Exotic flora and fauna have been associated with classic femininity since women were first depicted in art. Fendi neatly updated that trope in its spring/summer 2015 collection. Cara Delevingne opened the show in an A-line dress covered with a blue, pink and white orchid motif, her hair held back with a long leather leaf that bounced jauntily on her shoulders like a tribal talisman. She was carrying the new miniature version of Fendi’s bestselling Peekaboo bag.
Like many luxury fashion houses, Fendi’s roots are in luggage and saddle-making. Its first store, a small atelier, was founded in Rome in 1925 by married couple Adele and Edoardo Fendi. This was a period of great artistic discovery and architectural experimentation and the company prided itself on its artisanship, forward-thinking design and beautifully crafted leather goods that seduced and charmed with their ebullience and innovation, emphasised by the house colour – a vivid yellow. The couple’s five daughters joined the business shortly afterwards and helped the brand grow into a fashion powerhouse, employing Karl Lagerfeld, still Fendi’s creative director, in the late 1960s.
Holding a pivotal position
The techniques and crafts used at Fendi are now so advanced it is often difficult to see how garments that are so intricate and delicate in their construction hold together. The shift worn by Cara Delevingne features thin slashes that reveal an under-layer of tulle creating an articulated ‘armour’. There are party dresses made of layers of sky blue or sugar pink feathers fastened at the waist with plaited belts and lacquered leathers lacerated at the torso to create a malleable ‘cage’. Elsewhere, leather vests feature handpainted motifs inspired by Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings.
Fendi, now majority-owned by LVMH, holds a pivotal position in the modern luxury landscape. The house, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2015, has recently moved into a newly restored landmark building – the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. The striking 1940s building, its facades composed of stacked arches, is a triumph of architecture, housing the design studios, offices, archives and team of 400 staff. It will serve as an archival showcase for Fendi’s design history and the many iconic designs the brand has developed over the years.
The original 'It' bag
The Baguette bag is one such design, the piece that launched the appetite for so-called ‘It’ bags back in 1997. ‘I was asked, among other things, to come up with particularly easy and functional handbag. In a certain sense, it had to be technological and minimal, just like the times,’ says Silvia Venturini Fendi, the creative director of accessories and granddaughter of Adele Fendi. ‘My response –fortunately I am indomitably disobedient – was the Baguette: the exact opposite of what had been requested of me. It was an unprecedented success; one of the most desired objects in the world.’ Using the inventive My Baguette app you can now even choose your own embellishments and colours.
The Selleria line, launched in 1938, boasts contrast stitching on supple, grainy Romano leather while Fendi’s adorable Bag Bugs, crafted from furs and leather, resemble small animals and cartoon characters, including one of Karl Lagerfeld himself. The Bag Bugs have achieved cult-like status in the fashion world and are owned by a host of style pin-ups, from Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo to Solange Knowles, who carry and treasure them like pets. ‘The inspiration came when I was on a trip to Brazil and saw amazing tropical birds, each with beautifully colourful feathers and plumes,’ says Venturini Fendi.
The Fendi world also includes handcrafted furniture, perfume – the bestseller is simply called Fan di Fendi – watches and characterful sunglasses. Artisanship clearly runs in the family: Silvia Venturini Fendi’s daughter Delfina Delettrez also has her own line of bold, surrealist jewellery.
What Fendi has in spades is character and a sense of humour – a rare quality in the serious world of luxury. Enter the Fendi universe and you are guaranteed to come out smiling.