By  on May 18, 2005

ROME — Boasting undulating stone shelves that float as if they were as lightweight as unlined mink coats, the world's largest Fendi store will be feted today with a celebrity-packed party and a press conference hosted by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault.

With Karl Lagerfeld at his side, Arnault is widely expected to officially declare that the superstar designer will extend his 40-year collaboration with Fendi — and hopefully lead it to greater fashion heights. It is understood negotiations to renew Lagerfeld's contract are nearly concluded. Indeed, Lagerfeld was slated to arrive Tuesday night and remain in Rome for several days to work on the forthcoming spring 2006 collection with Silvia Venturini Fendi, who oversees accessories categories at the 80-year-old firm.

"We are going to conquer Rome, and from there everything starts," said an elated Fendi chief executive officer Michael Burke, after giving WWD an exclusive preview Tuesday of the 8,000-square-foot flagship. It's the centerpiece of Fendi's new seven-story palazzo smack in the nucleus of the city's throbbing luxury shopping district at the base of Via Condotti.

The vast construction project, at an estimated cost of $25 million, represents for Fendi what Rue Cambon is to Chanel or Faubourg Saint Honore is to Hermes: a creative hub where design studios, ateliers and a retail store project a coherent and powerful image.

The store is estimated to bring in first-year sales volume of about $26 million. "I happen to believe no brand can be a success globally if you are not relevant in your home market," Burke stressed. "It's the first time all the elements of Fendi come together under one roof."

And architect Peter Marino's design concept — meant to channel Fendi's Roman roots and brand values such as glamour and fun — will soon roll out to the entire network of 117 stores, Burke confirmed. The plan is to renovate stores at the rate of two per month.

Neither Burke nor Marino minced words when asked about Fendi's previous "dark store" concept. "This is one case where the store really hampered the merchandise," Marino said. "The old Fendi store actually angered people. They would say, ‘I can't see anything.' People would literally walk out."

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