Fashion has long been a breaker of rules when it comes to creating looks that would stand against time. It’s made use of unorthodox materials and unusual processes to come up with high-quality pieces to be sold at very high prices. At times, such materials and processes have been met with harsh criticisms from entities outside the fashion realm, from government bodies to activist groups. Among the industry’s many rule-breakers, Rome-based brand Fendi continues to be one of the most successful. It stands proud as a symbol of luxury, churning out fur and leather goods from the finest animal-based materials, to the dismay of many animal rights activists.
Adele Casagrande and Edoardo Fendi
The label was founded in 1926, by couple Adele and Edoardo Fendi. Far from the fashion empire, it is today, it started as a humble and small accessories studio that specialized in fine leather bags and various fur pieces. Although they saw considerable success during this time, it did not rival that of the other Italian leather goods brands, like Gucci and Prada, who’ve achieved a loyal clientele of rich elite and European aristocracy by that period. During the 1930’s, the couple bore 5 children, all girls, named Anna, Paola, Franca, Carla, and Alda.
The Next Generation
Throughout their lives, the Fendi sisters lived and eventually worked in the atelier starting in 1946. Once they took over the company, each daughter held her own specific role in expanding the brand. Paola headed the fur department, while Anna took charge of the leather goods. Meanwhile, Franca took care of the label’s clients, Carla coordinated the company’s business operations and Alda was in charge of sales. By the 1960’s the brand had exponentially expanded, and in 1964, they opened a new office on Rome’s Via Borgognona. The succeeding year, in 1965, the label branched out into haute couture (or Alta Moda in Italian), hiring then-unknown German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld as artistic director.
Lagerfeld presented the label’s first haute couture collection in Rome, heavily featuring fur in many of his designs. He incorporated various animal furs, making more use of them for the garment than just mere linings, cuffs, and coats as other fashion houses did. The collection was met with commendable acclaim, propelling the fur and leather goods label to become a prominent fashion house. Around the same time, Lagerfeld also designed the company’s logo, the now-iconic double F’s, and would incorporate it in almost all of the label’s products, even to this day.
1970’s to 1990’s Fendi
In 1977, the brand debuted their ready-to-wear line, entitled ‘365, pertaining to a dress for every single day of the year. In 1978, they introduced their shoe line, selling high-quality footwear designed by Diego Della Valle. That same year, Adele passed on, leaving the five sisters and Karl Lagerfeld full charge of the company’s growth and future. By this time, the brand was known primarily as the most luxurious fur brand in the world, selling not only fur coats but a myriad of accessories and garments as well.
Around this time, Maria Silvia Venturini Fendi, Anna’s daughter, was starting to get involved with the family business. A socialite and model, she began advertising the label’s products by wearing them to social occasions and parties in the hottest nightclubs, as well as holding trunk shows in Milan. She would later become part of Lagerfeld’s design team by the late 1980’s. In 1985, the company celebrated its 60th anniversary with an exhibit at Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art, entitled “Fendi – Karl Lagerfeld: The Story”. It commemorated both the brand’s and Lagerfeld’s contributions to the fashion and leather goods industry. In the same year, they also released their first fragrance, simply named “Fendi”.
By the 1990’s, Fendi was one of the hottest brands in the entire industry, thanks in part to Silvia’s design contributions. She revamped a series of leather accessories originally made by her grandmother and released them in a collection called “Saleria”, which was met with both critical and commercial success. In 1997, she helped design the “baguette bag”, it bag of the late 90’s and one of the most iconic items in the brand’s and the fashion industry’s history. Its popularity was propelled by the hit HBO TV series “Sex and the City”, where the characters would frequently wear and at times, talk about the bag. It was also seen worn by celebrities such as actress Gwyneth Paltrow and supermodel Naomi Campbell.
21st Century Fendi
In 2001, the company was sold to French retail group LVMH, who still owns the label to this day. However, the family is still very much in charge of the operations, with Silvia in charge as head style director, working with Karl Lagerfeld in creating the label’s seasonal collections. Through the early 21st century, Fendi’s fashion shows have become more elaborate, with the help of Lagerfeld’s creativity. In 2007 for example, the brand held a grand fashion show on the Great Wall of China, making use of 88 meters of the famed site as the runway. In 2016, to commemorate the company’s 90th anniversary, they held their fall haute couture show on the famous Trevi fountain in Rome, complete with a clear runway above the fountain where the models walked on.