Ilaria Venturini Fendi, sporting a necklace that jangles with a row of her old house keys, is camped out in a dim corner of the L'Eclaireur restaurant in Paris.
Resembling a jolly market vendor, 40-year-old Fendi — the younger sister of Sylvia, who heads up leather goods for the namesake Roman fashion house — sits surrounded by the latest offerings from her high-end eco-conscious bag line, Carmina Campus. Now into its fourth season, the collection will be presented for the first time during Milan Fashion Week.
Like a magpie's nest, the collection's vibrant bags, produced by artisans around Italy, are constructed using a patchwork of salvaged materials that Fendi picks up trawling markets and bargain basements around Florence and Rome. Kooky cushion covers collide with swatches of deck chair fabric on one model, while one tote started life as an oversize knitted African hat. Elsewhere, pushing the boundaries of utilitarian chic, Fendi transformed silver mesh pot-scrubbing pads into a twinkling evening purse.
Leveraging her industry contacts (the designer used to oversee shoes and the Fendissimo line for Fendi), many scraps are also donated by various mills, she said.
The line, ranging in price from $300 to around $2,000 at retail, is distributed in an exclusive crop of stores, including L'Eclaireur, 10 Corso Como and Dover Street Market.
But Fendi is quick to insist the collection's raison d'être has anticonsumerist motives, as one of a number of projects she has geared toward promoting sustainability. Up to 20 percent of proceeds are donated to various charities.
Fendi named the brand after an organic farm she is establishing at a former dump site on the outskirts of Rome. "I have 700 rams and make my own cheese. I work from a little studio with a view of my vegetable allotment," she said, acknowledging it's a far cry from her past, growing up in the Fendi studios where she would "eat fashion for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
"When we sold the brand to LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton], I decided that it was time to reevaluate life's values," she said, adding that she also hopes to house some of Italy's artisans on the farm.On March 1, Fendi will open her first store, Re(f)use di Carmina Campus, dedicated to recycled objects. As well as her bags, the three-story space at 39-40 Via Fontanella Borghese will stock furniture by designers such as Volksware.
Fendi's nascent jewelry line will also be showcased at the boutique, including bracelets made from bicycle chains. "This was made using my daughter's Barbie," said Fendi of a drop earring featuring a freshwater pearl cupped inside a miniature pink plastic hand.
"Fashion has become so disposable, it's worrying. If you make something today, tomorrow it's already old and I don't want to get caught up in that cycle again," she said. "The world needs something different."
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