The opening of Fendi's new Fifth Avenue flagship confirms that LVMH has done it again. Every aspect of this stunning Peter Marino-designed mod-Baroque concoction demonstrates what makes LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton such a brilliant brand parent: It always champions the unique aesthetic personality of each company. Though the various brands may swap ceos and designers, non-insiders could never guess that Donna Karan, Kenzo, Thomas Pink, Marc Jacobs, Fresh Cosmetics, Chateau d'Yquem and Tag Heuer all live under the same corporate umbrella.
The Fendi brand had lost its way. The baguette bag and logo-festooned accessories dominated what was sold in the 100-odd franchise stores, undermining the company's aristocratic heritage as a furrier and fashion purveyor. Since buying back all the stores, Fendi has only this past year begun to renovate and roll out the new Marino concept, in Rome, Hong Kong, Osaka, Japan, and Costa Mesa, Calif.
Fendi ceo Michael Burke says, "We hired Peter Marino to be Dr. Freud – to delve deep down into what really IS Fendi and have a fresh interpretation of what it means to be a specifically Roman high-style brand."
LVMH relaunched Fendi's new image in a downsized 7500-square-foot space. Burke says, "We wanted to push the envelope further forward, to take Fendi further back – to be more rustic, rough, more antique-y and simultaneously much more modern; and to let the two extreme aesthetics clash."
According to Burke, who has also been ceo at Dior and Louis Vuitton, "We wanted the store to reflect Fendi's distinctly Roman core values: duality, sensuality, lightness, craftsmanship, complexity, irreverence. LVMH is a French company, and the Parisians want Cartesian precision, symmetry, formality, Baron Haussmann order. Fendi is Italian, and the Romans thrive among ruins and discombobulated chaos."
When Karl Lagerfeld, the brand's designer since 1965, came up with the double "F" logo, he was thinking, "fun furs!" Over his tenure, Lagerfeld has reinvented Fendi's furs, making them casually unstructured, decadent in their nonchalance. The clothes and bags are whimsical too, this season's collection including black-lace covered purses edged with mink and red patent-leather handles, platform pumps embellished with pearls, pocketbooks made from oilcloth printed with faux stitching and buckles.
Similarly, the decor is an atonal symphony of colors, materials and curves. The metal finishes all have rusted patinas like Rome's venerated fountains (but also suggestive of contemporary sculptor Richard Serra's "Torqued Ellipses"). The Roman travertine is pockmarked and grooved, rich yellow and red. In some areas, the sedimentary stone is cut into thin ribbons and hangs over the clothing racks like a dramatic curtain valence. In other areas, the "valences" are grooved MDF. Classic movies featuring starlets in Fendi are projected onto these surfaces.
The floors are paved in San Petrini stone and lava gringia. Benches in the shoe section are upholstered in black pony on bent tubular metal frames. Club chairs on the second floor are over-upholstered into oversized round geometric pods. A traditional wingchair is covered in disco gold. Fur throws are festooned with rhinestones. As shoppers climb the grand staircase to the second level, they will hear a burbling fountain, not Fontana di Trevi but a waterfall of computer-animated logos.
The building is an early 20th Century, former neo-classical, Vanderbilt double-townhouse, built using (then-cutting-edge) steel girder construction. This allowed Marino to open up the original limestone façade with 30-foot plate glass windows, bringing in natural light and enhancing the dramatic verticality of the space. Burke says he did not want a stuffy old fur salon. He wanted the furs, which sell in the six figures, to interact with the other ready-to-wear and accessories, a meeting of the luxe and the street.