That overlap is particularly pronounced when it comes to accessories. Venturini Fendi—who ignited the It bag phenomenon in the Nineties with her invention of the Baguette—is, at the end of the day, a product designer. “Making a chair or a sofa is very similar to making a bag,” she said. “There is always the functional aspect of the object that you have to take into consideration, technical issues you have to resolve.”
Fendi has always been known for its technical prowess and artisanal approach. The day after the opening of Design Miami, Venturini Fendi walked the audience through the company’s history during a panel discussion with designer Ron Arad and hip-hop impresario Pharrell Williams. “We are responsible for a revolution,” she said of the house’s innovative treatment of pelts, which has included shearing them, weaving them, dyeing them with camouflage, and even dipping them in 24-karat gold. “Before, there was nothing more boring than a fur coat. I’m probably very peculiar in the world of fashion,” she added. “I don’t consider myself a stylist or a creator—I’m an artisan.”
Taking a trip to Rome is the best way to grasp this commitment to craft. While the advent of ready-to-wear put an end to its days as a fashion capital, a number of talented local designers still quietly dress le signore eleganti. AltaRoma, the fashion trade group of which Venturini Fendi serves as president, recently published a magazine called A.I. Artisanal Intelligence, featuring dozens of young creators who make modern work in the old manner. Jeans are handcrafted from Japanese denim; vintage millinery techniques are employed to make big, bright hats. Another publication, A Tailor-Made Guidebook: Rome, lists 239 purveyors of custom-made men’s wear and accessories. In an introduction to the book, Venturini Fendi recalled her childhood trips to a dressmaker—the experience of the fittings, how the fabric seemed to come alive. “I have always thought that a handmade suit has a soul,” she wrote.
Fendi, like many of these creators, began as a modest leather and fur workshop in Rome. Established on the Via del Plebiscito by Edoardo and Adele Fendi in 1925, it quickly earned an elegant reputation. By the Forties their five daughters—Paola, Carla, Franca, Alda, and Silvia’s mother, Anna—had joined the firm. In 1965 the sisters hired Karl Lagerfeld, who brought with him a cutting-edge sensibility and an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion. The house had expanded into ready-to-wear by the Seventies, giving Fendi an international presence. Today, though Lagerfeld continues to oversee fur and ready-to-wear, it is Venturini Fendi, the only family member still active in the now LVMH-owned business, who runs the most profitable wing of the house: Two thirds of sales come from accessories.