90 Years of Fendi Fashion

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“Fashion is a form of expression,” explains Silvia Venturini Fendi, a third-generation member of the fabled Fendi family and the creative director for the house’s accessories and men’s lines, “so it is always important to keep the soul in design. It is also important to take risks and challenge innovation in experimental ways. It is a magic mix between creativity and savoir-faire, innovation, and tradition. Here at Fendi, since ever, we have the motto, ‘Nothing is impossible.’”

Indeed, at Fendi, nothing ever does seem impossible. And now, on the heels of the house’s 90th anniversary, it has just printed a handsome slipcovered book, in conjunction with the publisher Assouline, which celebrates and catalogs nearly a century of the fashion brand’s transformation and creativity. Released this September, Fendi Roma is an expression of the house’s 90 years of daring creativity, femininity, cinematic inspiration, avant-garde techniques, timeless craftsmanship, and focus on the future. Always one to remain true to testing the limits of possibility, the story of the house of Fendi is neatly described in the book, which hooks us from the start on a sartorial maze through haute Italian design.

The book begins where the Fendi journey begins: with Adele and Edoardo Fendi, the son of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Margherita of Savoy. Originally Turkish, the Fendi name means “lord”—perhaps a prophetic etymology. It was certainly destined to become famous, as Edoardo firmly believed it would. In 1926, together with his wife, Adele Casagrande, he opened a fur and leather boutique with an atelier inside in the center of Rome, on Via del Plebiscito. In 1932, Edoardo created the Selleria line of leather goods and luggage. That same year, the shop, together with the workshop, moved to the emerging area of Via Piave, and in 1964 they opened a larger one on Via Borgognona.

By this time, Edoardo and Adele had passed the baton to the second generation: their daughters Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla, and Alda. The sisters’ roles subsequently grew from their personal strengths. Paola worked in the Via Piave headquarters and expressed an interest in the fur department. She became one of the sector’s top specialists, and one of very few women in a male-dominated world to take part in the international fur auctions. She was also the undisputed expert in experimental new techniques, and revolutionized the tanning process.

Anna—creative, intuitive, and exceptionally quick to learn—became the executive director of bags and leather goods (a talent she passed on her to daughter Silvia, the mastermind behind the incredibly successful 1996 Fendi Baguette, a colorful, dainty, under-the-arm handbag that was the first to attract a waiting list in the days before waiting lists became a made-up marketing ploy). Anna developed an innovative pleating technique that involved passing a ribbon through small perforations to create an accordion effect. Franca’s retail experience made her the perfect manager for the boutiques, where she graciously assisted customers with their choices. Carla was Fendi’s strategist and the head of communications, advertising, and image. Alda, the youngest, went on to run the fur workshop and the atelier to assist clients. The Fendi sisters had a remarkable ability to move the company forward in a single direction while maintaining their own points of view. It was family business at its finest. They made every decision together, including the one in 1965 to hire a young Karl Lagerfeld, a natural-born innovator and creative force who would test the limits of creativity in true Fendi style.

The hiring of Lagerfeld made for one of the greatest symbiotic alliances in fashion history—not to mention fodder for countless tales. This particular tale is but one of many in the 90 years of incredible and fascinating stories divided into five chapters in Fendi Roma: the first, “Rome: Eternal Inspiration;” the second, “Creativity: Experimentation and Innovation;” the third, “Femininity: A Fashionable Force;” followed by the fourth, “Ieri Oggi Domani” (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow); and, finally, “A Family Affair.” Since 2001, Fendi became a multinational luxury brand and member of the LVMH group, but Fendi Roma brings us to the familial core of the brand. In an age when fashion houses change creative course faster than the seasons themselves, and when the corporate bottom line carries more weight than longstanding institutional know-how, Fendi Roma is a reminder today for anyone steering a reputable brand that the greatest mark of true luxury is not the price tag, but the brand’s inimitable DNA.