Profile in Style

Silvia Venturini Fendi’s Playful Sort of Luxury

“I always say that I was born into a very special yet very peculiar family,” says Silvia Venturini Fendi, whose official involvement with the storied Italian fashion house her grandparents founded in 1925 began at age 6, when she appeared in a Fendi ad wearing a beaver bomber jacket and matching hat. “I didn’t quite understand what my family did for a living, but I knew I just had to be a part of it.” It was Venturini Fendi’s mother and four aunts who hired Karl Lagerfeld as creative director in 1965 and turned the company, which got its start selling umbrellas and leather trunks out of a small pellicceria (or fur shop) on Rome’s Via del Plebiscito, into an international force. Lagerfeld scribbled a sketch of the iconic (and once again ubiquitous) logo of double F’s upon his arrival, and added women’s ready-to-wear just over a decade later. To Venturini Fendi, Lagerfeld has been a lifelong mentor.

When she was in her early 20s — after stints answering phones, gift-wrapping and picking up stray sewing pins off the atelier floors with a magnet — Venturini Fendi decided to try her own hand at designing. Her biggest coup came in 1997, when she created the Baguette, an oblong, short-strapped pochette meant to be tucked just under the shoulder. The “it” bag of the ’90s, with more than 1,000 iterations made with everything from embroidered silk to mosaiclike beadwork, it reappeared on the runway last fall. “I had been seeing all the cool kids posting their mothers’ Baguettes on Instagram,” explains Venturini Fendi, who since 2000 has overseen the brand’s men’s wear, an eccentric mix of graphic street styles and more traditional Italian tailoring that exuberantly plays with expectations. That distressed denim shirt? It’s actually bonded leather. Those crocodile panels on a biker jacket? Turns out they’re neoprene. This element of surprise extends to the Rome-based designer’s larger ideas about masculinity, too: “I like to accentuate a man’s more vulnerable sides,” she says. “And to create elusive things that always leave you wanting to know more.”

Credit...Courtesy of Fendi, 2018

“That’s me. The portrait was taken in October near our Fendi headquarters, which is in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, a de Chirico-like marble building commissioned by Mussolini in 1943. I hate seeing pictures of myself, but I like what I’m wearing: a caramel coat with Fendi’s Zucca logo on the collar and a super-geometric silk shirt from my recent men’s collection.”

Credit...From left: Nico Vascellari, “Dream Merda,” courtesy of Fendi; Courtesy of Formafantasma, photo by Luisa Zanzani

Left: “A neon installation by the artist Nico Vascellari in the entrance of my home, a very old house in the center of Rome that once belonged to my grandmother Adele. Nico is my daughter Delfina Delettrez’s partner and shares my strange sense of humor, which you see in his cheeky anagrams like this one, called “Dream Merda.” When I come home at night, the hall is always illuminated bright red, which makes me feel as though I’ve entered another dimension.”

Right: “This cork vase is from a 2012 collaboration we did with the Amsterdam-based studio Formafantasma. It incorporates pig and cow bladders — the designers make use of waste from the food industry. It’s poetic but also primitive and strong, which is very Fendi.”

Credit...From left: Insectmania brooch, courtesy of Delfina Delettrez; Photo by Karl Lagerfeld

Left: “I wear this oversize prasiolite and pearl brooch by my daughter Delfina, who’s a jewelry designer, all the time. Though I’m partial, I think she’s so imaginative. The brilliance of the piece is that it’s totally flexible, so it moves whenever you move, almost like an actual beetle. Even its little legs come alive. I like to dress like a nun, but when I pin it on a simple black shirt, it becomes the conversation of the evening.”

Right: “Here is the entire Fendi family in 1989 at a traditional Roman trattoria. Obviously, there are a lot of us — you can see my mother, my aunts, my sisters. I’m in the back, on the right, with Delfina on my lap. We have big lunches and dinners like this all the time, so we can talk about work ideas in an informal way. There’s nothing more Italian than sitting around a table eating pasta.”

Credit...Courtesy of Fendi (2)

Left: “My spring 2019 show drew on anagrams — ‘Fendi’ became ‘Fiend’ and ‘Roma’ became ‘Amor’ — alchemical symbols and the dual realms of hell and paradise. It was also about elevating street wear. This white guayabera shirt looks like a simple cotton, but it’s actually a fantastic suede, while the intarsia of colorful stripes is made of leather. I like things that appear a certain way but are entirely different when you touch them. Like little magic tricks.”

Right: “Karl Lagerfeld took this Polaroid of me in the late ’70s at his house in Monte Carlo. Everything was Memphis-style (he was an early adopter), including the boxing ring where we are having tea before going to dinner at the Hôtel de Paris. Though I was still a wild party girl at the time, I’d just started working for the brand and was in Monaco for the weekend to pick up Karl’s sketches for a new collection. Things took so much longer before email, but they were much more personal.”

Credit...From left: © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos; Joel Sternfeld, “Summer Interns Having Lunch, Wall Street, New York, New York, August 1987”

Left: “Photography can be a fascinating witness to time, so I’m constantly pinning snapshots and old pictures on my mood boards. Martin Parr’s 1997 image of a simple cup of tea helped inspire my spring 2018 men’s show, for which the artist Sue Tilley painted ordinary objects onto totes, knits and jackets.”

Right: “I also looked to Joel Sternfeld’s image of Wall Street summer interns eating lunch in the late ’80s. The collection was about pairing street wear and tailoring, as in wearing a business shirt and tie on top with Bermuda shorts below. I call that ‘the Skype look.’”

Credit...Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“Slim Aarons’s portraits of jet-set society are a nostalgic reminder of a period that will never come back. I love this 1975 photo of La Concha Beach Club in Acapulco in particular, because the pink stripes recall Fendi’s own."

Credit...Clockwise from top left: Richard Isaac/Shutterstock; Fendi & Cristina Celestino, “The Happy Room,” 2016, courtesy of Fendi; Courtesy of Fendi

Top left: “Whenever I’m in Cuba, I visit Coppelia, which is where everyone in Havana goes for ice cream — the ’60s-era structure was built around nature, with lush jungle greens juxtaposed against the clean modern lines. Being a Roman, I need to have my gelato.”

Center: “This 2000 edition of the Baguette was made with the Lisio Foundation, which manufactures fabrics on looms from the 19th century. The chestnut and grape brocade was done by hand — the artisans could only do about 15 centimeters’ worth a day. The buckle is real gold, but this bag isn’t bling-bling — it’s more of a museum piece.”

Right: “So many artists are part of the Fendi gang. We’ve shown at Design Miami for 10 years now and, in 2016, teamed up with the architect and furniture designer Cristina Celestino, who made cocktail tables topped with graphic Roman travertine, red Lepanto marble and onyx. The best thing about them is their satin brass bases, shaped to resemble the backs of giant studded earrings.”