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May 1, 2016

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Timeless luxury at Villa Laetitia

FASHION gurus are bold and never gentle, I thought — “divas” like Karl Lagerfeld or Donatella Versace.

But on a recent trip to Italy, Anna Fendi proved me wrong. She is affectionate, intelligent, thoughtful and on top of everything. With a seemingly endless creativity and big visions, she continues to work as passionately as when she started in the industry 66 years ago.

In Rome’s Quartiere Prati della Vittoria Anna Fendi, the 83-year-old acquired and restored Villa Laetitia, the latest project that honors the past while looking to the future.

The Art Nouveau mansion designed by architect Armando Brasini in 1911 is surrounded by tranquil gardens and, after painstaking renovations, is now a cozy, modern residenza that celebrates Roman heritage with touches of Italian modern art.

Dressed head to toe in black with leather jacket and silver jewelry, Anna greeted me at the Ristorante Enoteca la Torre, the restaurant with one Michelin star at Villa Laetitia.

Her subtle personal style perfectly defines the Italian elegance that is “in the details, not in your face.”

As we begin our delightful gastronomic journey created by chef Domenico Stile from Campania, Anna Fendi spoke about the Fendi fashion empire and other things close to her heart.

After Fendi was acquired by the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 2001, Anna Fendi’s daughter Silvia Venturini Fendi was the only family member still working at Fendi as the creative director of accessories, menswear and children’s wear.

But the international brand’s roots go back to Anna Fendi’s parents, Adele and Edoardo, who opened an elegant leather accessories boutique with a small fur laboratory in 1925 via del Plebiscito in Rome. She started working at the family workshop at age 17 alongside her sisters Paola, Carla, Franca and Alda and learned about the family business.

Anna, the second-eldest sister, has always worked on the creative side as design director. Having worked side by side with Karl Lagerfeld, she has been in charge of development of all Fendi collections and of the multiple licenses linked to the brand.

But all sisters, she said, were irreplaceable to the business. “We were all united like the five fingers of a hand. Each of us was very different but we complemented each other and saw problems from different angles.”

In true Italian style, decisions were made inside the family.

In the 60s, the family business was looking for a designer, and found the perfect match Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld made wearing fur modern and fun.

“We selected Karl Lagerfeld as our creative director in charge of fur and women’s ready-to-wear because he was the one with a strong culture and a clear vision.”

In the 1970s, Fendi was hugely successful in the Japanese market before conquering America with the opening of a Fendi shop at Bergdorf & Goodman Department Store in New York City in 1976. For the family, it was challenging to stay true to their legacy and, at the same time, make way for a new era. When the option of selling the company to LVMH was brought up, Anna Fendi and other family members didn’t agree. But with all the sisters’ children and grandchildren, Fendi had grown into a huge clan, and Anna was overruled.

The acquisition took a long time but in 2001, LVMH took over the shares that had remained with Fendi family members.

“When I look back, we made the right decision,” Anna said. “We couldn’t do it on our own and LVMH is doing a fantastic job at giving Fendi a global dimension. I’m more than proud to see that Fendi has become such an international brand. My parents would be so surprised to see us from a small workshop reaching out to the world.”

Anna said that three elements contributed to the success of fashion: mythology, creativity and productivity. “And LVMH has the right know-how of expansion and product development.”

Rome is still the place where the cooperation’s heart is. The fashion house is the generous benefactor of the Trevi Fountain’s ambitious restoration and a palace that originally belonged to the Ludovisi Boncompagni family in central Rome is now Fendi’s seven-floor headquarters, just down the street from the Spanish Steps. Anna Fendi was also the one who made an important decision of buying the luxurious palazzo.

To Anna, it is a privilege to live in Rome. “A huge privilege. Fashion is beauty and Rome is the most beautiful city in the world,” she said.

After the completion of the fusion with LVMH, Anna Fendi left the direction of the creative department and directed Fendi Casa for another eight years.

Now, instead of enjoying retirement, she has started a new entrepreneurial journey.

Villa Laetitia, where we met for lunch, is her first residenza concept and is now considered one of the most romantic residenzas in Rome. The style aligns with Anna’s vision of creating with sophistication and unexpected beauty.

It took her several years to restore the dilapidated villa with its frescoes, marbles, stuccos, intricate wrought iron balustrades and fuse it with period furniture, contemporary art and artistic home-ware. The construction site was Anna’s creative playground.

That she came across the villa was pure accident. Anna said she went to see the building with her friend just for fun, but when she saw the villa, she immediately fell in love with it. “As soon as I walked into this villa, I fell in love and decided to own it immediately,” she said.

The romantic feel and the 20th century Roman architecture captivated her. “The place also reminded me of the Luchino Visconti movies.”

Anna kept the name “Laetitia” — the name of the villa’s previous owner — and restored all the historic elements in order to bring back its original splendor.

“Luxury is lifestyle. I didn’t have the ‘luxury’ in the past to spend time with my family and host my guests with my lifestyle philosophy during the crazy years of working at Fendi. I have missed it a lot in the past but luckily I can now welcome my friends and clients from around the world at Villa Laetitia, which gives me a true feeling of being at home. At ‘my’ home.”

For each room, Anna, chose a particular theme and gave it a “one-of-a-kind” interior style consistent with the Anna spirit.

To give it a residential vibe, the residenza relies on a small number of attentive staff. Visitors from across the world come back to Villa Laetitia because of its fine taste and timeless charm, the “secret” location, and the high attention to details.

In Ponza, an island located south of Rome, Anna has opened the enchanting Residenza Villa Laetitia. With great respect for its Pontine traditions, she completely renovated the house and turned it into a charming six-room guesthouse overlooking the entire port of Ponza. In the same island, Anna purchased three homes as gifts for each of her daughters, each designed to suit their different characters.

Anna continues to search for true beauty and created the AFV lifestyle collection, for which she employs the best artisans who are willing to experiment. Like the original Fendi brand, AFV’s secret is its unparalleled craftsmanship.

Anna has used her creativity to create table art, from a line of Anna Fendi wines to assorted tableware in evocative colors crafted from Murano glass. She even created the tableware for a wedding in Japan.

When asked about her opinions of China, she held my hands and told me: “Chinese food is my second favorite just right after Italian cuisine.”

During my stay, Anna was the perfect host, making me feel like a guest of honor every step of the way. At Villa Laetitia, I truly came to understand the meaning behind “la dolce vita.”

Italian Ways, a high-end travel atelier which organized my trip and the meeting with Anna, offers tailor-made trips for Chinese tourists.

If Anna is available, they might even be able to arrange for a meeting between high-end guests and Anna.

I’m not sure what’s next for her— she loves surprising people — but I wouldn’t be surprised if I see her and Villa Laetitia on WeChat moments more often.


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