Waste Land

Fendi’s Craft Punk takes out the trash and turns it into art.

by Alessandra Ilari


The gunmetal mannequins had once been draped in expensive clothes, the centerpieces of any number of Fendi store windows. But now Massimiliano Adami was disassembling them, limb from torso from limb, with the calm concentration of a surgeon. Next he placed the hollow body parts into a big transparent container and drizzled layers of vivid-hued liquid resin over the pile. After the resin hardened, he sawed the form into smaller cubes. A bit macabre, yes, but this was art.

Simon Hasan’s leather vases, molded from Fendi shoe lasts.

Adami, an Italian artist who studied industrial design at Milan’s Politecnico, swapped his usual old TV sets, colorful toys and dish-detergent bottles for the Fendi mannequins as part of Craft Punk, the three-day event held in April at Spazio Fendi and cohosted by the fashion house and Design Miami, one of the world’s most prominent contemporary and historical design fairs.

While Fendi’s Milan headquarters may be best known for its runway affairs, this time a bustling old-village environment replaced the catwalk to accommodate what Silvia Venturini Fendi, accessories director at the storied house, describes as “current-day workshops.” Here, 10 artists and collectives lived and breathed their projects for 72 hours, making them from start to finish. Even the backstage area—normally a controlled chaos of models, makeup artists and photographers—was transformed into a dormlike Big Brother setting of makeshift sleeping cubicles, as well as a kitchen area replete with deep-seated couches and espresso machines. “Maybe one day these men and women will be sleeping at the Four Seasons, but regardless, we were interested in conveying the real value of things,” says Fendi. “One can become a star by starting out in a genuine manner.” And unlike a typical fashion show, Craft Punk was a democratic, open-door occasion, attracting a loyal public (upwards of 1,500 visitors a day) who interacted with the artists throughout the evolution of their designs.

The artsy gauntlet is near and dear to both Fendi and Ambra Medda, director and cofounder of Design Miami. Fendi is quick to point out that Craft Punk was by no means “just another publicity stunt but a serious and genuine project aimed at emphasizing creative freedom and manual skills.” She and Medda, who met last year, selected the heterogeneous crop of on-the-verge artists with hopes that they would capture some of the abandoned values of time-honored craftsmanship. Or, as Fendi puts it: “Few people today realize that there’s more need for good artisans than yet another computer programmer.”

The purpose that fueled the exhibit was simple, not to mention environmentally friendly: to create unconventional artwork using leftover materials from Fendi’s factories, which would otherwise be destined for the trash can. “We want people to reapproach the word ‘craft’ by reclaiming it from the world of folksy quilting and re-engage it with the simple notion of things made by hand,” explains Medda, the daughter of Austrian artist and gallerist Giuliana Medda. “Real genius doesn’t need a huge amount of money to do something great.” While Medda is deeply versed in the house of Fendi (she rarely leaves home without her Peekaboo bag), most of the Craft Punk artists admit they knew little of the double-F logo before the event. Still, five of the 10 participants accepted the challenge (the remaining five opted to work with their own materials instead), scooping up Fendi castoffs, from bits of leather, plastic and fabric to shoe lasts and those store mannequins.

Sarah Becker’s blinged-out bag.

Fendi mannequins about to be transformed by Massimiliano Adami.

Spanish artist Nacho Carbonell, for one, was armed with just a stapler as he diligently covered his animal-shaped chicken-wire forms with swatches of earth-toned and brightly colored suede. A few feet away, Peter Marigold, a Ron Arad protégé, delved into boxes full of red, fuchsia, turquoise and green leather pieces. Used to working with metal and wood, Marigold admitted to being initially bewildered by the “alien” materials he eventually transformed into harlequinesque coffee-table blocks that fit together. Before Craft Punk, he traveled to Rome to get an insider’s perspective at a Fendi factory. “Just to see the level of craftsmanship in patternmaking was great,” Marigold says. “I mean, these old ladies have been doing it for years, and the old guys cutting out leather with razor blades—absolutely artisan work.”

For those who couldn’t make it to Rome, Fendi flew one of its seasoned technicians to Milan to dispatch precious advice over the course of the three days. Simon Hasan, a 2008 Royal College of Art graduate, took full advantage of the opportunity, asking the craftsman to help him stitch together his quirky collection of leather vases. “He’s so much better and quicker than me,” says Hasan. “He showed me some nice tips about threading the needle and finishing the edges. I’ll definitely be practicing.” The stitching, though, was one of the last steps of Hasan’s lengthy process, a technique that harks back to the 15th century, when solidified hides were used for armor and chest plates. Hasan wrapped Fendi-supplied hides around old wooden shoe lasts and blocks, then boiled them. Two days later, the stiff leather shells were sewn together.

Slovakian Tomáš Gabzdil Libertiny, whose Honey­comb Vase was recently acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, was lucky enough to nab Fendi’s leather trenchcoat, pants and shoes—all from its fall 2008 collection—to wear as protective gear while he welded stainless steel into a large, hollow doughnut-shaped sculpture.

Yet it was Danish accessories and textile designer Sarah Becker, whose past stints include collaborations with John Galliano and MaxMara, who felt most at home in the house of Fendi. It’s fitting, then, that she stuck to her craft, going to town with Fendi’s scraps—leather, buttons, chains, fur and logoed canvas—to make blingy bags and costume jewelry with a punk undercurrent. Becker displayed her finished products atop asymmetrical stacks of yellow Fendi boxes.

Though the house’s throwaways stimulated the creative whims of some participants, Studio Glithero’s Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren chose to use non-Fendi materials to make their ceramic vases, whose Prussian-blue color was created by UV rays. And it was just this project that caught the discerning eye of Silvia Venturini Fendi. “Their vases are very poetic,” she says. “I love the blue, and, visually speaking, they are probably the least shocking of all the items.”

Tomás Gabzdil Libertiny at work on his stainless steel sculpture.

It wasn’t only Fendi who took a liking to Studio Glithero’s masterpieces, not to mention many of the other artists’. While Craft Punk was meant to be a noncommercial endeavor, several pieces were purchased by the public for prices that ranged from $400 to $20,000. “After the first day, the [artists] were like, ‘What do we do? Everybody wants to buy this stuff from us. We weren’t even prepared for it,’” notes Fendi CEO Michael Burke. “These designers were taken aback because they didn’t expect it. But I said, ‘Just tell them yes.’” And with that, one man’s trash became another’s treasure.