Fast Forward At Fendi

ROME -- The Fendis have a knack for mixing the classic with the avant-garde. The same company that made a globally recognized trademark out of simple black and beige stripes has also pulled off such feats as presenting a singular collection of...

ROME — The Fendis have a knack for mixing the classic with the avant-garde. The same company that made a globally recognized trademark out of simple black and beige stripes has also pulled off such feats as presenting a singular collection of shredded, caveman-inspired furs, and an eyebrow-raising porno star “spettacolo.”

But when it comes down to business, the Fendis have integrated the traditions of a family-run firm with a forward-looking strategy of expansion in foreign markets designed to keep the name strong.

Run by the five Fendi sisters, the company expects to register 1993 revenues of about $77 million (130 billion lire at current exchange rates), essentially flat with 1992 results. About 65 percent of sales are exports.

With established markets growing saturated and increasingly ho-hum about designer brands, the company has decided to tackle both old markets and new with a barrage of new initiatives, said Carla Fendi, one of the five sisters who run the firm, which was founded in 1925. Starting at home, Fendi has consolidated its major showrooms and workshops as well as its commercial and administrative offices in a suburban office park just minutes from the Fiumicino airport — a convenient stop for foreign buyers with little time for Rome’s crowded streets.

“These offices were established with the future in mind,” Carla Fendi said. “We planned ahead and made significant investments in these facilities specifically to be able to offer more services to the client.

“Now our clients can come here and find the whole world of Fendi and the representatives of each sector,” she added, noting that the company also retains its traditional downtown store on Via Borgognona and a showroom and bridal atelier in Palazzo Ruspoli for local clients. In a demonstration of the “think globally, act locally” maxim, Fendi is also launching a brand-new collection targeted specifically at the firm’s largest export market: America.

The collection, which is designed by longtime Fendi associate Karl Lagerfeld, is called Knicoat — a line of wool coats and sweaters designed to be worn together, said Carla Fendi, who engineered Fendi’s entrance into the U.S. market in the late Sixties. The new collection is a subcomponent of the Fendi rtw signature apparel line (also designed by Lagerfeld) and will be presented during the designer rtw shows coming up in Milan in late February, she said. “It’s elegant, travels well and is very practical, something that the Europeans have undervalued,” Fendi said. Looking farther afield, Fendi has also recently signed a licensing, production and distribution agreement in Japan with apparel company Naigai Co. Ltd, which had been seeking a European designer license for some time.

The new line, Fendissime Repubblica Italiana Sportswear, will be based on the Italian Fendissime line, which is designed by third-generation Fendis Maria Teresa Venturini, Maria Ilaria Venturini (Anna Fendi’s daughters) and Federica Formilli (Franca Fendi’s daughter). The agreement with Naigai foresees sales of 1.5 billion yen in the first year and 2.5 billion yen by the third year, Fendi said. The collection, which is aimed at young women between 18 and 25, will be produced in the Far East, based on the Italian designs, and will be distributed in leading Japanese department stores. Naigai will also distribute imported Fendissime accessories from Italy. Doors in the first year will number about 30, including boutiques, corners and specialty shops, Fendi reported.

Finally, in addition to growing in European markets where they are already present, such as Germany and the U.K., Fendi is exploring distribution and retailing options in developing markets in Latin America and the Far East. In Latin America, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil are the countries currently showing the most potential, Carla Fendi said. Fendi just opened its first Mexico City boutique this summer, while the firm has received numerous requests from potential partners to open in Brazil and Argentina, she added. “Latin America is currently our priority in terms of expansion,” she said, citing the increased interest in the region following the approval of the NAFTA treaty. “The market is waking up and it’s hungry for Fendi, and we are now structured in such a way that we are able to grow — we can meet the production,” she said. “This is a company that has a future.”

Founded in 1925 by Edoardo and Adele Fendi, Fendi is currently controlled by their five daughters: Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda. The third generation of Fendis — the sisters have 11 children among them — has already been brought into the company in various roles.

At a moment when some Italian fashion houses have decided or been forced to sell to foreign partners or invite financial shareholders into their businesses (names such as Gucci, Romeo Gigli and Mila Schon come to mind), the Fendi family remains fully committed to their business, Carla Fendi said. “The Fendi family is involved first-hand in the running of the business, naturally with the collaboration of external managers where needed,” she said. While opening up to financial partners or other similar accords in the future shouldn’t be excluded, “such possibilities aren’t thinkable right now, aren’t even being considered,” Carla Fendi said.

Fashion operations are responsible for 90 percent of firm’s total revenue, of which 50 percent comes from leather goods and accessories, 20 percent from apparel and 20 percent from furs. Fendi’s apparel collections include a signature fur line designed by Karl Lagerfeld and produced in their own workshop, a licensed fur line, a signature rtw line also designed by Lagerfeld, a young apparel line called Fendissime, a diffusion line called Fendi 365 and Fendi Jeans (formerly Fendi Country).

There are 78 Fendi boutiques around the world, of which those in Rome and New York are directly owned. Fendi also licenses perfume, home furnishings and linens.