ROME — Silvia Venturini Fendi embraces the light.
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The granddaughter of Adele Fendi, who founded the family business with a leather goods and luggage shop here in 1925, is seated on a sofa bathed in the Roman spring light in her office at the company’s headquarters at Palazzo della Civiltà. She sports a new haircut, a short blonde bob that looks much lighter than the one reproduced on a toy version of herself — a mini-Silvia — on a shelf behind her shoulders.
Quiet and reserved in public, in private Venturini Fendi is witty and ironic — characteristics that she likes to imbue in the Fendi men’s collections, which she has been designing since 2000.
“A sense of lightness is very important for us,” she said of the brand. “We are extremely serious when it comes to selecting the best materials and executing the most exquisite craftsmanship, but everything must be always permeated by irony and playfulness. I always try to express my personal point of view on things but in a very discreet way. With the latest collection, the goal was to bring some optimism in a very delicate moment.”
The designer translated this search for optimism into a fall collection that exuded dynamism and functionality. The lineup was filled with wearable men’s staples, mainly worked in feather-light technical fabrics and luxury fur, peppered with bold colors such as electric tangerine, bubblegum pink, bright green and cobalt, as well as sportswear-inspired details and playful touches.
“The men’s division is very young compared to the women’s, and we are really shaping the image of the Fendi man — we are delivering collections which are more and more precise. We are keen to deliver real clothes, which are effortless and easy-breezy. This is particularly crucial in the men’s business where functionality is so important,” explained the designer.
“I never start from a specific idea. I continue to change my mind until the last minute, otherwise the whole thing would look too didactic. I start from images, colors, I say something and then a minute later I say the opposite. I always look at the previous collection for something I wanted to further elaborate and didn’t have time to do…So that’s a good starting point. There must be a link between collections — it’s a constant evolution.”
Her latest collection was influenced by the social and political messages of the moment and she communicated her feelings of hope through the use of keywords, such as “Love,” “Try,” and “Yes.” These appeared on both the clothes and accessories, including the lineup’s signature headbands.
“I see a great return of activism in the fashion industry. I think fashion has the power to communicate important things in a moment where everybody is worried. Fashion has a unifying power. But this has to be done with a light hand, without arrogance,” she said.
In this case, she elaborated her own manifesto by thinking about the words that express Fendi’s values as well as its first vehicle of branding communication: the logo.
“For me, the Fendi logo is not just a logo, it’s much more. It means family, pride, Karl [Lagerfeld, Fendi women’s creative director since 1965], 90 years of business, it means involvement. It’s like a guarantee seal. So I started thinking about several words connected with our logo and its meanings. I looked for simple, ordinary, yet important and embraceable words,” she explained. “For example, ‘Yes’ — it’s harder to say yes than no, it implies a commitment; ‘Try,’ it’s about persisting in setting aside prejudices. I took Ernest Hemingway’s quotes from Wikipedia — someone may object it’s too banal, but I think that nowadays normality is everything. I think we currently need few rules, but they have to be simple and direct. It’s a difficult world we are living in, so I think it was relevant to say simple things, which are actually relevant for everybody.”
Venturini Fendi’s decision to express her personal point of view through the use of key words also reflects her constant interest in younger generations. Her children help: Giulio Cesare Delettrez Fendi, 32; Delfina Delettrez Fendi, 29, and Leonetta Fendi, 20.
“Young people, who I look at when I imagine the typical Fendi man, use words a lot. They speak less, but they write more. They write about what they like, about what they want,” she said, praising the positive impact of digital communication on social relationships. “The digital world is fun. When it started, I was kind of snobby, but then Leonetta [her daughter] opened my Instagram account and I started enjoying it. It enables you to remain connected to people you know or meet new ones. It’s easier to break boundaries among people online, it’s not true that we don’t communicate anymore.”
Venturini Fendi’s blend of whimsy and ultimate luxury, the classic with cutting-edge materials, has helped position Fendi as one of the most influential brands in men’s wear.
“We have a lot of pride, we want to be leaders, not followers, and we do this from a position of outsiders since we are based in Rome, which is now much cooler than it was in the past, but it’s definitely not a fashion capital,” she said. Perhaps because of this different point of view, Fendi “probably manages to leave a mark by looking where others don’t.”
The Fendi men’s line, unlike the women’s division, is not supported by advertising but nonetheless manages to grow, although since the company became part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2001, detailed figures are not made public.
“Currently the men’s Fendi business is very strong, primarily driven by whimsical motifs such as the Monster, Karlito, etc.,” said Barneys New York’s executive vice president Tom Kalendarian, confirming the brand’s growth. “Fendi men’s offers a lighter side of luxury, drawing on a high contrast between the over-the-top luxurious materials with artisan construction and a playful approach to design.”
Fendi is also a high-performing brand on Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s designer floor, according to men’s fashion director Bruce Pask.
“Fendi has done a terrific job captivating the Goodman’s customer with its clever ‘Monster’ and ‘Karlito’ character driving sportswear, footwear, and leather goods,” he said. “The brand’s development of these colorful, graphic-driven collections continues to capture the interest of our customer. Spring’s cabana stripes and abstract portraits are poppy and fun and I was especially happy with the capsule ski collection just presented in January. ‘Monster’ parkas, bibbed snow pants, hats, and gloves are sure to be hits on the slopes.”