Anna Fendi is fashion royalty.
Elegantly dressed for our photo shoot, Anna Fendi obliges our photographer’s every request, which includes trudging through the freshly-watered garden of Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur – in her heels. Truly, the second of the famed Fendi sisters is in a class of her own – a refined, dignified and sophisticated 81-year-old.
The former head of design at the fashion giant that is Fendi, and the daughter of its namesake founder, Anna stops at nothing to achieve perfection, and she's game for anything. Long photo shoots in strang locations? No problem. Selfies with fans at Fendi's Fall/Winter 2014 presentation? Not an issue. Moving things around to snap a better picture? No big deal.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” she says in Italian, patting my hand and smiling. “We can take any photos you like, answer any questions you want, for as long as you need.”
We are in Anna's hotel suite in KL, but the hour we're given with her just isn't enough to get us all the answers we need, for she has so much to share, what with her wealth of knowledge in fashion, interior design (her current passion), business and everything Italian. Anna was in town recently for “60 Years Of Made In Italy”, a fashion event organised by Pavilion KL and supported by the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Trade Agency in Malaysia. The two-week showcase paid homage to Italian designers and their brands, and included an exhibition of 30 iconic and treasured fashion pieces.
For four decades, Anna lived and breathed fashion at the helm of Fendi. She was instrumental in the brand’s partnership with Karl Lagerfeld, its expansion beyond Europe, and she was responsible for the creation of Fendi Casa. Though she no longer has an active role in running the show, Anna still makes appearances and attends showings in support of her daughter, Silvia Venturini, the only Fendi still involved in the business and herself the inventor of the famous 'Baguette'.
The fashion powerhouse that revolutionised fur, Fendi was founded in 1925 by Anna's parents Edoardo and Adele, who gave each of their five daughters – Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda – a role in the business.
Despite having years to reflect on and many milestones to her credit, Anna doesn't hesitate when asked to name THE game-changing event for Fendi, the moment that transformed the brand from family business to industry giant – “When I met Karl Lagerfeld,” she says. “When I met him, I understood that together we would contribute to make Fendi a great name and a big brand,” Anna says.
And then she adds, “And the first time I went with Carla to New York City. It was 1974, 1975. We were already known in Italy but we were ambitious. We wanted to go into the US market.” After presenting a capsule collection in New York, the excitement for Fendi erupted. Within weeks, every fashion window along Fifth Avenue was dedicated to Fendi. And then Bergdorf Goodman came knocking.
Today, Anna looks back on her years with Fendi and says she sometimes can’t believe how far they've come. She believes they owe their success to a combination of business smarts, creativity and “rationality”, a word she uses often in our conversation. “Every collection originated from our feelings, but if we followed only our intuition without rationality, it could be very dangerous, and vice versa,” says Anna, and adds that she considers the LVMH acquisition the biggest reward for the family's work. “I think that with my sisters, we have highly contributed to make a chapter of the Fendi story, and also Italian fashion.”
Anna’s new adventure is still the business of design and beauty – she transformed a 100-year-old villa by famed architect Armando Brasini into a collection of 15 rooms and suites. Anna, who saw the potential in the abandoned building and turned it into a gem of a place, designed every room in Villa Laetitia, a boutique hotel along the Tiber River in Rome.
“Every corner, every room, has been designed following two main paths – one to preserve the tradition and what I found inside the room, but given a modern and contemporary look, a new touch,” she says. “I’m very satisfied with this project for many reasons, but one of them is that I’ve given back to the city of Rome this rare gem that was abandoned and dilapidated. Seeing beauty triumph makes me happy.”
Anna has also gotten into the wine business, under her brand AFV. She personally selects wines from all over Italy and her products have been very well received.
> This article was originally published in Life Inspired, out every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and distributed exclusively with The Sunday Star to selected areas in the Klang Valley.