Thursday, June 23, 2005


Fendi North America president Gianluca Flore shows a trio of Spy bags in velvet with an embroidered squirrel motif, in blue crocodile, and black mink with gold mesh handles.

Fashion world’s
‘sleeping beauty’

Gianluca Flore might speak of shoes and handbags in terms of gardens and flowers, but don't mistake him for a gentle New Ager. Within the president of Fendi North America lies the soul of a Roman warrior.

In speaking of Fendi's place in the LMVH house that Bernard Arnault built -- an empire that includes such purveyors of luxury as Louis Vuitton and Dior -- Flore says, "There is room for everybody to try to create a unique garden. The difference is, we don't say their garden is greener than ours. Ours is the greenest one."

Dem's fightin' words in a business known for its competitive nature.

Flore was in town last week to back his words with the presentation of Fendi's fall-winter 2005 collection. The private showcase Thursday night at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental showed a return to iconic motifs and revitalization of a brand that is celebrating its 80th anniversary but in Hawaii isn't as well known as its sibling rivals.

Flore is out to change that.

"Nothing has been reinvented," he said. "It's just been re-energized. It's like a beautiful field of flowers that didn't have enough water or vitamins. Today, we're just watering these plants, giving them TLC, and what is emerging is all these beautiful products -- beautiful bags, shoes and fur coats.

"We're making Fendi stronger," he said. "The company was almost like a sleeping beauty."

Fendi's potential was recognized with the introduction of its iconic baguette handbag in the late '90s, a success that landed a big role in HBO's "Sex and the City," causing the entire industry to take notice.

But there was no strategy for following up that success, and while other houses kept hit products coming, Fendi was poised to be the fashion equivalent of music's one-hit wonder.

Zoe Morrison, in a Fendi fur, carries an updated baguette.

"Today, this is not happening," Flore said. "The sleeping beauty has woken up. She wants to go out and have fun again."

The beauty of being part of the LMVH group, he said, is that the company does not impose a one-size-fits-all strategy on its brands, instead choosing to play up the strengths of each.

"The DNA of each company is what defines it and gives it strength. They didn't put a model there that everyone has to follow. They want to keep the tradition of Fendi and go back to the archives, the history, so what you see is the evolution of Fendi."

New designs, based on key pieces from the company's archives, now grace the boutique's shelves. These include the Villa Borghese equestrian-themed handbag, a mink and gold mesh "Spy" bag with its secret compartment for stashing little treasures, and evening bags bearing images of squirrels and acorns -- an early house motif -- in metallic threads and glass beads.

Each piece is hand-cut and hand-sewn, a point understood by purchasers of luxury goods, and increasingly important as the marketplace becomes more sophisticated.

"In the late '90s it was like people were all drunk and buying without knowing what was going on," Flore said. "Today, we are all sober. It's not like people are not spending money today, but when they do make a purchase, they want to see quality. They're more aware.

"Fashion knowledge in the United States has improved in the past decade. Being aware is being more careful, and their expectation is more than following a look or trend.

"This is a great opportunity for Fendi because we have quality, we have luxury and now we have creativity."

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