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Fendi to Fund Restoration of Roman Fountains

The Italian fashion brand is embarking on a four-year effort to restore some of the city’s crumbling fountains, beginning with the Trevi.

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PARIS — Lending a hand to its mythic hometown — and enriching its brand narrative in the process — Fendi is embarking on a four-year effort to restore some of Rome’s crumbling fountains, beginning with the Trevi, WWD has learned.

This story first appeared in the January 28, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Karl Lagerfeld, Silvia Fendi, Fendi chief executive Pietro Beccari and Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, are slated to host a press conference in the Italian city today to unveil the project.

Elements include a photo book devoted to Rome’s celebrated and hidden fountains, lensed by Lagerfeld and due out in the second half of the year. The climax could be a fashion show with Trevi as its backdrop in 2015, when Fendi will mark its 90th anniversary.

“We are proud of being tied to the city, but I believe not everyone knows, and this is a great occasion to do something for the city that hosts us,” Beccari said. “Rome is a home of Made in Italy. There’s an incredible savoir faire, but as well it’s a source of inspiration for many.”

In an exclusive interview, the first since he assumed the helm of Fendi in February 2012, Beccari said the company would be the sole sponsor of the Trevi refurbishment, with work expected to commence this spring. The brand plans to fund restoration of four other fountains, which have yet to be named.

The executive also lifted the veil on development plans for the luxury firm, which is part of luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. It hinges on animating Fendi’s iconic leather goods, leveraging its reputation and know-how as an haute furrier and realizing the expansion potential of its men’s wear and home furnishings.

The Fendi for Fountains initiative, whose acronym is a wink to the famous “FF” logo Lagerfeld designed in 1965, represents an important communications vector for the brand, which has been a pioneer in putting craftsmanship back on the consumer agenda. Fendi will also continue to cultivate links with industrial design via high-profile events such as Design Miami and the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan.

Beccari declined to pinpoint the financial commitment for restorations, but it is estimated to be in the millions of euros.

According to the City of Rome’s Web site, the facade of the Trevi needs work costing around 2.5 million euros, or $3.3 million at current exchange. The last significant restoration of the Baroque edifice, completed in 1762 and glorified in movies including “La Dolce Vita,” dates back to 1989.

Beccari noted that works on the Trevi would be done in stages, so visitors can continue to toss coins in its waters, a gesture said to ensure a visitor’s return to the Eternal City.

Fendi will not plaster its name on hoarding, preferring, upon completion of the refurbishment, a small plaque at the site that will signal the contribution of Fendi, Beccari said.

“Consumers want not only to buy a product, but to know the story behind it, the legend behind the brand,” he said, explaining that the colors, history and lifestyle of Rome are all crucial to the brand’s creative legacy. “The lifestyle, the fact of being Italian, is also important for this type of customer who wants beautiful stories, and beautiful stories belong to Rome.”

In 1980, the Fendi sisters published a book devoted to the fountains of Rome, sharing their impressions of the structures’ historical and artistic import. Fendi’s chief creative engines, Lagerfeld and Fendi, also frequently reference the city in their collections.

Beccari cited a 1978 ready-to-wear and fur collection by Lagerfeld that was in the colors of the palazzos and skies of Rome, and another built on patchworks inspired by the topography the German designer spied from the plane as he arrived at the city.

Fendi, who heads up leather goods and men’s wear, frequently gives Roman names to her designs, such as the Biga and Giano bags, and is a key figure in the city’s fashion scene. For instance, she’s president of AltaRoma, a fashion week that runs through Tuesday.

A native of Parma who took the helm of Fendi after a five-year stint as Louis Vuitton’s executive vice president, Beccari said he was driving in Rome last summer when the radio news revealed that chunks of the Trevi had broken off. Within 20 minutes, he was on the phone with colleagues to see what Fendi could do.

An upbeat and driven executive, Beccari also worked at Reckitt Benckiser in Milan, Parmalat in New York and Henkel in Germany before entering the fashion industry.

Beccari said Fendi would continue its upscale drive, weeding out wholesale distribution of its leather goods. Its hit Peekaboo bag, for example, is sold almost exclusively at its own network of directly owned stores, which now number more than 200.

The company also intends to put creative and marketing muscle behind its iconic products. Last year, Fendi celebrated the 15th birthday of its famous Baguette bag — the shoulder jewel that catapulted Fendi in the late Nineties, sparking a bidding war for the company between LVMH and Prada — with a Rizzoli tome, reeditions of popular styles and a series of pop-up shops.

Sales of Baguette “more than doubled” last year, Beccari said, hinting that a similar tack could be applied to its Selleria range, which dates back to 1938, or the breakout 2012 hit, Toujours.

“Animating the icons — we believe in this,” he said. “My credo is we should build on our strength — the strength of the past and the strength of the future.”

Beccari said he spies “big potential” for ready-to-wear and furs at Fendi, the latter being a potent calling card, given the capabilities of the firm’s haute fur atelier at the headquarters in Rome, which employs 35 people, some of whom have more than four decades of experience. “In a way, it’s a bit of our jewelry business,” he said, noting that prices for a made-to-order coat in Russian frosted sable can run up to 500,000 euros, or $666,645.

Men’s wear, which accounts for less than 10 percent of the business, also has expansion potential. During men’s fashion week in Milan earlier this month, Fendi displayed its new “sport-chic type of approach,” Beccari noted.

At present, men’s products are carried in about 50 Fendi stores, with only a handful of men’s-only boutiques, including a recently opened unit in The Landmark in Hong Kong.

“Our focus in the future will be to open more and more dedicated spaces [for men] starting in 2014,” Beccari said.

Key retail openings for the brand in general this year include relocated and expanded units on Via Napoleone in Milan and Avenue Montaigne in Paris, where Fendi will more than double its presence. New locations are slated for New Bond Street in London as well as Fendi’s first boutique in Brazil, a unit in São Paulo’s Cidade Jardim. The latter opening will come in tandem with an exhibition of historical Baguette bags.

For Fendi Casa, Beccari hinted at the possibility of collaborations with designers and other initiatives to “make it even more aspirational.” The Casa range, with licensing partner Clubhouse Italia/Luxury Living, dates back to 1987.

Fendi is selling its pre-fall women’s collection at Rome’s Maxxi museum, a range that includes a new version of the Baguette, called the Be Baguette, with an external pocket for handheld devices and a handle made of chain and leather.

The firm also boasts showrooms and press offices at its 38,000-square-foot new Milan space, the former Spazio Pomodoro, which is now home to Fendi’s women’s rtw shows, boasting what Beccari bills as the longest catwalk in Milan, stretching 260 feet.

Other development initiatives include a complete redesign of the Web site, slated for the second half of this year, which will add a strong audio-visual component, Beccari noted.

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