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Fendi Opens New Headquarters, as Industry Mulls Simons' Exit from Dior

As the fashion world was still reacting to the news of Raf Simons’ Dior exit, Fendi was opening its new HQ in Rome. Imran Amed spoke to Karl Lagerfeld, Silvia Venturini Fendi and Pietro Beccari about the brand's monumental milestone.
Fendi/Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana inauguration | Source: Fendi
By
  • Imran Amed

ROME, Italy — Senior LVMH executives were out in force Thursday night as Fendi, a star brand in the group's portfolio, opened its new headquarters at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome. But their minds may have been elsewhere as the news of Raf Simons' impending exit from his role as artistic director of women's haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessory collections at Dior, the crown jewel in the LVMH empire, was just breaking, throwing editors and journalists in attendance into a tailspin as they worked out how to fit the developing story into the news cycle.

Nonetheless, a beaming Bernard Arnault, LVMH's chairman and chief executive, and Antonio Belloni, the group's managing director, looked on as Fendi chairman and chief executive Pietro Beccari officially inaugurated the company's new building, with its grand arches and strict lines soaring into the darkened Roman sky. The opening ceremony culminated in a projection by artist Mario Nanni that literally shed light on the building's prominent inscription which, translated into English, reads: "A nation of poets, artists, saints, thinkers, scientists, navigators and transmigrators."

The opening of the Palazzo, originally erected for the 1942 World Exposition, was interrupted by the onset of the Second World War. And except for a few years in the 1950s, the building sat dormant, a white elephant outside central Rome, only to be admired from afar. "We call this building colosseo quadrato, or square coliseum. For the Roman people, this building is as important as our Coliseum," said Silvia Venturini Fendi, reflecting on the latest milestone for a business founded by her grandparents Edoardo and Adele Fendi in 1925 and now majority owned by LVMH. "There is a rule in Rome that no building can be higher than St Peter's [Basilica] and this is the only building that is as high as that. It's part of the iconography of the city, so when Pietro Beccari told me that he had this incredible idea of renting this place for our headquarters, I couldn't believe it," she added. "Working here is a real privilege. It's like giving life to a monument."

“It has been closed for 72 years,” added Beccari, who first joined Fendi from LVMH stablemate Louis Vuitton in 2012 and has since helped to drive the business to more than €1 billion in revenues, according to market reports. “Thousands of people who before could only take pictures of the outside will now be able to enter. Together with the Italian state and the community, we are very happy to be able to open this to the world,” not to mention more than 500 Fendi employees from across Rome who are now together under one roof for the first time.

But realising this vision wasn’t easy — and Beccari leveraged a mixture of personal charm, business logic and investment in the building itself to close the deal. Until the LVMH refurbishment, the building had no water, electricity or utilities and was quite literally an empty shell.

Beccari also proposed to create a public space where the public could experience the building from the inside, for the first time. “We convinced the government and local institutions by counting the number of people visiting the seven museums here in the area,” he explained. “There were only 30 people per weekend in all the museums put together. So the idea of doing another museum that would cost hundreds of thousands of euros was not a fantastic idea. I said I could contribute with a good rent of €2.6 million per year and open the building and make it alive and something that lives in the quarter. Real estate [has gone] up 20 percent since we came here so I think it was a good deal for the state and for me,” he added.

And what does Karl Lagerfeld, who has now spent a half-century at the creative helm of Fendi, think of the new building?

“When I came to Fendi [in 1965], the first studio was under the roof, with no air conditioning, on the via Frattina,” he said, reflecting on the brand’s ups and downs over the years, including the time it was directly managed by the Fendi family and a period of purgatory when it was co-owned by LVMH and Prada and lacked direction. “Bernard Arnault told me to be patient, and I was patient. Then he took it over and look what it became. This building is just beyond.”

But after our chat about the new building was over, even Mr Lagerfeld couldn’t help but muse on the news that was on everyone’s lips all evening. “Who do you think will take over at Dior?” he asked me.

“If only I knew,” I answered. “It caught me completely by surprise.”

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Disclosure: Imran Amed travelled to Rome as a guest of Fendi. LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion.

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