76.Carmina Cam­pus

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS -

Ilaria Ven­turini Fendi of Carmina Cam­pus learn­ing how to bead with a Maa­sai com­mu­nity on the Ngong Hills in Kenya Photo: Chloe Mukai

The de­vel­op­ment of the Carmina Cam­pus project, an ac­ces­sories and fur­ni­ture brand es­tab­lished by Ilaria Ven­turini Fendi to ‘cre­ate with­out de­stroy­ing’ has mir­rored the de­vel­op­ment of the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive it­self. Grant Fell and Rachael Church­ward visit I Casali del Pino where Carmina Cam­pus is based to learn more about a project that also shares the mantra ‘Not Char­ity, Just Work’ Images: Chloé Mukai and Grant Fell.

In the midst of our thor­oughly mag­nif­i­cent so­journ to Rome in July this year, os­ten­si­bly a trip to at­tend Al­taRoma Al­taModa and to spend some time with the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive’s Si­mone Cipri­ani and Chloé Mukai, we were asked if we would like to meet Ilaria Ven­turini Fendi, one of the project’s staunch­est sup­port­ers. We had al­ready been taken by Si­mone and Chloé to have a look at her store RE(f)USE inside a Fendi fam­ily owned build­ing on Via della Fontanella di Borgh­ese in Rome’s up­mar­ket shop­ping precinct. Nes­tled among an en­clave of lux­ury brands the spe­cialty store fea­tures fash­ion and de­sign made ex­clu­sively with re­cy­cled or reused ma­te­ri­als and is a key com­po­nent of Ilaria’s ex­pand­ing Carmina Cam­pus project. There was one small prob­lem; we had met Si­mone and Chloé on a Mon­day morn­ing for cor­netto and cof­fee and in Rome in mid­Sum­mer many stores in the area were yet to open on a Mon­day morn­ing. “Oh, let’s see if you can go out and see her the day after to­mor­row then, she has a beau­ti­ful farm,” Si­mone sug­gested whilst look­ing at Chloé with a can-you-get-that-or­gan­ised look. In

be­tween shows, events and meet­ings over the next two days I be­gan to as­sid­u­ously gar­ner as much in­for­ma­tion as I could about Carmina Cam­pus, after all Ilaria was a daugh­ter of the fa­mous Fendi fam­ily, a fam­ily steeped in fash­ion his­tory, a great Ital­ian house. I would need to know my baguette from my bag bug at the very least.

I learnt that she was the youngest daugh­ter of Anna, one of five Fendi sis­ters who trans­formed the brand post World War 2 into a global fash­ion pow­er­house within which Ilaria’s sis­ter Silvia Ven­turini Fendi re­mains the head ac­ces­sories de­signer. Ilaria had been en­trenched in the business as a shoe de­signer and Ac­ces­sories Cre­ative Di­rec­tor of the Fendis­sime line when she had some­thing of an epiphany and felt an over­whelm­ing de­sire to leave the city and lead a more sim­ple, holis­tic and agrar­ian life. Con­sciously turn­ing her back on the fash­ion in­dus­try she pur­chased I Casali del Pino, a beau­ti­ful farm sit­u­ated on an­cient Etr­uscan land north­west of Rome. Farm­ing was as much in her blood as fash­ion via her fa­ther Gi­ulio Ven­turini, a pas­sion­ate outdoorsman who died when

she was young. It was here at the farm she launched the seed of Carmina Cam­pus in 2006, a brand that aims to ‘cre­ate with­out de­stroy­ing’ by mak­ing hand­bags, jew­els and fur­ni­ture out of reused ma­te­ri­als.

“See you guys in the ho­tel foyer at 10am,” said Chloé, “we will grab a taxi”. We were ex­cited as the week in the fab­u­lous city of Roma had been ex­tra­or­di­nary, a broad feast of his­tor­i­cal, ar­chi­tec­tural, cul­tural and epi­curean de­light but a trip into the Ital­ian coun­try­side sounded per­fect, although surely that would be an ex­pen­sive taxi ride? We were sur­prised that the trip took lit­tle more than 30 min­utes pass­ing a string of fruit and flower shops and semi-ru­ral, semi-sub­ur­ban en­claves along the way. The farm was sur­pris­ingly close to town. Upon ar­rival we en­tered through a hooped gate­way em­bel­lished with the words ‘Flo­rac­ult’ in iron and a drive­way lined with that most fab­u­lously iconic tree of Roma, the Stone or Um­brella pine. Flo­rac­ult? I won­dered if we might per­haps be en­ter­ing the ‘green­est’ place in Italy but we were not met by daisy­haired Ro­man flower chil­dren upon ar­rival but a lovely warm, smil­ing woman called Elisabetta Facco in­stead. Elisabetta ex­plained that ‘Flo­rac­ult’; was a mas­sive three day na­ture and cul­ture event which had re­cently been held on the farm, hence the sign was still up. Set on 174 acres of lush coun­try­side I Casali del Pino is mag­nif­i­cent. Ilaria and her team have lov­ingly re­stored a num­ber of the build­ings on the site, a process that has not been as easy as she would have liked due to the his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance of the site and the build­ings and the fact an­cient Ro­man and Etr­uscan archaeological sites pep­per the land­scape. An over­whelm­ing sense of ‘or­ganic’ per­vaded the warm sum­mery air in a very warm and wel­com­ing way.

Elisabetta ush­ered us in through a side door of one of the beau­ti­ful brick build­ings on the farm and we meet and greet Ilaria and com­mer­cial/lo­gis­tics man­ager for Carmina Cam­pus Roberto Palagetti. The Carmina Cam­pus show­room is re­splen­dent with many ac­ces­sories, mainly bags, sev­eral pieces of fur­ni­ture, a num­ber of sculp­tures and art pieces and nu­mer­ous tex­tiles and fab­rics – all of it made from re­cy­cled or up-cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. We give Ilaria a copy of Black Mag­a­zine and I be­gin to ex­tract my dic­ta­phone, think­ing we have per­haps one hour max­i­mum to get some sort of story. Ilaria spys the de­vice and sug­gests she may get ner­vous and will not be able to stop talk­ing too quickly in Ital­ian. We are fine with this as my Ital­ian is fledg­ling at best and there is clearly so much to see here, so much cre­ativ­ity, crafts­man­ship and style. Rachael and I are both struck by the qual­ity of the con­struc­tion of a num­ber of the bags and the easy way in which the bot­tom of a soft drink can be­comes a fea­ture of a bag that can sell for up to 1,200 euro. Two of the sculp­tures are ge­nius: A ta­ble made from an old gas sta­tion fore­court light works as ex­actly that, a ta­ble and a light, and a droopy Snoopy-es­que dog made of shred­ded car tyres stand­ing about four foot high in the cor­ner is plain cute. We be­gin to re­al­ize that Carmina

Cam­pus is rich with cre­ative think­ing as well as re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude.

The farm it­self is a pic­ture of sus­tain­abil­ity. Be­neath the ubiq­ui­tous pines its rolling hill­sides are pop­u­lated with Sarda sheep. Th­ese long-haired, hand­some sheep pro­duce milk which Ilaria, in turn, makes into a Moz­zarella cheese made of sheep milk in­stead of cow’s milk. Much of the food that sus­tains the team work­ing on the farm is grown there, in­clud­ing honey from nu­mer­ous hives. It was in fact her honey-mak­ing bees that first led Ilaria and Carmina Cam­pus to the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive in a round­about way. The Univer­sity of Rome asked her in 2007 to share her api­arist skills with a group of vis­it­ing bee­keep­ers from Cameroon. As a thank you for her time the bee­keep­ers thanked her by gift­ing a hat made by ar­ti­sans in Cameroon. In­tu­itively, Ilaria turned the hat on its own head, as it were, and made it into a bag. This sin­gle item reignited a de­sire to once again use her Fendi-born de­sign skills but this time around in a way that is in keep­ing with her new life as an agri­cul­tural en­tre­pre­neur and an en­vi­ron­men­tally for­ward-think­ing woman by reusing, re­cy­cling and cre­at­ing with­out de­stroy­ing. Thus fol­lowed a trip to Cameroon to find out more about the hat, the ar­ti­sans and per­haps to get them to work on Carmina Cam­pus prod­ucts but many eth­i­cal and so­cial ques­tions quickly con­fronted her; ques­tions of hu­man­ity over business. En­ter Si­mone Cipri­ani and the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive, which was then in its for­ma­tive years as well. The ITC EFI were able to of­fer an eth­i­cal business model that fit­ted per­fectly with Ilaria’s as­pi­ra­tions and a con­sid­er­able num­ber of ar­ti­sans to en­sure the work was done. It was, and still is, a match made in an eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able heaven.

Just inside the Carmina Cam­pus work­room is a hall­way lead­ing to sev­eral other rooms, large repos­i­to­ries of ma­te­ri­als, fab­rics, leather, off-cuts and fit­tings. The hall­way is lined with sev­eral hun­dred bags down one wall, Carmina Cam­pus pro­to­types and vin­tage items. Th­ese rooms are res­o­nant and re­s­plen­dant with an un­der­tone of the ar­ti­sanal his­tory of Italy it­self, after all the Ital­ians re­ally are a race rich with great ar­ti­sans. “Let’s go for a tour,” Ilaria says, “I will show you what we are do­ing with the farm.” We head out­side and to­ward a large build­ing with three beau­ti­ful con­i­cal tur­rets along one wall which Ilaria ex­plains are so­lar chim­neys - a sus­tain­able sys­tem for heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing. This is the con­ven­tion cen­tre and ex­hi­bi­tion space, a per­fect build­ing to use in con­junc­tion with the large court­yard out­side for an event like Flo­rac­ult. Ilaria men­tions that they some­times hold film evenings in the space and ges­tures to a set of prayer/gen­u­flect­ing seats near the front of the room, “and some lo­cals also use the room for Mass.” The wood and metal fin­ish­ing on the build­ing is ex­quis­ite and per­fectly suited to the age and his­tory of the sur­round­ing build­ings. Next we go out­side to the re­mains of a sta­ble, el­e­ments of the an­cient city are vis­i­ble in its walls and floor, a much newer, yet still an­tique metal chil­dren’s round­about sits in one cor­ner. Like ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­where in Roma, his­tory is om­nipresent.

We then move to a fab­u­lous two-story build­ing which had tra­di­tion­ally been used as the farm work­ers quarters. The build­ing has

been lov­ingly re­stored to its for­mer glory and opened in Septem­ber as a beau­ti­ful bou­tique ho­tel. I Casali del Pino is a des­ti­na­tion of sorts, hous­ing two restau­rants on site as well as host­ing events like Flo­rac­ult. Inside the ho­tel each room has been de­vel­oped with the ut­most care and cre­ativ­ity. It is ap­par­ently a Fendi-wide trait to col­lect an­cient tiles and in many of the rooms in the ho­tel th­ese are laid into walls, floors, bath­rooms – once again ar­ti­sans have been at work. Within the ho­tel’s many rooms there are once again, ex­am­ples of Carmina Cam­pus in­ge­nu­ity. A couch made of plane seats has been re­sus­ci­tated from its air­line hey­day with fold-out ta­ble still in­tact and op­er­a­tional for ease of eat­ing, writ­ing or a lap­top per­haps. In another room a Mercedes Benz head­light has been ex­tracted, and sans car, shaped and turned into a use­ful room lamp. Sur­round­ing all of this in­ge­nious think­ing and re­spon­si­ble ac­tion is a sense of style, a sense of class in­trin­sic to one called Ilaria.

We briefly meet two of the friendli­est don­keys known to man who ee-aw across the pad­dock and we give the par­tic­u­larly talk­a­tive Bruno a pat be­fore jumping into Ilaria’s jeep for a trip around the farm. We see an an­cient ‘swimming pool’, Ro­man walls amidst bush that once housed wa­ter and per­haps, oc­ca­sion­ally, a real toga party. An an­cient bridge, hand carved in the side of a hill is all that is left of a road, a ‘way’ sim­i­lar to the Ap­pian Way, upon which Etr­uscan mer­chants would travel with their goods to Rome and per­haps the archaeological jewel on the farm, an an­cient Ro­man spring/well, tiled into a hill­side and still work­ing.

We re­turn to the farm and are in­vited to lunch with Ilaria and her team, which we grate­fully ac­cept: our 1-hour in­ter­view has be­come a three hour tar­ri­ance with great peo­ple in a great place. We eat in Ilaria’s provin­cial kitchen meets din­ing room, and we eat beau­ti­ful Ital­ian food; cheeses made on the farm; we share loaves of home made bread, vegetables and salad greens grown on the farm, cold meats, fab­u­lous wines and Rachael won­ders across the ta­ble at me “Are we in a film?”

As we leave there is an over­whelm­ing feel­ing of warmth and a sense that we have been im­mersed in some­thing very good, very hon­est, very or­ganic. Some­thing that may be steeped in his­tory and cul­ture but is also for­ward-think­ing and very much about the cul­ture of the fu­ture.

De­signer Ilaria work­ing on a col­lec­tion of can­vas bags em­bel­lished with re­cy­cled shuka, the tra­di­tional Maa­sai blan­ket

Some work­ers from the Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive Nairobi Hub were trained by the best ar­ti­sans in Italy thanks to the col­lab­o­ra­tion with Carmina Cam­pus.

Op­po­site above; Find­ing new ways to re­use ma­te­ri­als. Here, kanga off-cuts are ironed and folded to cre­ate add-ons for Carmina Cam­pus bags Op­po­site (left): A beau­ti­ful wooden bath and olive oil tin seat in one of the ho­tel rooms at I Casali del Pino. Above: A ma­te­rial store­room at Carmina Cam­pus, ev­ery­thing is still alive, still has a use!

Op­po­site: Clock­wise from top left: A gas sta­tion sign be­comes a light/ ta­ble. Like a flower the fab­ric is reused and grows once again, here as the front of Carmina’s best sell­ers, the Tetris bag. Ilaria out­side the con­fer­ence hall. The draw­ers of an ar­ti­san. A Carmina Cam­pus carry-all. Above: The bou­tique ho­tel built within the for­mer farm worker’s quarters.

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