When you drive into Rome’s city centre from the Fiumicino airport, you’re likely to see the Palazzo della Cività Italiana, otherwise known as the ‘Square Colosseum’ looming large, with its cuboid facade of six by nine arches confronting you squarely. As of late last year, this is where Fendi’s new headquarters are now based, housing over 500 employers. Criticism over a global luxury brand taking over this seminal piece of Fascist architecture initiated by Benito Mussolini in 1935, quickly becomes moot when you’re faced with this structure of travertine marble, flanked by statues of Greek gods. Especially when you come face to face with it, as I did last Thursday, when I took a quick jaunt to Rome, as an unexpected conclusion to fashion month.
I’ve been no stranger to Rome in the past year, having had the opportunity to come for extravagant shows staged by Valentino and Chanel. Fendi will be doing the same come July when they show their haute fourrure collection, but their rooted ties to this city were really made apparent on this trip as they celebrated primarily the reopening of Palazzo Fendi, their former headquarters, which now comprises the largest Fendi Boutique, an in-house fur atelier, a private apartment for VIP customers and a new Fendi boutique hotel as well as a Zuma restaurant. Roma is Fendi’s spiritual and physical casa and with the completion of the Palazzo and their new headquarters, that notion was made concrete… or technically speaking, made marble as various varieties of the Italian-sourced material was lavishly used everywhere we went.
My journey began with those ominous arches of Fendi’s new HQ, inside which is yet more expanse of marble and an exhibition of unrealised Italian futurist visions that curiously chime in aesthetically with Karl Lagerfeld’s recent collections for the house that play on incisive graphic lines and abstract depictions of architecture. Peeking through Fendi’s offices, visual merchandising office and their hushed fur atelier (sadly no photographs were allowed here), the scale of everything certainly dwarfs any maisons that I’ve visited in Paris or Milan. There’s an idiosyncrasy here that means houses like Fendi, Valentino and Gucci stand apart as they choose to base their operations out of a tradition-drenched city like Rome. It’s why even up on this vast rooftop, overlooking the city of Rome and the mountains beyond, Fendi’s Roman soul thrives.
Dan Thawley in Fendi menswear standing tall under the arches of the Palazzo della Civitá Italiana
That Roman experience becomes more intimate when you go into the city, right near the Spanish Steps, where Palazzo Fendi sits on a cross street between Via del Corso and Via Del Fontanella Borghese. A short walk away, you get to admire the fruits of another one of Fendi’s restoration projects at the Trevi Fountain. From monuments of dwarfing architecture and rationalist clean lines to Baroque classicism and then to contemporary art and eclectic interior design within the Palazzo, Fendi covers a lot of aesthetic ground with perhaps the linking thread being a projected idea of curated taste that naturally pervades over a Fendi handbag, a Casa Fendi cushion, a meal at Zuma or a stay at the Fendi Private Suites.
The centrepiece of the ground floor is undoubtedly the devastatingly beautiful red Lepanto marble staircase wrapping around a silver leaf enshrined glass elevator, backed with a bas relief sculpture of the Palazzo della Cività Italian. These gestures of grandeur are juxtaposed with more tactile moments such as Fendi’s fur collages that adorn the walls, sitting next to their stable offering of pom pom and Karlito trinkets, as well as the Brazilian Campana brothers’ furniture creation entitled The Armchair of Thousand Eyes.
Upstairs houses the women’s ready to wear as well as Fendi’s first in-store working fur atelier, where clients can customise bespoke made-to-order furs. It’s a smaller functioning version of the atelier at Fendi’s new headquarters, complete with paper machetes of coats as well as a mesmerising handiwork of women hand stitching tough materials together, instructed by Lagerfeld’s sketches. You can also personalise handbag styles with different leathers. The atelier’s handiwork is on display in the shape of an electric blue bouquet wall art.
>Big Growth Tablebronze table by artist Mathias Bengtsson
Standing on a dream marble surface in a Toga dress, Mansur Gavriel clutch and Meadham Kirchhoff shoes in front of Analogia Project’s rendering of the Square Colosseum’s facade
On the side of the Palazzo Fendi, a discrete separate entrance leads you up to Zuma, where Rome peeps can deviate from carciofi and carbonara, and also to Fendi’s first hotel, comprising of seven private suites designed by architect Marco Constanzi. Up on the third floor, a close-knit arrangement of rooms is framed by yet more of that deep green Favakir and red Lepanto marble, coffee table books and some seriously lush vintage furniture. Lest you’re overwhelmed by all these beautifully conceived and highly tasteful interiors, you also have some lovely personal touches such as Moleskine notebooks, which you can personalise with funny Fendi rubber stamps and an animated guide to Rome with restaurant and sightseeing recommendations. I happened to taste three of their reccies on my weekend away in Rome – all ridiculously delicious – not that you can go far wrong with Roman cuisine.
Mr Lagerfeld hadn’t checked in yet as we got to snoop around his room first…
The pièce de résistance perhaps is a part of the Palazzo that few will get to experience in person. A ride up that central glass circular elevator, you arrive at the second floor. What was once Fendi’s former headquarters and offices is now what they’re calling the Palazzo Privé designed by the acclaimed Dimore Studio based in Milan. They nail an interior that is simultaneously intimate and impressive with their choice of vintage furniture, contemporary artwork and bespoke pieces. The foundations of vaulted ceilings, huge windows and intricate stucco work are made distinguished by the unusual choice of pastel sage walls and conversation pieces like a metal framed bookcase with Cathedral glass that divides the living and dining areas or a vertical neon light fixture that criss crosses its way across the foyer. In a cosy fitting room to the side, a shaved mink Fendi day bed coupled with a painted Art Deco screen, is the touch of humour that balances out with the spectacular interiors and well-judged taste level. This Privé haven will be reserved for the use of VIP clients and friends of the house.
That Fendi is a fashion house from Rome is common knowledge. With the reopening of the multi-pronged Palazzo Fendi, combined with their imposing headquarters looming over the city, those hometown ties become even more pronounced. All of Fendi’s roads do indeed lead to Rome.