As a teenager, Silvia Venturini Fendi dreamed of plastering her walls with posters of her pop-star idols. But even in a young girl’s bedroom, a Roman palazzo isn’t up for redecoration. “I couldn’t hang posters because there were frescos,” she recalls. “I could only hang them inside my cupboards, so that’s where I had all my favourite singers and groups.” In the Fendi family, the conversation between the past and the present is constant.
It’s why, over the course of the autumn/winter 2021 season, the house launched multifaceted collaborations from its ‘Fendace’ capsule collection with Donatella Versace to a collaboration with Kim Kardashian’s shapewear Skims, and a comprehensive project in which heritage artisans from every corner of Italy interpreted the Baguette handbag through their age-old crafts. In December, Fendi found itself at Design Miami to showcase a collaboration even more niche: a Fendi Casa furniture line with designer Peter Mabeo, titled Kompa.
The first furniture project to be commissioned by Kim Jones, who joined Fendi as artistic director of womenswear in 2020, the collaboration is itself a conversation between the contrasts that drive the Roman luxury empire. “With Fendi, what’s most important to me is the relationship,” Mabeo says while showing us his pieces at Design Miami. “What happens in between the processes has to be as beautiful as the end result, or it has to be as important. Initially, I was a little bit hesitant because of the scale difference: the degrees of separation. But when I got to meet people, it became very intimate and personal. All of a sudden, it’s not a collaboration between structures, but a collaboration between people who have a similar interest in craft.” Born in Botswana in 1971, Peter Mabeo – who is self- taught – specialises in employing the craftsmanship native to his homeland in interior design and has created furniture for hotels including the Andaz in New York, the Giulia in Milan and the Nobis in Stockholm.
“Peter comes from Botswana, where Kim lived as a child,” says Venturini Fendi over coffee at the Setai Hotel in Miami Beach. “We all know Kim’s passion for Africa and African craftsmanship. I think this really represents us very well and it represents Fendi in terms of the human touch.” As artistic director of menswear and accessories at her LVMH-owned family house, she’s in town to launch the Mabeo collaboration alongside her daughter, Delfina Delettrez Fendi. Two nights before, they celebrated Jones at the Fashion Awards in London where he was proclaimed designer of the year. When he joined Fendi, Jones appointed Delettrez – an accomplished jeweller – as artistic director of jewellery. Now, the oval O’Lock logo earring she designed for Jones’ first Fendi collection has been interpreted in a cylindrical wooden chair by Mabeo. It’s one of 10 pieces in the Kompa collection, each of which was created by different artisans in Botswana, many of whom are not furniture-makers.
“Within the confines of where I live, I thought, ‘I’m going to engage as many different craftspeople as I can.’ It involved a lot of distance,” says Mabeo, recalling how he travelled across Botswana to supervise the making of pieces as diverse as a chair moulded in clay, a ‘conversation piece’ welded in metal and a chiffonier woven like a basket. In Botswana, he says, “Furniture is something that’s totally foreign. There’s a tradition for objects that support the body, but furniture is something different. Clay has never been used in furniture. It’s been used in vessels. It has very good insulating properties, so you can use it for water carriers. In this case, it’s about how to push it beyond that in an experimental way. I engaged all these craftspeople who work in very basic, rudimentary ways. I wanted to express that in a way that harmonises with Fendi.”
The result is a style of furniture that echoes Fendi’s Italian modernist core but fuses it with a handcrafted sense of warmth that feels organic and unpredictable. Throughout the process, Jones and the Fendi family gave Mabeo carte blanche. “The brief that we gave Peter was not to have a brief. We gave him total freedom,” says Venturini Fendi. “But at the same time, he knew that some of these pieces would be produced for Fendi Casa. It’s not only for supporting creativity. It has commercial aspects, also.” For Fendi, furniture is big business. Venturini Fendi’s mother Anna – founders Adele and Edoardo Fendi’s daughter, who modernised the house with her four sisters – launched Fendi Casa in 1987. “When I asked her why, she said, ‘Since I’m never home, I decided to bring home to my workplace.’ She really felt a need to do it,” says Venturini Fendi.
Anna’s passion for interiors didn’t just affect the walls of her daughter’s teenage bedroom, it shaped the young heiress’s appreciation for furniture design. “One day I asked my mother,
‘Can you please change the sofa and the two armchairs? They are very uncomfortable when we watch television,’” says Venturini Fendi. “They were made of wood. No pillows. She said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t change them. Those chairs are made by Arne Jacobsen.’ From that moment, I understood that an armchair is not just an armchair. There’s a story behind it.”
Venturini Fendi’s own daughter recognises the pattern. “To my mum, the house wasn’t just a house where you’d go to bed, but a place where she’d understand who she was,” says Delettrez, who sometimes dreamed of having her own apartment when she was young so she could do whatever she wanted. “When you look at your house and the things you have chosen for it, it’s a constant mirror of who you are. So, yeah, form comes before comfort. A chair isn’t just a chair.” Neither is the one Mabeo designed using the new Fendi logo Delettrez designed for the O’Lock earring, a daunting challenge.
In 1965, Karl Lagerfeld – whom Delettrez has referred to as an uncle – drew the double-F logo, which crowns her family house. Designing a new one, she must have felt the spirit of the late artistic director breathing down her neck? “A bit, yes. I felt the pressure, but not only from Karl. To me, the Fendi logo is detached from the concept of logo-mania. It’s almost my family crest. There was a lot of emotional meaning in that. To create a logo that travels and ends up on a wooden chair in Botswana is beautiful.” Logo furniture is a concept that could easily go the wrong way, but, as Delettrez observes, Mabeo translates the O’Lock into a form and function that transcend branding. To the third-generation millennial Fendi heiress, that was key. “When I was a kid, I asked my mum for a Gucci bag. She said, ‘What? Why do you want a Gucci bag and not a Fendi bag?’ I said, ‘Mum, it’s like going out and wearing my passport! My friends laugh at me,’” Delettrez recalls. “And she understood.”
Today, seeing the Fendi logo in the street is still “completely pop and surreal,” says Delettrez. “If I see a lady wearing a Fendi bag, to me that colour combination was almost our wallpaper. It’s so intimate. It speaks so much about who we are [as a] family.” Does she ever see someone she wishes wouldn’t wear Fendi? “Many times,” she laughs. “It’s hilarious. Once, we were flying back from Cuba and there was this guy in all Fendi logos, with Fs cut into his hair. And he had no idea who my mum was, so she sat down and they started talking. It was too good! Imagine if he’d known he was talking to Mrs Fendi.” If wearing a house’s logo is a symbiosis between the brand and the individual, sitting on it is certainly a support system in its own right. For Mabeo, using the logo was part of the dialogue that’s vital to his creative process.
“I had the opportunity to visit the Fendi archive. That’s where it consciously or subconsciously happens. In some instances, we took direct inspiration – like the O’Lock earring – or some of the curves that were inspired by the building,” he says, referring to Fendi’s monumental Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana headquarters in Rome with its Colosseum-esque arches. “But the inspiration for me is more the ability to work together. Everything else is secondary. My conversations with Delfina, the subsequent conversations I had with the craftspeople about what this could be… it’s a very basic way of approaching things, but with a lot of respect.” It’s why the Kompa collection feels natural to the Fendi universe. “In a way, it’s classicism and modernism together,” Venturini Fendi says. “But nothing is what it looks like. You don’t know if it’s wood or clay or what it is. That’s very Fendi.”
At Milan’s Salone del Mobile in April, Fendi will reveal which of Mabeo’s pieces have been put into production. Venturini Fendi already has her eyes on the basket-woven chiffonier: “For sure!” Her daughter, who says her taste in interiors is more industrial than her mother’s, might lean towards the harder pieces. “I am more industrial-meets-organic-and-the-modern,” Delettrez says. “But we both like the unexpected: absurd combinations; things that are not necessarily ‘beautiful’.” At the heart of Fendi, however, it always comes down to the artisanal: the hand-spun, the rare and the exceptional. As Mabeo observes of the collaboration: “In the typical sense, we don’t really belong together. But if you peel the layers away, we absolutely belong. We’re just basic craftspeople.”
Photography by Robin Hill. Taken from Issue 55 of 10 Men – FUTURE, BALANCE, HEALING – out NOW. Order your copy here.