By Luisa Zargani
with contributions from Alessandra Turra
 on June 20, 2017
Carla Fendi.

MILAN — A point of reference for many, considered for years the image of the Fendi company, Carla Fendi’s death sparked strong reaction in the fashion world.

As reported, Fendi, honorary president of the Rome-based company, died on Monday evening in the Italian capital at 80. She is survived by her sisters Paola, Anna, Franca and Alda Fendi. A funeral service will be held on Thursday in Rome at the Chiesa degli Artisti [Church of the Artists] in Piazza del Popolo.

“She was like a second mother to me, supporting me throughout my life,” said her niece Silvia Venturini Fendi. “She was an adviser, if I had a doubt or there was a decision to be made, I would often turn to her because she was wise and very intelligent — she thought out of the box.”

Venturini Fendi, who is the daughter of Anna Fendi, said her aunt was a reference for all of the family and across the different generations. “She was the Zia [aunt] with the capital letter; she was the family’s beacon and an aggregator, virtually the head of the Fendi clan.” A woman of great vision and educated, she was also fun. “You could never be bored with her, she knew how to tell a story, and her house was always teeming with friends.”

“She was a true captain,” concurred Rosita Missoni. “She held the reins of a big family with a huge business. She maintained a solid relationship with Karl Lagerfeld and even after the company was sold, she was its image.” Missoni said she was going to “hold Carla in her heart for ever,” underscoring the real friendship “outside of work and the fashion collections.” She remembered how they would spend holidays together with their husbands in Italian mountain resort Merano, for example. “The first fur coat I ever bought was a Fendi cape, after getting married [to Tai] and as soon as I could afford it,” Missoni reminisced.

“I cannot believe she is gone…such an example to all of us,” said Valentino Garavani. “I remember working with her and her family in my first collections in the Sixties. Nothing was impossible for her, nothing was not extraordinary enough. She had a vision.”

“My thoughts are with the Fendi family,” said Giorgio Armani. “I have fond memories of Carla, her generous nature, her art loving spirit and patronage — joyful at every new discovery of ancient beauty — and her major contribution to Italian fashion. She was a wise woman and knowing her was a great pleasure.”

“Carla Fendi taught me that nothing is impossible and that passion and enthusiasm are the only keys to maintain your values and true identity both in your personal and professional life,” said Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who worked at Fendi from 1990 to 1999 and remained close to the Fendi family. “She also taught me love for experimentation, and I owe her and the whole Fendi family much of the way in which I work today. Carla knew by heart the names of all her employees, not only did she know their names, but she was also interested in the story of each one of them. She used to say that a good idea is a good idea, no matter who conceived it, and therefore she listened to everybody, without any distinction. She taught me not to be afraid of the talent of others but to respect it.“

Angela Mariani, founder of New York-based C&M Media, worked with Fendi for 15 years, her first job out of college. She said, while Carla Fendi didn’t have children of her own, she created a tight web of familiar relations. “People close to her called her Zia [aunt] Carla. She had this incredible organizational instinct, she would put things and people together and galvanize them. She was a catalyst.”

Mariani recalled how the Fendi company in 1985 launched its first fragrance exclusively in New York at Bloomingdale’s, then helmed by Marvin Traub and fashion director Kal Ruttenstein. “Carpets were made in the color of the Pergamena [parchment] leather associated with the identity of the brand for a while, but Carla was so detail-oriented that Kal was sure she would have something to say about the exact shade and waited to roll down the carpets until after the launch.” Mariani also defined Fendi “an incredible negotiator. She once said to me ‘no doesn’t mean no — it just means try again until it becomes yes.'”

After Bloomingdale’s, the fragrance was launched at Harrods. “Carla and [former Harrods owner Mohamed] Al-Fayed really hit it off — they both had that sparkle in their dark brown eyes,” Mariani said. “She talked him into raising Fendi flags outside Harrods — parchment with double Fs. Mohamed said that prior to this they had only ever raised the flags for the Queen of England. The five sisters arrived from The Dorchester to Harrods in a horse-drawn carriage.”

About the relationship with Lagerfeld, Mariani said the designer really “understood” the Fendi sisters and vice versa. “They brought out the best of and challenged each other. He would come in to begin a new collection and bring aerial photographs of a geometric landscape, hand them to Paola and say: Can you do that [on the furs]? Yes, we can do that — was the answer.”

“The thing that immediately comes to my mind when I think of her is that she has always, and I mean in each single occasion, told me ‘Thank you for what you do for the brand,’” said Marco de Vincenzo, who designs Fendi’s accessories under the guidance of creative director Venturini Fendi. “She had this incredible capacity to communicate her gratitude to those working with the family to grow the company. I think that, among the sisters, she was the one more connected to the brand. We used to see her a lot at the office and she is definitely the one I had the chance to know better.”

Carla Fendi  joined the company in the Fifties and, with her sisters, helped develop and expand the family-owned venture, mainly in charge of marketing and communication and championing its expansion in the U.S. Fendi was known to say that any disagreement between the sisters should be sorted out because they were “five like the fingers on a hand.” She forged a strong relationship with Lagerfeld, who last year marked his 50th anniversary as creative director of the brand.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada Group acquired 51 percent of the house in 1999, following one of the most dramatic bidding wars in fashion history, beating out Texas Pacific Group and Gucci/Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (now Kering). Sources at the time estimated the deal placed a $950 million valuation on the brand — 33 times Fendi’s bottom line, in an industry where 25 was considered a very high multiple. In November 2011, Prada sold its 25.5 percent stake to LVMH, which today controls the company, helmed by chairman and chief executive officer Pietro Beccari. Venturini Fendi said Fendi and her sisters “had the intelligence to sell the company when it was blooming. This proved their love for the company.” She said Fendi “realized that the times were changing, and she had the strength to choose the best offer, which shows her entrepreneurial skills.”

In 2007,  she created the Carla Fendi Foundation, whose goal is to support Italy’s cultural and artistic patrimony. Among others, the foundation has helped restore the Caio Melisso theater in Spoleto, Italy. She was named honorary president of the Spoleto theater. Venturini Fendi said her aunt, who adored classical music, not only supported the cultural festival in Spoleto, but also actively contributed to the lineup of the events, by producing several of them.

Last year, the company celebrated its 90th anniversary with a Haute Fourrure show of Lagerfeld’s designs at the Trevi Fountain, a first for the Baroque monument, and an exhibition at the company’s new headquarters at the stately Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.

The company evolved from a small fur atelier opened in 1926 by the sisters’ parents Edoardo and Adele Fendi on Rome’s Via del Plebiscito. Today, Fendi continues to have a fur atelier in its store.

A boutique opened in Rome’s Via Piave in 1932, with a new leather-goods and fur atelier that unveiled a full-range collection of Selleria bags, characterized by handmade crafting techniques inherited from the Roman master saddlers that continues to be relevant today.

In 1964, the Fendi sisters opened a boutique with a fur atelier on Via Borgognona, where it stood for more than 40 years. In 1965, they started one of the most fruitful and long-lasting collaborations in fashion with Lagerfeld, who also created the “double F” logo, which stands for “Fun Furs.” These were dyed in rich, untraditional shades of purple and green or orange, and mixed hides, using lesser-known pelts such as ferret and squirrel and developing innovative manufacturing techniques for furs. “[Lagerfeld] is the sixth Fendi child,” Carla Fendi said last year. “Our pasts and our future are intertwined.”

In 1969, the first ready-to-wear fur collection was shown at the Sala Bianca, inside Florence’s historic Palazzo Pitti. At the end of the Sixties, Fendi started working with movie directors such as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Franco Zeffirelli and Mauro Bolognini and began dressing the likes of Silvana Mangano, Diana Ross, Sophia Loren, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Soraya, Liza Minnelli and Monica Vitti.

In 1977, Fendi presented its first rtw collection in a groundbreaking way, through the short movie “Histoire d’Eau,” which was directed by Jacques de Bascher. Fendi always strongly championed Venturini Fendi, who joined the company in 1992, working with Lagerfeld. In 1994, she was given sole responsibility for accessories. In 1997, she launched the Baguette bag.

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