"I keep curiosity alive. I never say never, and never say ever. I'm open to change, to new perspectives." Silvia Venturini Fendi
I've become fairly ballsy when it comes to interviewing people. Backstage in the throng of shows, I have no fear when it comes to getting a quickie quote or two. An in the flesh Twitter Talk with someone, who has never ever done one at a house that has only just begun ramping up their digital engagement – that's a whole different type of interview altogether. When Silvia Venturini Fendi agreed to take part in Fendi's first ever Twitter talk #FendiTalks and I was asked to come to Rome for a day to conduct the Q&A, I jumped at the chance to return to a city, which I last visited on a school trip aged 14, more intrigued by a school trip with the local boys school than the wonders of Roman architecture. That said, I was fairly petrified about guiding Fendi into Twitter talk territory for the first time, taking Silvia Venturini Fendi along for the ride.
Turns out my fears were completely unfounded. One of the stand out answers that she gave in the quote above summed up her can-do and will-do attitude towards a digital experience that would put off most other fashion creative directors. In fact all her answers suited the 140 character requirements of Twitter – to the point, direct and no off-piste tangents. Rome wasn't built in a day (yup, I'm pulling out all the Rome-related sayings just for this occasion) but Fendi did manage to pop their Twitter talk cherry with aplomb. You can read the full conversation on Fendi's Twitter account, where SVF talks about her love of Rome, having fun with fur and the relationship between the worlds of design and fashion.
As if being invited into Silvia Venturini Fendi's office to have a Twitter tete a tete wasn't enough of an experience, I was also given a whirlwind tour around Fendi's closeted accessory atelier, something that has never been granted to either journalist or blogger. This is the beating heart of Fendi as it were, with bags and accessories being the bread and butter of the business, and even with the expected restrictions imposed on photography, it was incredibly interesting to see a workplace where ideas for the next "IT" bag gestate. Silvia Venturini Fendi is of course instrumental in creating a HIT/IT bag culture at Fendi, being the creator of the house's famous baguette bag. With that stroke of bag genius, the baguette is Fendi's icon which has justifiably entering pop culture, anchored by memorable moments in shows like Sex and the City. The hits kept on coming with the B, the Spy and the Peekaboo all having their moments and right now, in an unexpectedly whimsical moment, Silvia Venturini Fendi explored the idea of Fun Fur and what started off as a plain fur-covered geometric cube, kind of like those fur dice car ornaments, then grew a pair of eyes and became baggie monsters or Bag Bugs as Fendi have dubbed them. These bugs have lingered long after their A/W 13-4 and they've turned up for S/S 14, this time with Swarovski eyes and the idea seems to have given Fendi a freshened up angle to get a younger clientale interested in this famed house.
Speaking to the design team as they showed me their moodboards and the materials that they have developed in the past, at the heart of the house of Fendi is technical accomplishment. It's why even the people who sit on the fence about fur (that would be me – please see previous posts/statements about fur as I'm not going to delve into it here) can't deny the aesthetic feats that this house has achieved with a material that was previously used as a raw status symbol – as Silvia Venturini Fendi puts it – "the bigger the coat, the bigger the wallet" was fur's yesteryear. Combine that with the leather and exotic skins that Fendi is also famed for and their cheeky interplay between real and synthetic materials, the house knows no bounds when it comes to technical prowess. Marco de Vincenzo, who has launched out on his own, is still a key designer in Fendi's accessories atelier and he told me that Silvia Venturini Fendi always tells them that anything is possible – there is nothing that Fendi can't have made if they push for it. For the pre-fall 2014 collection, they play with the idea of contrasting the animalistic with something superficial, something that marries well with the bug eye motif that peek out with furry eyebrows from a baguette bag. I loved it when Silvia Venturini Fendi talk about being attracted to the "disgusting" things. "I love disgusting. I love it when someone at the factory says it looks disgusting," says Fendi. "It means that from a mistake, you can learn something new. I love a challenge." She also admits to loving competition – "I love it when every (label) is creating beautiful bags." It's this constant questioning of taste that keeps Silvia and her team on their toes, to keep striving for something new and different.
Bag bugs may be riding a popularity wave right now but Silvia Venturini Fendi isn't resting on her laurels. On the desk opposite Silvia's sat a trio of leather covered squirrels – prototype cuddly toys to accompany Fendi's childrenswear, that are more than likely to get the attention of the parents as well the kids, judging by the reactions of everyone (including a very VERY excited me – that's down to my sister and I playing an imaginary game called Squirrels and Hedgehogs when we were young and had no toys). Just another curveball to add to the Fendi story. They may have jumped on the digital wagon later than others but it seems that when they catch up, there's a compelling story that awaits.