Franca Fendi, inheritor of Italian fashion house, dies aged 87

The Guardian
The Guardian
Franca Fendi (left) with her sisters and Karl Lagerfeld, the brand’s longtime creative director up to his death in 2019.

Franca Fendi, one of the five sisters who inherited a small Roman leather goods workshop and together transformed it into a luxury fashion house, has died in Rome on Monday. She was 87.

Born in 1935, she participated from a young age in the management of the company that from the 1960s onwards, under the guidance of the sisters, became a global luxury powerhouse famed for its reimagining of the classic fur coat.

Her parents, Edoardo and Adele Fendi, had founded the fashion house in 1952, starting from a small bag and fur shop in Via del Plebiscito. The Fendi sisters – Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda – later revealed that they were often forced to sleep in drawers in the shop owing to their parents’ long work hours.

When, after a stroke, Edoardo left control of the brand to his daughters, Franca became purchasing manager. In 1965 she and her sisters brought in Karl Lagerfeld, then a young designer, with the goal of creating a women’s ready-to-wear-line.

The German creative director may have been better known for his work at Chanel, but it was to Fendi that he devoted 54 years of his working life – the longest ever collaboration between a designer and fashion brand – becoming what the Fendi sisters described as an honorary member of her family.

Lagerfeld, who died in 2019, used to compare the Fendi sisters to the five fingers of a hand: “Inseparable, interconnected and always operating in unison.”

“The five Fendi sisters were the first to enter the office and the last to turn off the light,” Silvia Venturini Fendi, daughter of Anna and niece of Franca, and the brand’s creative director of accessories and men’s and children’s wear, previously said. “At the time, there were no red carpets and no visibility. Everything was done for passion. My mother and aunts prepared the collections at night, while the offices were closed. The atelier was a place of energy, meeting and discussion.”

In 2001 the sisters sold a controlling stake to the French luxury group LVMH. Despite the takeover, Carla Fendi remained honorary president until her death in 2017. After Lagerfeld’s death, Kim Jones was named rtistic director of haute couture, ready-to-wear and fur collections for women while staying on as artistic director of Dior Men. Silvia’s daughter Delfina Delettrez Fendi is the creative director of jewellery.

In September, the house celebrated 25 years of the baguette bag with a star-studded event at New York fashion week. Two weeks later, it staged a second show of the season in Milan. Unlike other luxury conglomerates, Fendi under LVMH continues to use real fur.

Franca had four children and was married to Luigi Formilli. In 2018, she wrote a book dedicated to her husband titled You are with Me. In the book, Franca details her love for Formilli, who died in 2001, and the birth of the Fendi fashion house. In one passage, she writes: “Each of us had a field of work in which to express our creativity. This meant that the company was diversified, but always oriented towards a common goal: desire mixed with a passion to bring the Made in Italy brand to the world.”

Her death on Tuesday was reported by members of her family. According to reports, she was struck by a sudden illness.

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