The history of Fendi began in a corner of the Piazza Venezia in Rome in 1918. Inspired by the traditional craftsmanship techniques of Roman master saddlers, young entrepreneur Adele Casagrande launched her own leather workshop. In 1925 she married Eduardo Fendi, and the couple opened a small boutique next door, moving into the rooms above the shop. Between 1931 and 1940, Adele gave birth to five daughters: Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda.
The sisters were a permanent fixture at the atelier from birth, with Adele tucking them up into lace-lined drawers among the handbags for naps. Speaking about her childhood, Carla Fendi told WWD “Accessories were our first toys”. All five sisters were working alongside their parents in the family business by the time they were teenagers.
In 1964, the sisters opened an office on the via Borgognona in Rome, and installed a large picture of their mother in the entrance. The following year, they began working with Karl Lagerfeld, who alongside the sisters, helped to propel the brand into the luxury fashion powerhouse it is today. During this time, one of the first company logos: the famous black and brown double ‘F’ , was also created.
In 1977, the house introduced a line of ready-to-wear, known a ‘365 – a dress for every day of the year, for a woman who wants her fur and purse to match her dress’, and 1978 they launched a line of shoes produced by Diego Della Valle.
When Adele died in 1978, each of the five Fendi sisters took over a different part of the business. Paola was in charge of furs, Anna leather goods, Franca handled customer relations, Carla coordinated the business and Alda was responsible for sales.
The 1980s saw a period of considerable expansion for the house. The sisters opened stores and boutiques around the globe, and the Fendi logo was bestowed upon everything from sweaters to home decor. By 1990, they had introduced their first men’s perfume and ready-to-wear lines.
The brand gained cult status, however, in 1997 when they introduced a series of handbags, which included the Fendi ‘Baguette’. Designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi (Anna’s daughter), and inspired by French bread, the ‘it’ bag was seen adorning the arms of celebrities such as Madonna, Julia Roberts, Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Like her mother before her, Silvia was brought up in the fold of the family business. By the age of six she had walked a fashion runway and been photographed for an ad campaign. The mini member of the Fendi dynasty was shuttled from Rome to Milan just to get her hair cut. By the age of fifteen, the year her father died, she was catapulted into the job of ruling Rome’s social scene. Karl Lagerfeld said of her “she was a very trendy, very sexy Roman playgirl”. After a stint at college, she landed the job of managing Fendi’s trunk shows, which brought a with it a whirlwind of international travel and social events. Working alongside her sister, Marie Teresa, the girls would travel to New York every season to sell the collection, dining out at Mr. Chow, rollerskating in Fendi cocktail dresses and partying at studio 54.
The five Fendi sisters had 11 children between them, followed by more than 30 grandchildren. There were multiple family members involved in the business before the brand partnered with LVMH and Prada in 1999. Karl Lagerfeld said that “tensions started to rise” within the business in the late 1990s. “Five sisters was too much. And they were not speaking. The husbands were all happy when they sold.”
Today, Silvia is the only family member who remains at Fendi. In 1994 she became creative director of accessories and now also heads up Fendi childrenswear.