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Painting the town Fendi

ART & COMMERCE

February 10, 2008|Emili Vesilind | Times Staff Writer

WHAT happens when you hand over the trendy Fendi Baguette, the diminutive shoulder bag with the silver double-F buckle, to some of the world's most acclaimed contemporary artists? You elevate a status bag to an undeniable work of art.

Silvia Venturini Fendi, the creator of the Baguette, created a plain-white version for some of her favorite artists -- including Jeff Koons, Mark Bradford, Delia Brown and Karen Kimmel. The occasion? The 10th anniversary of the chic little shoulder bag, paired with the recent renovation of Fendi's Rodeo Drive store.

The results of the fashion-as-art experiment will be displayed through April -- but not before they get auctioned off to the select few who scored an invitation to the Wednesday night reopening of the Peter Marino-remodeled store. Proceeds of the auction will benefit Arts for the NexGen youth program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Call it an art event. Call it a fund-raiser. By any other name, it's a marketing effort with its own innovative signature.

"It's now very fashionable to mix fashion and charity," says Fendi, who has had a long-standing relationship with LACMA's decision-makers. "But we really wanted to do something with people that we trust. We suggested some artists, they suggested some artists, and we came up with a list."

Artist Tom Sachs turned his white bag black and scrawled "Please Display Other Side" and "Made in the U.S." on the front, and "Defender" in a superhero font on the back.

Will Cotton drew whimsical, striped candy sticks over his, and Francesca Gabbiani kept it simple with a line-rendering of flowers and a stylized cityscape.

Koons reinvented his bag as saddle brown, emblazoned with a black-and-white eye and other cartoony shapes. Prices for each bag will, inevitably, start high.

Fendi die-hards will also be able to play artist: 50 do-it-yourself kits (with bag and Pantone markers) will be for sale in select Fendi stores, including Rodeo Drive, for $1,300.

Silvia Fendi, the menswear and accessories designer for the company, will fly out for the opening. Although designer Karl Lagerfeld has been the public face of the brand since 1965, she has recently been more visible, softening the brand's image, which had become synonymous with a harder, blingy aesthetic -- thanks to countless hip-hop shout-outs and the Us Weekly crowd's penchant for Fendi Spy bags.

This softening -- all the more dramatic for a company that was founded on furs and leather goods -- was evident in Fendi's spring collection, where accessories bordered on works of art: stone belts, for instance, and gold gladiator sandals (fitting for a brand famously headquartered in Rome).

The company's new store also echoes the move toward a gentler take on luxury, with undulating, curvilinear panels, resembling the waves at the hem of a circle skirt. Marino broke the space into three distinct rooms and raised the ceiling to almost double its former height. The overall effect is warm and feminine, underscored by Baroque-inspired lines and decor.

The revitalized store soon won't be the only way to shop Fendi in L.A. The company plans a new store in the Beverly Center later this year.

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emili.vesilind@latimes.com

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