Fashion house Fendi restores Rome's Trevi Fountain
Rome's beloved Trevi Fountain is being restored and Italian fashion house Fendi are only too happy to foot the bill, writes Francesca Fearon
Legend has it that tossing a coin into the famed Trevi Fountain ensures that the visitor will return to Rome.
Over the next 20 months, fashion house Fendi will be tossing a lot of coins into the fountain to fund one of the biggest restoration projects ever for the famous baroque masterpiece that attracts millions of tourists, and was an iconic setting in director Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita.
"It is the first time we have been involved in something so big," admits Silvia Venturini Fendi, who represents the third generation of the Fendi family. She is renowned for designing the Baguette, the first 'It' bag, and heads the accessories division of the Rome-based house.
"We have always supported things in a quiet way, so this is not out of the blue," she says. "But there is a big link between Fendi and the fountains, because in the 1980s, the Fendi sisters [Silvia's mother Anna, and her aunts] produced a book on Rome's fountains."
The family feels it is giving something back to the city that has been its headquarters since 1925. It has donated €2.12 million (HK$21.4 million) for the restoration, and a further sum has been put towards the restoration of another famous fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. The reason behind choosing fountains, says Venturini Fendi, "is because water was important for the Romans, as it is a sign of vitality".
Given Italy's economic crisis and its abundance of world famous historical sites, many crumbling, cultural restoration projects are falling on the shoulders of Italian business.
Leather goods-maker Tod's is funding a restoration of Rome's Colosseum, and Diesel is said to be helping to restore Venice's Rialto Bridge. These initiatives are regarded as part of the companies' corporate responsibility.
"We have so much that needs to be preserved and restored," laments Venturini Fendi. "So we are helping our country to do this, because these sites belong to the world. 'Made in Italy' is not just fashion, it is also culture and history."
When we meet in Milan to talk about the project evidence of premium quality 'Made in Italy' is all around us. Luxurious mink and fox coats exploding with flashes of neon colour line the rails.
The covetable bags are similarly crafted in crazy coloured furs, and feature little "creatures", as Venturini Fendi describes them, dangling from the straps. "They are like little pets, you stroke them to de-stress," she says, while playing with one.
Desirable bags from the new autumn-winter collection are on the shelves: the iconic Selleria, designed by company co-founder Adele and updated by Venturini Fendi, and the latter's own iconic designs, which include the Baguette, the Peekaboo, and the Toujours.
Venturini Fendi is the accessories guru of the fashion brand, which is now part of LVMH, while Karl Lagerfeld has been designing Fendi's collections since 1965. It has proved to be one of the most enduring partnerships in fashion. "I don't remember the day I first met him, but I was only five years old. He's always been there, like family," she says.
As her beloved 'uncle', she always feels the desire to please him when they collaborate on collections: "I know what he likes, and that I like to surprise him every time. If he is happy and excited and likes what I've done, then I am happy."
Fendi, originally a humble leather goods retailer and workshop, was founded by her grandparents Edoardo and Adele in 1925, in Rome. Adele was the matriarch who launched the hand-sewn Fendi Selleria bag. Her five daughters, Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda, were all drafted into the business. Carla once said that "accessories were our first toys".
That was true for Venturini Fendi, who always skipped her homework to play in the storerooms. "There was a room with drawers of beaded evening bags, and I would spend hours playing with them," she says.
Venturini Fendi was coaxed into the business in the early 1990s, after taking time out to have a family. Fur was out of favour, so she injected some glamour into the handbags.
She relaunched the Selleria, and then introduced the Baguette. This was followed by a titanic struggle between LVMH and Gucci to buy the brand - LVMH won.
Today, it is Venturini Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld's mission to take the brand into the 21st century.
If those bags can fund the restoration of Italy's great heritage sites, all the better.
Their funds come at a critical time for the Trevi Fountain, which is the largest fountain in the Eternal City and one of the most famous in the world.
It was designed by Nicola Salvi, and built between 1732 and 1762 - he did not live to see its completion. Last year, emergency repairs were carried out and the dire state of the structure was uncovered.
Italy's fashion and luxury brands are making a concrete contribution to the fabric of their cultural heritage.
Brunello Cucinelli, renowned for his subtly coloured luxurious cashmere, funded the restoration of the famous Etruscan Arch in his native Perugia, as well as the restoration of his hilltop village Solomeo. Then there's Diesel's involvement in the restoration of the Rialto Bridge. But these projects are dwarfed by the US$33.6 million that Tod's is contributing towards the restoration of the crumbling 2,000-year-old Colosseum - once the stage for gladiatorial battles and executions. There were initial grumbles from the Romans who thought their heritage was being sold off to Italy's footwear emperor, Diego della Valle, and that he would plaster the building with signs of his shoes - a claim vehemently denied by Tod's.
Nevertheless, cultural philanthropy is a new trend in the fashion world, and Venturini Fendi hopes that this will encourage more businesses to help.