Carla Fendi, one of the five sisters who transformed the family leather goods business into a luxury fashion house that was one of Italy's first to win global renown, has died after a long illness. She was 79.
Fendi died Monday, and the Rome-based fashion house confirmed her death in a statement Tuesday, expressing pain for the loss and gratitude for her continued contributions.
"She was for all of us a source of inspiration and an example of dedication, culture of work and sensitivity to beauty," the company said.
Carla's parents, Edoardo and Adele Fendi, founded the company in 1925 with a store fronting the workshop in via del Plebiscito in Rome's historic center. But it was with the next generation that it surged to prominence as ready-to-wear took off in Italy.
The five Fendi sisters — Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda — took control of the family business after their father's death and opened their first Fendi store in another location in Rome's historic center in 1964.
A year later they hired a young designer named Karl Lagerfeld, who helped catapult the Italian brand into global fame by elevating fur from staid symbols of luxury to fashion pieces, acquiring lightness and softness, becoming easier to wear and less pompous.
Under Lagerfeld's direction, Fendi arguably became the most famous furriers in the world. The brand also helped revolutionize leather handbags in the 1990s, making them softer and less rigid.
The Fendi fashion house eased up on fur as pressure from animal rights activists diminished the market. While never abandoning completely their heritage, the brand started placing fur as the lining of silk coats, or weaving it into fabric or making patchwork pieces, while putting more emphasis on its accessories along with its clothing lines.
Each sister had her role. Carla Fendi, as president, was long the business' public face, becoming known as the "signora della moda," or "lady of fashion." When the French luxury group LVMH took over Fendi in a deal that was completed in 2001, Carla Fendi maintained her role as president until 2008. She was honorary president until her death.
"For her nothing was impossible," Silvia Venturini Fendi — Anna's daughter — told RAI state television of her aunt Carla. "The challenges that she always confronted, also as a pioneer in her field. She always had a love of beauty.""