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The Fabulous Fendi

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
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If Silvia Fendi shows any sign of being exhausted after having flown in from Italy, she certainly didn’t show it. The only member of the Fendi family to remain at the company and one of its most important creative talents, she was quite happy to indulge in a cocktail after carefully perusing the list at the Mercer Hotel. Eventually settling on a Bellini, Fendi gently sipped her drink throughout our talk.

It’s not the first time by any stretch that Fendi has been to New York; she spent a lot of time here as a young woman, and her knowledge of New York nightlife is pretty impressive. In the 1970s and ’80s she regularly used to go out all night, hitting hotspots like Studio 54 and then heading straight to work in the morning. She remembers getting the hairy eyeball from her doorman, who would ask her, “Why didn’t you sleep last night?” She remembers, “My sister and I were famous [at the office] because we would work all day and go out all night with no break.”

Despite burning the candle at both ends, Fendi had the stamina required to stick with the job and is now the only family member retained by the company, which was acquired by LVMH in 2001. She retains creative direction over the women’s accessories, kids’ wear and menswear lines at the company, and her visit to the United States coincides with the opening of their new flagship Fendi store on 57th street and Madison. It’s an old company; Fendi was established by Adele and Edoardo Fendi in Rome in 1925. They famously had
five daughters together, all of whom worked for the family business. Sylvia is the daughter of Anna, the second eldest daughter.

Fendi is a company that, as a brand, strongly identifies with its Roman roots. Silvia says that their parent company LVMH is very interested in preserving the company’s association with the city. With their long-standing connection to Rome in mind, Fendi agreed fund the restoration of the Trevi Fountain. The way Silvia tells it, Pietro Beccari, the CEO of Fendi, heard on the news one morning that part of one of Rome’s most celebrated landmarks had fallen off at night, and he phoned Rome’s mayor to say that Fendi would like to do something for the fountain: that Rome has so many monuments, it’s so expensive for the city to take care of everything. As Silvia puts it, “We really think to help preserve our cities helps preserve our history. Because Rome is a city that gives you a lot, especially to anyone who is creative.” Work on the fountain finished earlier this month.

Fendi is pretty passionate about fashion, but I wonder that since the company is now owned by a larger corporation if anything has changed for her. If Silvia feels any regrets about the family not owning the brand anymore, she isn’t sharing them. It seems to a relief for her to settle into a life of letting the artistic juices flow: “I like the creative part of the work, which is the heart of the company, so for me, nothing has changed, because I do what I was doing before.”

It would be impossible to talk about creativity at Fendi without mentioning Karl Lagerfeld and his influence on the brand. He joined the company in 1965 as the creative director for fur and ready-to-wear, and he remains in the role today. He’s just celebrated his 50th year with the brand, marking the longest fashion collaboration of its kind in history. Silvia speaks with great fondness about Lagerfeld, his energy and imagination; he clearly has now become part of the company’s DNA.

Silvia is no slouch in the creative department herself: she invented the Fendi Baguette bag, which almost instantly became a cult classic. It zoomed off shelves in the late ’90s, and other creations followed. Silvia’s says that she’s known what she wanted to do since she was a little girl. She was always keen to be in the business and never had a strong desire to do anything else. Although educated in London, Italy and Switzerland, Fendi was not a stellar student, but she always wanted to work.

She’s passed her creative genes on to her daughter, jewelry designer Delphina Delettrez, who has just opened her first store in London. Silvia is wearing earrings created by her daughter; she fingers the rather large pearls with pride when I ask her about them. She has two daughters and one son, all of whom are artistic fields.

Fendi is always inspired by her home city of Rome. “Because in a city that has always had a flow of history you can really see how the human being has evolved and been creative. Every day you go out and discover something, different styles. I like the clash of different styles. It’s a never-ending source of information and ideas.” When she’s not working, Fendi can be found at her farm outside of Rome on an Etruscan site, where she keeps horses and sheep. It sounds wonderfully peaceful.

Returning to the subject of fashion, I wonder if she’s had any life experiences or thoughts about the world of fashion in which she grew up. Unlike most people who wish to enter what looks like a job that epitomizes a glamorous lifestyle, Fendi was always aware of what hard work that would entail. “I think I succeeded in keeping my feet very attached to the floor, because sometimes success can give you a headache.” Having come from a fashion family, Fendi was able to avoid many of the pitfalls and always knew that the fashion world is a 24-hour-a-day job where what you loathed yesterday you might be devoted to today. “One thing I learned is that in fashion you never say never; something you don’t like today, you may like tomorrow. Never no, never yes, always maybe.”
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