duo Aranda\Lasch–the latest in a series of similar collaborations for FENDI and one that adds new dimension to their on-going efforts to tap emerging talent for exciting, statement-making crossovers. A major proponent of DesignMiami/, FENDI is going on three years of supporting the art and design fair through specially curated, interactive projects that incorporate creativity through varying mediums.

“It’s something that is very related to the DNA of FENDI,” explains Fendi, who acts as reigning empress of the brand today but vividly remembers where it all started. “Really FENDI was a company built from five women working together with Karl [Lagerfeld], so it was an équipe work—always an exchange of ideas and points of view.” The five women in question are Fendi-sisters, Paola, Franca, Carla, Alda, and Silvia’s mother, Anna, who took the Italian fashion house, started in 1925 by their parents, Edoardo and Adele, into the international spotlight. The rest is documented history. Lagerfeld remains at the helm as creative director, while Silvia acts as accessories director, designing all those extras for which FENDI is so well respected—a task that she approaches from a creative place, reinventing constantly and pushing the proverbial envelope whenever possible. (We all remember how she revolutionized the handbag with her creation of the Baguette.)

While their runway collections deliver trends that run the gamut from season to season, embracing the diaphanous for spring and so on, the truth is that the most relevant looks are those that embrace FENDI’s heritage and incorporate its calling card of innovation. Trailblazing approaches to working with materials like leather and fur have allowed the brand to etch their name in luxury goods history. It was FENDI, after all, that transformed the way the world looked at fur, changing the über high-end fabric, which Fendi remarks was once considered “the most traditional and boring item in history used only as a status symbol for the man who was buying it for his woman,” into something of a high-fashion accessory. “[FENDI was] tearing it and cutting it and really destroying the idea of a man showing his wealth through his wife; but we said ‘no, that’s not possible’…we had the courage to show it inside out, torn, dyed.”  Of course today women across the globe vie for one of these sheared, multi-colored, cropped or “destroyed” FENDI furs, but at the onset Fendi recalls “it was a scandal.”

Today that mantra continues to steer their ship. Especially where Fendi is involved, on the accessories end and specifically with handbags: “We gave a new life to accessories, treating them like a piece of fashion at a time when they were so boring, needing only to respond to a function and not a fashion statement at all.” Revolutionary in her own, little way is how she humbly describes it.

FENDI has, in fact, been at the forefront of revolutionizing fashion; melding concepts and crossing industry lines through collaborative projects throughout the world. “We are always researching a way to nourish our creativity by interacting in other fields,” explains Fendi. For this collaboration with Aranda\Lasch, the brand went out on a new limb, exploring mathematical formulas and interpreting them in the FENDI way. The installation, entitled “Modern Primitives,” is a two-step project that premiered at the Venice Biennale in August and continued its evolution at DesignMiami/ in December. Experimental in nature, the project explores architecture using small foam pieces connected to larger ones culminating in end structures that hold weight so that they can be sat upon or leaned against making the installation quite interactive—a familiar end-result for FENDI collaborations, which tend to engage the audience by inviting them to participate in the project, creating a dialogue between the art and the viewer.