As high-end consumers become more and more demanding, just delivering beautifully made products is no longer enough for luxury labels trying to be more than just another brand. What big spenders now expect from the fashion, jewellery and watch houses whose goods they covet are not just pretty things to wear and show off but 360-degree experiences – whether that’s witnessing all the steps involved in the making of a leather bag or attending the launch of a collection in a glamorous location at the height of summer.
This new definition of luxury, this shift from mere product to immersive experience, finds its latest incarnation in the Palazzo Fendi, a historic 17th-century building in the heart of Rome that embodies the aesthetic of the leather-goods house while also proclaiming to the world its ambitions to become a complete lifestyle brand.
The Palazzo, the brainchild of Fendi CEO Pietro Beccari, was unveiled last March with a lavish event attended by fellow Fendi supremos Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi as well as LVMH owner Bernard Arnault (Fendi is a part of the luxury conglomerate).
It features four distinct spaces, each designed by a different architect. The largest Fendi boutique in the world, designed by Gwenael Nicolas, includes a fully operating fur atelier where clients can admire artisans stitching precious pelts, while on the second floor clients, celebrities and friends can enjoy the privacy of the Palazzo Privé, designed by the Milanese firm Dimore Studio.The third floor houses seven private suites conceived by Italian architect Marco Costanzi, which can be booked by visitors to the Eternal City. The first Italian branch of dining empire Zuma occupies the top floor, which also features a terrace with views over Rome’s terracotta-tiled rooftops.
As Beccari explained during an interview in Rome on the day of the opening, “It’s not just a hotel but a mix of different components that show a facet of this diamond that Fendi is, and make Fendi even more attractive as a lifestyle brand. Clients now don’t want to just buy a product and leave; they want to immerse themselves in our lifestyle.
“Here you can shop, learn how furs are made in the atelier, sleep and have a meal, and it’s a unique concept because nothing like it exists worldwide. Whoever hires all the seven suites for €17,000 can enjoy a private dinner in the Privé, a table at Zuma, learn how artisans make furs ... Our idea was that just like chefs now use open kitchens to show what they’re doing, we want to show how furs are made.”
It’s hard to define what this building really represents for Fendi, but as big statements go, this is clearly a major one, a sign that it’s now a key player in the luxury arena, a brand whose heft and reach rival those of its biggest sisters at LVMH, such as Louis Vuitton and fellow Roman house Bulgari, a company that has already dipped its toes into the hospitality business with a series of high-end properties around the world.
“This is not exactly a hotel, so you can’t compare this space to a Four Seasons or a Mandarin Oriental,” said Costanzi, while sitting in one of the suites he designed. “It was first of all a concept, a Fendi home in the heart of Rome and also the location of the most beautiful Fendi shop in the world, so it was clear that this is part of the DNA of Fendi. Fendi is always about a mix of materials, colours, lines, luxury, details, craftsmanship.
“Four different architects designed this space so that you could have something that reflects this varied DNA. When you go to the shop and spend two hours to buy something and then you go upstairs to the suites, it’s a different space and feeling; you can go up and eat at Zuma, yet another space, and then downstairs to sleep.”
The refurbishment took almost two years and came on the heels of Fendi’s recent renovation of the Fascist-era Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana on the outskirts of Rome, which now houses the company’s headquarters, as well as its restoration of four of the city’s main fountains, including the majestic Fontana di Trevi. It’s yet another investment the company is making in the city it calls home and a gift to a town that may lie on the margins of the fashion scene but is slowly becoming an exciting new location where Italian luxury is not only made but also celebrated and admired in one of the most stunning backdrops – a backdrop that no designer could ever dream up.