ROME — Karl Lagerfeld eased into his gleaming white desk at Fendi's new headquarters here Wednesday, picked up a pencil and, with a quick flourish, finished off what must be his zillionth sketch for the Roman house.
"It's a stunning building, no?" Lagerfeld quipped.
Only minutes earlier, the designer sat at a press conference next to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault, who confirmed a WWD report that Lagerfeld had signed another "long-term" contract with Fendi, continuing an association that has endured for half of the house's 80-year history.
"[Lagerfeld] embodies Fendi's spirit," Arnault said on Wednesday. "He is for sure a key player in Fendi's success. Four or five years down the road, Fendi will be a top Italian brand."
The announcement, which came with few details, ended a long period of uncertainty during which Lagerfeld was often vocal about his discontent with Fendi's development.
On Wednesday, seated between Arnault and Dior chief Sidney Toledano, who also oversees Fendi's strategy, Lagerfeld said simply, "I am so happy."
And a bit nostalgic. He and Arnault both recalled that one of Lagerfeld's first designs for Fendi was a dress for Silvia Venturini Fendi, today its accessories and men's wear designer, but then a very well-dressed primary school student.
Lagerfeld also related that he once worked with Adele, the founder and matriarch of the Fendi empire, in a former cinema on Via Borgognona where they created the double F logo. "It's been a wonderful adventure," he said.
However, he noted that Fendi needed management resources and a better structure, which the assembled panel assured were now in place.
"I'm fortunate enough that I have ideas come to my mind," he said in response to a question about his design prowess. "I need to rely on a team of strong, capable people. Being successful in this business means good teamwork."
Meanwhile, the ever-bullish Arnault painted a bright future for Fendi and asserted that it would become one of the most important luxury brands. During a question-and-answer period, Arnault was asked when Fendi would reach profitability. The company lost an estimated 25 million euros, or $31.6 million at current exchange, last year on sales of 250 million euros, or $316 million. "We will reach our target by 2007, or earlier I hope," he said.The luxury titan declined to say how much he would invest to build the company, but suggested the effort would be along the lines of his rejuvenation of Christian Dior. "We are ready to press hard on the pedal," he said. "We are on the right track and we are ready for success."
Fendi chief executive Michael Burke also reiterated that Fendi would reach sales volume of $500 million "sooner rather than later," with a bigger goal after that. "Mr. Arnault just told me, 'If you're not at a billion dollars, you don't exist,'" Burke said with a chuckle.
The Fendi ceo said Arnault's investment in the seven-story palazzo, with the world's largest Fendi store at its base, proves that LVMH is committed to the house for the long haul. As reported, Fendi plans to redo its entire 117-store network to emulate the sumptuous new Peter Marino concept unveiled here at Largo Goldoni.
"We didn't reinvent Fendi's DNA; it's just that the new store concept sheds a different light on the product," said Burke.
Indeed, Arnault, while praising the warm colors and modernity of Marino's new designs, grumbled about the shortcomings of the previous "dark store" concept, calling it "drab" and "grim."
Arnault, who initially teamed up with Prada Group to buy a majority of Fendi from the five Fendi sisters in 1999, also acknowledged that it took longer than expected to find the right formula. "Life was quite complicated," he said, alluding to family squabbles and an uneasy rapport with Prada's Patrizio Bertelli. LVMH ultimately took majority control in 2001 and today holds a 94 percent stake. The balance is held by chairman Carla Fendi.
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