By  on November 18, 2010

PARIS — What do ice cream, puppets, cigars, porcelain, speedboats, masks and picture frames have in common? All are still fatto a mano, or handmade, in Italy, and detailed in a quirky new book by Fendi as it continues to find innovative ways to talk about craftsmanship as a key pillar of the Roman luxury house. For starters, the homespun 200-page tome, bowing in Fendi stores next week, shines the spotlight on a good number of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand’s competitors, from men’s wear powerhouse Brioni and jewelry firm Buccellati to shoemaker René Caovilla. They’re intermingled among Recco, a maker of mouthwatering and cheesy focaccia, and Brionvega, which re-creates groovy portable television sets from the Fifties and Sixties and stuffs them with modern-day technology. According to Michael Burke, Fendi’s chief executive officer, showing the diversity of handmade Italian products provides a broader context in which to talk about Fendi’s know-how, mentioned sparingly in the book. Relevant listings include Cuoio Romana, the Roman workshop where its Selleria bags are stitched and molded, or Lisio, a Florence workshop specializing in hand-loomed damasks and brocades that Silvia Fendi discovered to re-create a lost velour Baguette bag — and subsequently 15 others. Burke said the first task of freelance journalist Vittoria Filippi Gabardi was whittling the list of makers of “Italian specialness” to a mere 100. “Italy still makes stuff in every single field,” Burke marveled. “There’s a very organic link between craftsmanship and the Italian lifestyle.” Published by Electa Mondadori in both English and Italian, “The Whispered Directory of Craftsmanship” will sell for 40 euros, or $54.75 at current exchange, in select bookstores and Fendi’s 190 boutiques. Fendi was prescient in detecting a shift away from showy luxury in 2007 when it unveiled the Peekaboo bag, a more traditional, upscale satchel. And in 2009, the brand tethered its craftsmanship message to a forward-looking realm — industrial design — by setting a foundation to support young designers creating limited edition objects via such events as “Craft Punk,” which was staged during the Salone del Mobile in Milan.For example, designer Simon Hasan created modernistic vases using a technique from the Middle Ages: boiling leather until it becomes as rigid as armor. According to Burke, craftsmanship is “only relevant if it’s connected to what’s going to happen in the future.” He said Fendi’s efforts in craftsmanship have helped boost growth of its high-end businesses, including Selleria leather goods, specialty furs and ready-to-wear.

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