By  on March 28, 2005

ROME — Picking his way through the construction debris at the forthcoming Fendi palazzo here last week, chief executive officer Michael Burke entered a vast, sun-drenched room and declared proudly: “This is for Karl right here, the ready-to-wear and fur studio.”

Despite all the rumors swirling around Fendi, Burke is clearly operating under the assumption that Fendi’s future includes star designer Karl Lagerfeld, who has been associated with the Roman fashion house for half of its 80-year history, but whose contract expires later this year.

Burke declined to comment on the contract negotiations, but said, “I am functioning as if it were being renewed. Karl and I agree things have to change. We’re working on finding a better way to go forward.”

Lagerfeld, who has been vocal about Fendi’s shortcomings in the recent past, described discussions as progressing in a positive way.

“If they organize [Fendi] to work the way I want, it can continue,” he said last week. “I know what I need.” He added, “There is no hostility between me and LVMH, no tension at all.”

Indeed, to witness the scale of the palazzo project here, with dozens of workers and artisans toiling over practically every inch of this seven-story neoclassical landmark, suggests that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is building for Fendi what Rue Cambon is to Chanel — one of Lagerfeld’s other day jobs.

The countdown has begun to May 18, when the international fashion press and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault  descend on the Italian capital to discover the largest Fendi store in the world and, remarkably, its first real headquarters in a building smack at the crossroads of old and modern Rome. The grand 19th-century Palazzo Boncompagni, with breathtaking panoramic views of Rome from its rooftop terrace, sits at the base of the Via Condotti luxury promenade that commences at Piazza di Spagna.

“It’s our coming out, having fixed everything,” said Burke, referring to the 18 months of behind-the-scenes work since he joined as ceo from Christian Dior and since Dior ceo Sidney Toledano was tapped to oversee Fendi strategy. “We did some major restructuring, but now everyone involved in the creation of the product will be here [at the palazzo]. It’s basically becoming a beehive of creativity.”

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