By  on May 1, 2007

MILAN — One big design studio, one global vision.

For Silvia Venturini Fendi, the open space inside Fendi's seven-story palazzo in Rome has boosted the brand's creative vibe since it was inaugurated in 2005.

The brand, stressed Fendi, has steadily benefited from the greater proximity for the staffs of the various product categories and from a more harmonious relationship with Karl Lagerfeld, Fendi's ready-to-wear director for more than 40 years.

"Before the fur [department] and the footwear were in separate rooms, while now there's a liaison between everything and this has really helped develop a unique train of thought and vision," said Fendi, who was appointed brand accessories director in 1994. She is also men's wear director and masterminded the hit Baguette bag in 1997.

Take the fall collection, where Lagerfeld's use of technology, design and construction for Fendi's furs found an ideal partner in the Voodoo bag, a structured style with wool dreadlocks, spangles and layers of macro sequins that is the brand's best-selling style for fall.

The design offices have also helped fuel growing categories such as footwear, whose sales account for 10 percent of revenues, with the goal of doubling the figure over the next two years.

During the past couple of years, footwear sales have ballooned from 55,000 pairs in 2005 to 118,000 for fall 2007.

Footwear prices range from $330 at retail for fabric and mirror ballerina flats to $1,140 for leather boots with beaver fur. Bags and small leather goods account for 55 percent of sales; rtw and fur for 25 percent; footwear 10 percent, and other accessories, 10 percent.

To implement the footwear division, Fendi tapped renowned designer Ernesto Esposito to consult on the collections and has hired two young designers for the footwear team. "Esposito is very technical, which is great when you're making good-looking shoes that are also comfortable," said Fendi.

Fendi, in fact, challenges her team to deliver comfortable edginess like the one injected into spring's Fifties-derived platform with latex straps. Of the 150-style shoe collection, half are carried over each season, especially the sneakers.

Generally speaking, forging a new collection is an unconventional process at Fendi. "We don't work with preset themes or with trend charts, but we all toss ideas around, we communicate and express a precise vision," said Fendi. "I have a very free design approach based on research. We don't meet with the marketing division, for example."This allows her to press hard for innovation. "I never give up good quality, but in general I don't get nostalgic for one material because I like to change," said Fendi. "That said, I do have a weak spot for suede and napa."

Fendi also likes to play with poor-rich textures, as in plastic, crocodile or leather combinations.

"We work really hard, but we have so much fun because we love what we do," said Fendi. "That's what drives you."

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