As Silvia Venturini Fendi puts it, she was 'born into fashion'. But walking into the tinkling tea room of a grand Mayfair hotel, Venturini Fendi cuts no flashy fashion figure. Striking though she is, with her dramatic dark eyes and caramel bobbed hair, she is dressed in demure, masculine style – dark slacks, a striped banker shirt and a camel boyfriend cardigan. 'My uniform,' she says, patting her leg. 'It's very masculine, maybe because I've been working on the men's collection.' This is the woman who made her name as the creator of the first 'It-bag'. She continues the trendsetting tradition today with desirable, witty creations such as the Peekaboo and her Bag Bugs: furry, pompom-like charms that have spawned a thousand imitations. She has also led the way with 'micro' versions of the brand's most successful styles – with an attractively more affordable price point. Next month she launches her new line of bags for Resort, including the first mini version of the 3Jours tote – just in time for Christmas.
The renowned 'Fendi sisters': Paola, Franca, Anna (Silvia Venturini Fendi's mother), Carla and Alda in 1979
Silvia grew up under the matriarchy of Adele and her five daughters – Silvia's mother Anna and four aunts, Paula, Carla, Franca and Alda, the famous, formidable 'Fendi sisters' who turned the house into an international brand. Sipping jasmine tea, Venturini Fendi muses on how it was inevitable, given her upbringing, that she would come to specialise in accessories. 'I was never very good at school because I always felt – even when I was very little– that I was missing something more interesting,' she says. 'Not at home, but in the Fendi headquarters. So every afternoon I did my homework in the atelier and instead of playing with Barbies I was playing with real clothes.' Although she loved to see the women of the atelier in their white coats, and even modelled for the Fendi ready-to-wear shows after Karl Lagerfeld arrived as designer in 1972, her imagination was most captured by a private salon in the downstairs boutique where evening bags were kept.
Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi.
She has made successes of the totes – the 2Jours and the 3Jours – as well as last year's shoulder bag, the Peekaboo, £2,500 worth of leather launched in a flurry of celebrity collaborations. Women from Kate Adie to Adele to Tracey Emin adapted them with their own designs. 'It is the anti-Baguette,' she says. 'After the Baguette, [there was] accessories fever. The runways were full of bags and some weren't so nice. So I said, "Let's do a classic bag, back to our roots but in a very Fendi way."' The Peekaboo's soft leather front sinks when the bag is full to reveal its colourful inside – hence the name. I ask her what she looks for in her perfect bag. 'Practicality and lightness, but also an idea. Functionality is not enough. It has to have something that makes me smile.' And that is the difference between a handbag and an It-bag.
Fendi Baguette bag.
Fendi Peekaboo bag.