During the tumultuous turnover, even Lagerfeld threatened to leave the house, a thought that frequently crosses Fendi’s mind at times as well. “Yes, there are moments like that,” she acknowledges. “They are very often. But I’m strong.”
“I think Silvia had a hard time to step from a mental position of being a Fendi within the Fendi family to being in the LVMH group, with no Fendi family around,” says Fendissime alum and close friend Giambattista Valli, one of a number of designers who apprenticed with her. (Others include Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, the newly named creative directors of Valentino, as well as Gucci’s Frida Giannini.) “You have to be like a chameleon and change the color of your skin,” Valli continues. “But she did it. She’s staying over there because she’s extremely talented. She showed everybody.”
After all, this is the woman responsible for the Fendi cult hits: the Spy Bag, the B Bag and, of course, the Baguette. The latter’s debut was a Nineties fashion moment, one that helped kick-start the craze for the elusive It bag, a quest that remains a designer obsession today. Fendi, however, has moved on, saying she’s over the It. “Everybody has an It bag. They think they’re going to change the world,” she says. “In the end, you see many ugly, cheap, awful bags. It’s like vomiting over bags, full of studs and hardware and metal—embellishment just to make people look rich.” Hence the Peekaboo, her new design for spring, with its pared-down exterior and luxed-up interior. The roomy side pockets drape gently to expose gold threaded canvas here, a jolt of butter-soft electric blue snakeskin there. “I wanted to have a normal, banal bag but with a twist,” Fendi says. “So the inside is more interesting than the outside. It’s a more private luxury.” She pauses. “I think the word ‘luxury’ has been overused to mean expensiveness. Real luxury is personal.”
Fendi also disdains the notion of fame, which is perhaps surprising given the nature of her business. “Today you take pictures with a celebrity, which I can’t stand,” Fendi vents, campily mimicking being caught by a paparazzi flash. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s me! I’m going to have lots of press with this!’ I also see many, many people who become crazy. I think it’s good not to pretend you are God because you are in fashion.” If she’s thinking about anyone in particular, she doesn’t say.
“Silvia doesn’t like the frivolous part of fashion,” remarks Fendi CEO Michael Burke. “She’s deep; she likes to think things through.” Case in point: the inspiration behind her latest shoes and belts. Fendi created graphic trompe l’oeil stilettos on wedge heels “to represent the dualism of tradition and the avant-garde that has always been at Fendi,” she says, while she designed her wide belts with a hole at the center in lieu of a buckle. “The idea was to have a belt that was not a belt. Sometimes absence is more than presence, no?”