Something radical is going on in the house of Fendi. A steady momentum has been building over the past three seasons, from AW12’s rustic folklore to SS13’s Bauhaus modernism and now, for AW13, a collection of Fraggles in fox-fur mohawks. If eccentricity is a firework within the framework of an institution, this season the firework well and truly went off.
“Well, I was not there in 1925,” Silvia Venturini Fendi laughs of the year her family dynasty, which is now under the LVMH umbrella, was founded. “My grandparents started a small shop in Piazza Venezia – a big square – and they were selling leather goods and little fur stoles. The really big change arrived when the five sisters – their daughters, who we normally call the Fendi sisters (Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda) – started to work in the business, because they really wanted to innovate what their parents were doing. My grandmother was very open-minded, so she let her daughters change everything.”
What they did was add revolution to a status symbol, the fur coat. “Women were wearing fur mainly to please the husband, because it was a way to exhibit wealth,” Fendi explains. “If you had a big, heavy fur coat, that meant you had a rich man. This was in the 60s, and women were really going through a revolution…With those big, heavy furs on, you could barely drive a car, it was kind of ridiculous, really. They were women of the time, independent women who wanted to change things. In my family, we were born and raised with women in a majority. My grandfather was the only man – even the dog was a girl. Everything was very feminine. So they really thought, ‘Well, let’s do this.’ And in 1965 called Karl (Lagerfeld) to be part of it.”
A Fendi fur is fluid as you like. Three to four layers of lining, pretty standard on a coat, are often stripped away so what’s on the inside is just the hide. This season’s statement furs are constructed out of thin strips and geometry-set shapes of just a few centimetres, which are cut by hand and laid out on a board before being stitched together, creating the closest thing in fashion to a parquet floor. Or, given the aesthetic, the pattern of a kaleidoscope. Tess Hellfeuer and Julia Nobis wore this artistry of labour, stomping down the runway to the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” and the techno thunder of Mondkopf’s “Ruins”. The figure on the swingtag understandably reflects the coat’s sophisticated production – some phone numbers are shorter.
“In the States, where the raw product mainly comes from, what the five sisters were doing in the 60s, destroying codes, was a scandal,” Fendi continues. “But they were very strategic. They’d weave fur with knitwear, or leather or plastic. They were first to mix fur with synthetic fur. When this was very popular, they decided to make a collection showing the real and the fake. And they said, ‘Well, if it is going toward this, we think that Fendi could be the one who makes the most beautiful and appealing and light fake fur, using the techniques we apply to the real ones to the fake ones.’ So you know, there has always been a very open mind in this company, while at the same time keeping the traditional skills of technique. That’s basically what it’s like to be raised in a family like this – you learn that nothing is impossible, to look for challenges and to appreciate also the aesthetic components of life, knowing that it’s not something ephemeral.”
Karl Lagerfeld is responsible for women’s ready-to-wear and furs at the house, and AW13’s punky workout was his 96th Fendi collection. Fendi is creative director of accessories, menswear and childrenswear and works alongside the Kaiser on the catwalk. It was Lagerfeld that came up with the Fendi double-F – a go-to when the climate is feeling logo, logo, logo as fashion does every few years. What does it stand for? “‘Fun fur.’
It’s why you liked the show, because we had a lot of fun doing it. You can see that by the little muppets hanging from the bags, which were basically a reproduction of the girls in a way, with their fox mohawks (by hairstylist Sam McKnight). There were a lot of things that were made with incredible technique. Some of these furs for me are little works of art.”
This collection succeeded the men’s, shown a month earlier. “I am always trying to see a new way of presenting the men’s,” Fendi says. “I decided on doing a loop presentation. Nothing classic, where you see things for a second then bye-bye! Because at Fendi you need to feel the quality of things and have the possibility of seeing it more than once – you can be there and watch and rewatch and rewatch, like you would do on your iPad. In that presentation I was really working not just on the show but also on a narrative for the music (a live mix by Matthew Herbert) and the setting and also looking for a nice way of offering something to eat. The collection was a little brutalist in that it looked wild, so I was investigating primitive food too. The show is always the biggest moment. The night before, when you look at the line-up, you know if you are happy or not. And the worst is the minute after the show when it’s over and they ask you about it!”
Fendi was just a child when Lagerfeld joined. “Our relationship is easy because we understand each other just with a look,” she says. “I know what he likes – he wants to be surprised and see new things, and it’s kind of demanding because he gets bored very easily! At Fendi I think he’s not bored because he’s still here after many years, so probably he found the right place. He’s an incredible person, so clever with such a big brain. It’s a privilege to work with him.” When Lagerfeld visits, he’s accompanied by Lady Amanda Harlech, his muse and confidant, who has a galloping, keep-up enthusiasm, inherent style and a permanent suite at the Ritz Paris. (When they leave, she goes back to her farm in Shropshire, which Lagerfeld has never visited. If he did, she told the Financial Times in 2010, she’d hire a white marquee, have waitresses in white aprons and “get a horse to jump over the table.” Naturally.)
“You know, when you’re born into a family, sometimes you question, ‘Am I really doing what I want to do?’” Fendi reveals. “But growing older, I know this was really it because I was the one who was always interested, more than my sisters or my other cousins. I was always here, even when I was very little because I wanted to see not only my mother but the action around her. Today I understand that the same thing is happening to my three children and will happen to my two grandchildren: they are creative and have been nourished by all these aspects of life. When I was young I was a rebel, I wanted to escape and live abroad, find my space and not be in the company. I felt very free, because freedom is – and had always been – important.”
Now they influence the company. “They represent a very interesting, different generation. When they talk I listen, and I look at them… they have a great sense of style; they’ve grown a very personal sensibility. They’re an interesting prototype for what I would like to have as customers. And they are terrible in that if they don’t like something, they’re very open about it! The first time I brought my daughter (independent jewellery designer Delfina Delettrez) to a fashion party, I gave her something to wear and a journalist told her, ‘It’s a very nice bag.’ She said, ‘Really? I don’t think so – my mother gave it to me but I don’t like it.’” Cue laughter.
Do they share personality traits? “I think yes, probably. I don’t know if she’s happy to hear that, but I see myself a lot in her. She is a hard-working girl, doing well. Now sometimes they say, ‘She’s the mother of Delfina,’ and I’m very proud of that.”
The house of Fendi is not just defined by family history, however. It was founded – and is still based – in Rome, one of Europe’s oldest cities. “We are in a big Roman palace and the view from my window on the fourth floor is beautiful, one of the most beautiful here,” Fendi says. “We see the Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps, and all the roofs and domes and churches. It’s very good for being creative in a space like this.”
For a brand so ingrained in Italian culture, it’s reassuring to know that it also gives back to the Eternal City. Its latest project, Fendi for Fountains, is dedicated to restoring the Trevi fountain – the ornate landmark immortalised by Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). “It’s a privilege to be living (in Rome). In the past it was about the grand tour – painters and writers used to come here to create work in response to the ruins or landscape. This is a city that’s rich in emotion. The economy of our country is going through problems, and when we heard they were looking for someone to help restore the Trevi fountain we immediately said ‘yes’. On our product, we have the ‘Made in Italy’ label and we have Fendi Roma, which is to me the most incredible, amazing place, always at the top.”
The poet George Herbert coined the phrase, “Living well is the best revenge.” Against who, you have to wonder. It springs to mind here that no matter how showstopping those parquet coats, the Fendi woman has a great life – she is no fashion victim. “These are unique pieces that you buy once and wear forever and ever,” Fendi says, with passion. “Fur is something that doesn’t get destroyed.” Only its symbolism was questioned when five sisters stripped away status-dressing and the notion of kept women. That’s punk in its way – and not a clichéd safety-pin in sight.
SILVIA VENTURINI FENDI
TEXT DEAN MAYO DAVIES
PHOTOGRAPHY JEFF BARK
FASHION ROBBIE SPENCER
DAZED & CONFUSED, JULY 2013