Feature from HEROINE MAGAZINE, FALL/WINTER 2015
It takes two of us to push the heavy glass doors open, bracing against the wind whipping in, out, around the arches that frame the Fendi Palazzo’s one of several cavernous terraces. We’re on the seventh floor of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, the monolithic Mussolini-era building that Fendi calls home. From here, Rome looks small and scorching.
Inside, the original marble floors are being finished to their former glory (the building stood lifeless for 70 years prior to Fendi relocating its HQ here), and staff flit through the top level spaces from where the maison’s three figureheads steer the Fendi ship. That’s Karl Lagerfeld (Women’s Ready To Wear and Fur Director), Silvia Venturini Fendi (Menswear Creative Director and Women’s Accessories Director) and Pietro Beccari (President). Lagerfeld has designed the house’s womenswear since Silvia Venturini Fendi was four years old – which means this year the collaboration hits half a century, the longest relationship between a brand and designer in history. Suffice to say Fendi and Lagerfeld go way back, to when the daughters of the founders – Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda Fendi, fondly known as the Fendi sisters – brought on the young German designer to help ignite the brand. Lagerfeld came up with a new logo, ‘FF’ standing for ‘Fun Furs’. Next, they detonated a bomb on the outdated notion of fur as a bourgeois status symbol. Beaver, fox, mink, weasel, sable, petit gris – linings were ripped out and this new light fur was to be worn whenever, wherever, however you like. “Loosen up!” the collections cheered. Fur was mashed up with denim, ready-to-wear was designed and promoted as ‘unisex’ as early as 1967 (little Silvia starred in that campaign, Fall/Winter 1967-68), plastic and faux fur became desirable.
But let’s halt the history lesson, if there’s one house that refuses to look backwards it is Fendi. And there’s so much going on right now. Aside from the move and Lagerfeld’s anniversary there’s the house’s new fur atelier, plus its first ever couture show for Fall 2015 (cheekily dubbed Haute Fourrure). There are a new sweep of trainee artisans to be inducted and mentored at the Leather School of Bagno a Ripoli – an internal full-time school where Fendi educates their own artisans on more complex techniques – and finally the ongoing regeneration project, which is seeing Fendi fund the restoration of some of Rome’s most significant architectural landmarks, kicking o with the Trevi Fountain.
Fendi has its sights firmly set on the future. This is a heritage house more comfortable than most in the fast-moving digital age, spearheaded by its own personal power trio. They’re Fendi’s brain, hands and eyes, working as one to forge a prosperous tomorrow for this lighthearted house and the city that birthed it. Welcome to the Fendi Universe, we’ll be your guides for today.
I. KARL LAGERFELD
Tempe Nakiska: This is a momentous year for you and Fendi – 50 years. How have you done it?
Karl Lagerfeld: My 50-year collaboration with Fendi is the longest collaboration in fashion. Nowhere, even designers of their own, no one lived long enough to do it for such a long time and I am not tired of it at all. I even think I work better today and have a clearer head. My work is a bigger priority now than when I was younger and it’s a very good thing. I never had the feeling I was married so it was like freelance, an open marriage situation, I kept the passion because there is no exclusivity. I need the fresh air from the outside to see what’s going on, if you put me in the cage I am worthless.
Tempe: Fur has always been such an integral element of the Fendi identity. How does it continue to inspire you and motivate your creativity?
Karl: Once, I was inspired by this strange shell. What I liked was the way it fell with all these bands of fur which were worked in an irregular way and with the sleeves following the same movement. The material was so contrasting that it was quite funny to make it like that, using a shell which is a hard object, to make a fur coat which is something extremely soft. You just have to look at it differently. That’s what I love in my job, ideas come when you look at things. Then, once made in fur, it was covered in gold. This was a dream I have had for a long time, but it wasn’t achievable before. To dip the ends of the fur in gold. I loved that!
Tempe: Can we rewind back to the start for a minute, to when you came on board with Fendi and designed the ‘FF’ logo. What was the feeling there at the time?
Karl: When I met the five sisters they were known in Rome for expensive and beautiful furs, very rich, bourgeois, but heavy, typical of those times. Fur was the first step for social recognition when a wealthy woman received a fur coat as a present from her husband. I had a modern vision and so they asked me to create a small collection with furs worn in a different way. They were modern and fun, Fendi and fun have the same initials that’s why I put the two letters together, in less than five seconds on the table, the double FF, meaning ‘Fun Furs’. The bourgeois furs disappeared. Fendi became a modern fur house that created a revolution and evolution in the way fur was seen, made, handled and worn. And this story still continues today with amazing furs, very modern and incredibly well done, realised always with an eye projected towards the future. Since then quite a long time has passed, the world has changed a lot too in half a century. If we were still in the ‘nostalgia” of when we started we would be nowhere. Since LVMH took over, Fendi further evolves representing beautiful craftsmanship, and becoming more and more modern.
Tempe: How important is it to you that your designs are worn by more than one dimension of woman?
Karl: It is very difficult to identify a specific woman. Our job is to propose collections hoping that many women will appreciate what we do. Saying, “It’s for this kind of woman and not for the other,” is too sharp a remark.
Tempe: It’s multilayered... As is the introduction of Fendi’s new Haute Fourrure collection, it’s ultimately fur couture, yes?
Karl: It means very expensive furs, very beautifully worked treatments, like haute couture for the basic, classic like stable earth, and really the ‘Royal Furs of Furs’. There is no better moment than to show our incredible furs in that period because of the level, I am not talking about the price, but of the style and
the level of couture. It’s for the same women who buy haute couture.
Tempe: With an extra collection to design, has the heavier workload impacted you or your team a lot?
Karl: It’s easy to work with me in terms of fashion because I sketch in a way that people can nearly do the dresses without me coming in for a fitting. You can see every single detail, every proportion, every cut, everything. My sketches are like images of things that already exist. So when I go to see the fittings I can see a very positive result, something near to what I had sketched. That’s why I can do so many. I have a concept and my whole approach is conceptual.
Tempe: Fendi is rooted in its Roman heritage, and you’ve said before it is your Italian version of creativity. What do you love most about Italian culture?
Karl: Rome has been a unique source of inspiration for Fendi and for me since ever, Roma is part of the Fendi DNA. That’s why Fendi decided to give back to Rome being a Maecenas for the restoration of the Trevi Fountain and I think it’s amazing that there are companies like this having the resources to help out the city of Rome. The magnificence of Rome has been well understood. I like the fact that Fendi decided to manage the monument restoration when the fountain was not totally damaged. In this way, Fendi was able to proceed with renovation works without the fountain being completely covered and invisible to the public. I think this is really great. The big thing at Fendi at the moment is the moving of its headquarters in Rome to the new giant and most famous Roman building Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. It’s a landmark building and from the terrace we can see all over Rome and as far the sea. What inspires me of the architecture of Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana is the interpretation De Chirico gave with his paintings around 1940-1950. I love the Italian style and the light that you can find in them, reflecting the white marbles. It’s amazing!
Tempe: What does ‘creativity’ mean to you?
Karl: It is very pretentious when I say that I am that creative. Being creative means to have ideas and to work with those ideas together with the right people who can understand and realise them. Creativity with no vision or developed with people who have no talent to build something, it’s worthless. It is a mix of possibility of ideas and the possibility to make them modern, right, beautiful and that’s it. Creativity is like breathing to me. Never-ending inspiration is the most important thing.
Tempe: You’ve seen a lot of change over the years, and the generation now coming of age is incredibly comfortable with the prevalence of technology in their lives. How has technology impacted on your process?
Karl: For example, the crafting techniques, especially for the sheared mink and the organza in the Spring/ Summer collection, the furs are very complicated. It is still crafted by people but crafted with new tools and technologies... This is the modernity of the things. The weightless beauty of sheer organza, the result is a perfectly harmonious featherweight, 500gram fur that is only the average weight of a cashmere sweater.
Tempe: You have seen many changes at Fendi, the most major of which obviously being its acquisition by LVMH. I can imagine Fendi’s heritage, the Italian feeling, has become second nature to you when you’re designing. What keeps it alive for you?
Karl: The main secret of Fendi is the unique craftsmanship of the best Italian artisans. The secret is also that this maison is grounded in Italy from the rst day of its creation... Totally faithful to its roots. After the acquisition from LVMH group, that gives to the brand a unique international dimension and the possibility to be modern and avant-garde at the same time. It gained a global dimension with a strong Italian and Roman unique backbone. Fendi is my Italian version, Chanel my French version and Lagerfeld is my own version, what I always wanted. I never mix it up. I never made something that looked like Chanel at Fendi and never made something that looked like Fendi at Chanel because both have an identity, maybe I have none but at least I have two.
Tempe: It’s been said that a sense of satisfaction with one’s own work may be the end of one’s creativity. What do you derive satisfaction from?
Karl: Motivation, freedom and knowledge. With motivation I mean, ‘doing for doing’, not for having done. If you are not detached, you mess everything up. When I do the shoes, I don’t think about anything else. Freedom as the top of luxury. I like the idea of freelancing because of the word ‘free’. This kind of job position did not exist when I was younger, I have invented a kind of blueprint representing this kind of job. Finally, knowledge as the willingness to know new things. I want to know everything. I go to the bookshop nearly every day. All kinds of books are important to me in some way. Whether they are related to fashion or art or photography. Everything has a purpose.