How Fendi Got Its Cool Back
"The concept of age is something I don’t pay attention to very much,” says Silvia Venturini Fendi, who, as creative director of accessories and menswear, is the last remaining family member at the Italian company started by her grandparents Adele and Edoardo Fendi in 1925. “With curiosity,” she says, “you can remain a young person, even when you are 50.”
For much of its history, and despite its ownership by the French conglomerate LVMH since 2001, Fendi has been viewed primarily as a family business. Its impression of intimacy was largely burnished by the founders' five charismatic daughters — Carla, Paola, Anna, Franca, and Alda — who were collectively responsible for transforming Fendi from a single store in Rome into a globally recognized luxury brand. Silvia, one of Anna's daughters who joined the company in 1994, is probably right when she says it’s not age that matters so much as it is heritage.
That, she believes, is what’s behind this renewed Fendi moment, when celebrities are practically camouflaged in the label’s FF logo prints, part of a capsule collection introduced this spring to appeal to younger, social media-savvy customers. At the same time, classic items like the Peekaboo bag, which Silvia Fendi created a decade ago, are having a revival thanks to a digital marketing campaign that brings together mothers, daughters, and sisters. The idea is to demonstrate the designs' cross-generational appeal. In one video from that project the designer appears alongside her daughters, Delfina Delettrez Fendi and Leonetta Luciano Fendi. Another buzzy installment features Kris Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and North West.
“I try to design what I like, and what my daughters will like,” Fendi says.
As Fendi approaches its centennial, there is a sense that things are changing at the company, and quickly, much as they are throughout the fashion industry. Serge Brunschwig, who joined as chairman and chief executive officer in February, has pushed for less-conventional approaches, “mixing yesterday and tomorrow, tradition and entertainment,” as he told WWD.
A party in London to celebrate the FF Reloaded capsule, for instance, was more like a rave, with street-artist graffiti and guests including Drake, Diplo, and Kim Jones. Another event in Shanghai was held in an underground nightclub. And the Fendi-logoed products, which feature a graphic design created by Karl Lagerfeld in the 1960s, have since appeared in situations that are anything but fusty, at least as seen on the Instagram accounts of Jennifer Lopez, Rita Ora, and Kim and Kourtney Kardashian. In other examples of relaxing the codes, Fendi has tweaked its own foray into Hypebeast territory with artist-inspired pieces that combine Fendi’s logo with Fila’s or rework its iconography in ways that seem less than sacrosanct. The company has also prioritized incorporating more non-fur items in its couture collections.
While disruption is the name of the game these days, there remains for any designer the concern of damaging a brand’s equity or of appearing to jump on the bandwagon. For Fendi, however, the decision was born of customer demand.
“There was a huge request for the logos,” Fendi says. “Young kids were wearing the vintage ones, so I said maybe it’s time to do it again in a different way for today. It’s something that represents a family story, like a crest.”
Likewise, the evocation of family was behind its Peekaboo campaign, which, besides the Kardashian clan, features several sister acts including Clara and Esther McGregor, daughters of Ewan McGregor, and the Korean-American pop stars Jessica and Krystal Jung. The bag — more discreet and timeless than its predecessors like the highly decorative Baguette — was created with a simple exterior that offers just a peek of a fun, colorful interior. The concept was one of “intimate luxury,” Fendi says.
“It’s the kind of bag that doesn’t go with just the coolness of the moment,” she says. “You can pass it on to your daughters.
I find that mine always steal everything from my closet anyway. Whenever I go dress myself, something else is missing.”
Fendi has always described her daughters, and now her grandchildren, as her muses. Leonetta brings a bright energy, she says. Delfina is more reflective. While their styles are contrasts, their personalities are complementary, and Fendi can rely on them to give honest opinions about her designs. “I nourished them, and now they nourish me,” she says. In the end, family is the only focus group that matters.
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“I think the secret is to not try to be modern,” Fendi says. “When you try too hard, it becomes an obsession, and people can feel it. The moment you want to be cool is when you end up doing what is already there.”
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 10.