Seated on a black leather sofa in the opulent Rome headquarters of her family’s business, the composed and elegant Silvia Venturini Fendi, one of the few women who design for men, says she does not have the runway in mind when she works. “We start from the wardrobe of a real man,” she says. “We don’t want to imagine men on the catwalk! We want to see men wearing Fendi on the street!”
The daughter of Anna Fendi, the most creative of the five sisters who put the house on the fashion map in the ’40s, and the granddaughter of Adele Fendi, who began the family business as a leather and luggage shop in 1925, Silvia Fendi began her career at the Los Angeles Fendi boutique in the 1980s. She went on to create Fendissime, a Fendi line aimed at young people, and in 1992 rose to creative director of accessories. Since 2000, she has directed the men’s wear division.
“The fact that I’m a woman definitely makes me feel more attentive when I approach men’s wear,” she says. “It’s a bit the opposite of what people could think. I ask a lot of questions to myself. I focus on realistic silhouettes, and maybe I express my feminine side more in the use of materials. I’m more audacious when it comes to colors and materials.”
Leather and fur are at the core of the label, which became part of LVMH in 2001, and they also play a strong role in the clothes she designs for men. Fendi’s spring 2014 men’s line included fur coats, and the latest from the brand, which hit runways in June, featured leather pieces given the look and feel of denim. “Unconventional combinations are part of our DNA,” Fendi says. “But in the silhouettes and shapes, I keep a tight link with a real wardrobe.”
She says her long experience with the famed Fendi bags—Silvia is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the phenomenon of women signing waiting lists for a new handbag—has given her the right mind-set for the men’s business: “Men’s wear is closer to my approach, because it’s focused on functionality, which fits me. When I work on accessories, I can spend days, if not months, on a single detail or function. Since the changes in men’s wear are slighter than in women’s wear season after season, the dynamics are more similar to those of accessories.”
Describing what she is after, in general, in men’s clothing, she says, “Our men’s world is pretty organic—very masculine, quite primitive and wild, pretty laid-back.” And in keeping with the method she learned from her mentor, Karl Lagerfeld, who joined Fendi as creative director of the women’s collections in 1965, Silvia refuses to go with specific themes for a given collection.
“Inspirations are so many,” she says, “and trying to do something new, finding a reference in the past, is something Karl has always detested and taught me to detest. I start from materials—but there are no rules.”
The notion of giving the brand a major rehaul in time for the next fashion week does not fit her vision of what the typical man wants. “The days of the season’s trends are gone,” she says. “Seasonal trends don’t exist anymore! Our collections are timeless, and they don’t follow the schedule of presentations. There is always a link connecting one collection with the other.”
But if she favors an almost imperceptible continuity from season to season instead of knocking herself out in pursuit of the latest trend, where does she get her ideas? From simple observation, she says. Last June, for example, she outfitted her models for a catwalk show with Fendi Selleria leather headphones made in collaboration with Beats by Dre. “I think headphones can be considered a real object for everyday life,” she says. “Being an attentive watcher of life, I see that traveling is not just buying a ticket and going but also isolating yourself and walking to the office with your headphones, which brings you to a different dimension. I liked the idea of these men carrying a working or weekend bag and wearing their headphones, representing the concept of escape.”
She adds that a certain influence also comes from observing her son, Giulio Cesare Delettrez Fendi, 29. “He is very discreet and has very precise taste,” she says. “He grew up with a strong aesthetic sense, but he gives the impression that he doesn’t pay any attention. But it’s not like that! He plays like he doesn’t care, but every single detail tells you that it’s not true. He is not really interested in what I do, but if I ask him for an opinion, he gives it to me, and he can be very fierce. He doesn’t do a lot of shopping.”
While her son may represent a common type of male shopper, whose seeming indifference masks how much he cares about clothes, Silvia is steeped in fashion. At age six, she posed for Lagerfeld’s first Fendi campaign, and she breathes, speaks, and eats fashion. But her look is not that of the typical fashionista: The silhouettes of the clothes she wears are linear, and her signature color palette is black and white.
“The ideal wardrobe doesn’t exist,” she says. “I try to stay away from fashion diktats, and our men’s collections have very basic, interchangeable elements, details which are very Fendi but, at the same time, make the clothes easy to mix and match with other pieces. The idea of a man dressed in Fendi from head to toe makes me feel sick! I like to see personal touches. I’m very proud when I see a man reinterpreting our clothes in a personal way. I don’t love to see the same look of the catwalk on the street. I don’t feel like saying that the ideal wardrobe is a Fendi jacket with a Fendi coat with a Fendi shoe, all together.”
That’s a first—a creative director of a major fashion house whose ideal customer is someone who mixes in other brands.