Fendi CEO Pietro Beccari's wish was granted last month when the Italian luxury maison showed its latest haute couture in Rome. Models marched across a transparent runway over the capital's Trevi Fountain, which had been freshly restored, thanks to the brand's generous €2.5million (HK$21.4 million) donation. Surely, that was more than a few coins tossed into the iconic monument.
"It's beyond anyone's imagination - definitely, a dream came true for me," says Beccari in his office on top of the brand's headquarters in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a monumental building described by locals as the "Square Colosseum".
Fendi is the latest of several luxury brands to have restored heritage monuments, and mainly in Italy, which has the most Unesco World Heritage Sites in the world, and is where many luxury fashion houses are based.
A few weeks earlier, Tod's Group unveiled its first-phase restoration of the Colosseum, a five-year project that cost the brand over €25 million (HK$214 million) but led to the cleaning of the monument's archways and façades, and the renovation of over 10,150 square metres of space. Distinguished guests attended the unveiling gala, including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.
Tod's CEO Diego Della Valle says the brand's donation was money well-spent.
"I'm a very proud Italian, and my group too," he says. "It's because of love for one of the most important Italian monuments - representing Italy all around the world. When we are able to contribute, why not?"
Several luxury brands have followed Tod's and Fendi's philanthropic path. One of the incentives that contribute to the recent surge of brands' collaborations is Italy's tax breaks. In July 2014, its government introduced the Art Bonus tax cut and passed legislation last year to allow business or individual donors to cultural institutions to claim a tax credit - equal to 65 per cent of their charitable contributions.
"It's not about who has made the biggest donation or who started the first one," Della Valle says. "It's about the message we send. It's a generous approach that we have taken and I hope people will follow what we have done. The next step for businessmen around the world is to do many things for the others, especially when the company is strong."
Such donations reflect a new connection between the public and private sectors, according to Pia Petrangeli, a Culture Ministry architect who oversees the Colosseum project's sponsorship procedures.
"This is one of the most significant restorations of our era," she says. "It was made possible because of the synergy between the state and the private citizen - two different but complementary worlds."
Pledging support to revive city monuments is in-sync with luxury brands' continuous efforts to preach heritage, tradition, craftsmanship and authenticity - and an action that speaks louder than words.
"[Our work here] is much about offering surprise and excitement for today's fashion consumers," Beccari says.
"This will be a project that can excite people for a long time. We'd like for Fendi to stand out as one of the most creative and daring brands."
Della Valle agrees. "Today's young-generation customers judge a company by its [integrity]," he says. "Whether it's a good company and whether you contribute to the community."
A founder of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programmes, Professor Lynne DiStefano, welcomes such collaborations.
"Brands talk a lot of authenticities, and the heritage buildings are indeed authentic. They can reinforce the authenticity of the brands' products," she says.
In order to further remind customers of the "Made-in-Italy" pride and reputation, luxury brands opt for iconic landmark projects, or those that have an impact on the houses' own heritage and history. Finding a balance between the projects' costs and the urgency of their restoration is also a major concern.
Panerai's effort to restore the Paolo Uccello Clock in Florence's Duomo, for example, is closely linked to the label's local roots and watchmaking tradition.
"Florence is the international centre of Panerai's communications, and we are very keen to do things for the city, because when we communicate, we communicate values [that] not many brands have," says Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati.
Bulgari has in recent years supported the refurbishment of Rome's Baths of Caracalla and the Spanish Steps, which have had a special connection to the brand as the founder used to use them on his daily commutes to different stores.
"For us, it symbolises the journey of our founding family," says Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin.
The testimonies have raised concerns, however, that some of Italy's lesser-known heritage sites could continue to be neglected, due to a lack of funds, although the government recently announced investment of one billion euros to preserve cultural heritage, it would still be a long way to go.
Apart from paying tribute to the brands' origins, the country's often criticised neglecting of its cultural treasures due to financial struggles is another reason behind the buzzing trend.
"In Italy, there's a piece of art that in anywhere else in the world would belong to a museum; but instead, in Italy, it's probably sitting in a corner of the church, just like that," Beccari says. "When the state is not in the greatest shape, we need to help, to do what's usually been done by the government."
Babin agrees. "It's a mission, somehow," he says. "It's beautiful that companies contribute as well to restore the glory of the city that hosted us from the beginning."
Heritage renovation is also a continuous mission, rather than a one-off stunt, according to the cashmere brand, Brunello Cucinelli, which has helped to restore Solomeo, the Umbrian town where it is based.
"We've governed our enterprise feeling that we're 'custodians', and not owners," says the brand's chief executive, Brunello Cucinelli. "I've always thought that the mere profits of an enterprise aren't enough if there isn't a higher purpose. This is why, through the Brunello and Federica Cucinelli Foundation, we try to support projects that aim to 'embellish humanity'."
The association with heritage landmarks also embarks on the celebration of arts and craftsmanship, brands say. "Italian style is very close to our DNA," Della Valle says. "The artisans who worked on the Colosseum were just like those who work on our shoes and fashion today. The sense of good taste and the culture that we support make a lot of sense."
Involving luxury brands from the private sector to fund the restoration of state-owned monuments is a delicate matter that needs to be handled with finesse, however. Advertising billboards and scaffolding on the façades of fragile monuments have caused public uproar over the past few years. When the government first enlisted Tod's sponsorship for the restoration of the Colosseum in 2010, critics were also concerned that the company would commercialise the project. Luxury brands seem to refrain from capitalising on their renovations of heritage monuments, however
Tod's decided not to produce any capsule collections relevant to their philanthropy, and only displays a small brand logo on its project's exterior explanatory signage. Fendi refrained from advertising during the 18-month renovation of the Trevi Fountain, but displayed a small, logoed plaque there. "I don't desire to turn it into a commercial project," Beccari says. "Commercialising a monument is too cheap. We want to do sophisticated things."
Such projects help luxury brands "establish the fact that they really care" about heritage, DiStefano says. "As long as they respect it, and use it in a way that's respectful, and helps build the image of the company."
Additional reporting: Winnie Chung