Meet the heiress who wants to bring a po­lit­i­cal slant to the fam­ily busi­ness. By Clau­dia Croft

Leonetta Fendi may be fash­ion roy­alty but she’s not ready for a gilded life of leisure. In­stead, she’s a cam­paigner and vol­un­teer who’s de­ter­mined to make luxury a force for good. By Clau­dia Croft. Pho­to­graphs by Cat Stevens

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENT -

‘Peo­ple would say, “But you are a Fendi – why go to an anti-cap­i­tal­ist march?”’

If you think all fash­ion heiresses are bub­ble-headed brats more con­cerned with tear­ing through their trust funds than do­ing some­thing use­ful, then you’ve not met Leonetta Fendi. The 20-year-old bounds pur­pose­fully through the sa­lon at Shored­itch House look­ing as if she’s just taken a de­tour from the Women’s March. Dressed like a lat­ter-day Land Girl in a T-shirt tucked into over­sized blue work­wear trousers, she’s wear­ing the sturdy boots of some­one who prefers to walk rather than Uber it.

Her mother is Sil­via Ven­turini Fendi, who heads up the menswear and ac­ces­sory arms of the Ital­ian luxury house and who, in 1997, cre­ated the Fendi Baguette, the lit­tle tote that kick-started the It-bag era. Leonetta’s sis­ter, the jeweller Del­fina Delet­trez Fendi, also de­signs ac­ces­sories for the house.

Grow­ing up a Fendi meant grow­ing up at the heart of one of Italy ’s most iconic fash­ion brands. Karl Lager­feld, who has been de­sign­ing for Fendi for 52 years, would sketch pic­tures of her when she was a baby. She has been help­ing out back­stage at her mother’s fash­ion shows since she was 10, at­tended her first Dior haute cou­ture show at the age of 12 (‘I was des­per­ate to meet John Gal­liano’) and can have her pick of glam­orous looks from the Fendi ar­chive when the oc­ca­sion calls.

A so­cialite’s ca­reer of front-row photo ops, fab­u­lous furs and ex­pen­sive friends, with per­haps a lit­tle de­sign­ing on the side, seemed to beckon, but Leonetta wants more from life than that.

She re­cently grad­u­ated from SOAS, the Univer­sity of Lon­don’s School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies, with a de­gree in pol­i­tics and de­vel­op­ment stud­ies, cut­ting off her waist-length hair in a ges­ture of free­dom to cel­e­brate the end of her ex­ams. ‘I want to go into pol­i­tics,’ she says, run­ning a dainty hand through her gamine new crop. ‘I want to help peo­ple and change things’ – al­though it’s ac­tivism, rather than in­sti­tu­tional pol­i­tics (which she de­scribes as ‘scary’), that in­ter­ests her most. ‘It’s the small acts, be­cause ev­ery­thing you do is po­lit­i­cal, even small acts,’ she says. But even those aren’t al­ways enough. ‘All my friends are ve­gan and I still eat meat, so they’re like, “You’re not that po­lit­i­cal.” And I say, I still am – in my own way.’

Her own way runs counter to the pre­scribed route of the fash­ion It girl. If Leonetta, which means ‘lit­tle lion’ in Ital­ian, con­forms to any stereo­type, it’s that of the ‘woke’ mil­len­nial rather than the spoilt rich girl. In­stead of spend­ing school hol­i­days yacht-hop­ping around Europe, she vol­un­teered in refugee camps in Greece and Athens, ‘giv­ing out clothes and sleep­ing bags and help­ing in the kitchens’. She also went to Calais. ‘Four or five times. I was vol­un­teer­ing in the camp. It was hard the first time, es­pe­cially as you don’t know what to ex­pect. It was crazy – ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions – but I met such great peo­ple. I’m still tex­ting them as they move around the world. Some have man­aged to get into the UK and they’ve claimed asy­lum and are start­ing their life slowly.’ It all sounds very wor­thy, but this bright young Fendi ex­udes an in­fec­tious op­ti­mism.

Her up­bring­ing had, she says, ‘pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives’. ‘When I was young peo­ple would say, “Will you give me a Fendi bag for my birth­day?” I started to think, why are they ask­ing me that? That’s not nice. Peo­ple are going to be friendly with me for that?’ She and all the Fendi cousins went to the same mid­dle school. ‘There were so many of us, we were a clique,’ she says of her clan. ‘That’s when I started to re­alise what it meant, the fam­ily.’ Even so, she didn’t en­joy spe­cial fash­ion priv­i­leges. She and her cousins were the last girls in school to get Fendi school­bags. ‘It was af­ter all the other girls started car­ry­ing them,’ she re­mem­bers, with amuse­ment more than ir­ri­ta­tion.

For Fendi, like many chil­dren born into high-fly­ing fam­i­lies, the chal­lenge is to cre­ate an iden­tity for her­self. ‘Peo­ple would say, “But you’re a Fendi – why go to an anti-cap­i­tal­ist march? How can you do that?” Peo­ple will al­ways judge.’ Her am­bi­tion is to work for the UN or an NGO, but she’s not turn­ing her back on fash­ion and the op­por­tu­ni­ties a global brand like Fendi of­fers. ‘Now I’m start­ing to think of both paths and to aim to com­bine pol­i­tics and fash­ion,’ she says. ‘Fash­ion is very pow­er­ful. It’s one of the most pow­er­ful medi­ums to ex­press your­self in.’

The fam­ily spe­cialises in pro­duc­ing un­con­ven­tional, strong, cre­ative and en­tre­pre­neur­ial women. They have sur­rounded the young heiress all her life. The brand was founded by Leonetta’s great-grand­mother, Adele Casagrande. She opened a fur and leather work­shop in Rome in 1918, re­nam­ing it Fendi in 1925 af­ter mar­ry­ing Edoardo Fendi. The busi­ness was passed on to their five daugh­ters – Paola, Franca, Carla, Alda and Anna (Leonetta’s grand­mother) – who grew up in the ate­lier, play­ing with the furs and the bags. With the help of Karl Lager­feld, who be­gan work­ing for Fendi in 1965, the sis­ters are cred­ited with trans­form­ing the im­age of fur, from a sta­ple of wealthy women’s wardrobes into a must-have fash­ion state­ment. As com­pany pres­i­dent, Carla Fendi, who died in June of this year, in­tro­duced the brand to the Amer­i­can mar­ket in the late 1960s and mas­ter­minded its global ex­pan­sion in the decades that fol­lowed. The Fendis were a rare fe­male fash­ion dy­nasty, and as a mark of the sis­ters’ im­por­tance to Italy, they were granted spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion by the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to al­low their

‘Like most women in my fam­ily, my mother was both the woman and the man’

de­scen­dants to adopt the ma­ter­nal sur­name. In 2001 the sis­ters sold a ma­jor­ity stake to LVMH. ‘Five sis­ters was too much,’ Karl Lager­feld said at the time of the deal, ‘and they were not speak­ing. The hus­bands were all happy when they sold.’

Af­ter that, most of the Fendi fam­ily moved on from the day-to­day run­ning of the busi­ness. Only Sil­via and Del­fina are ac­tively in­volved to­day. The ex­pec­ta­tion is that Leonetta, too, will join them at Fendi, al­though she in­sists she won’t be de­sign­ing. ‘I said no, I don’t know how to draw,’ she ad­mits with a play­ful shrug. What she ex­cels at is build­ing a bridge be­tween Fendi – where an haute cou­ture coat can cost €1 mil­lion – and her own mil­len­nial generation, who have a very dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to luxury from their pre­de­ces­sors. In terms of shap­ing the at­ti­tudes of the house to ap­peal to new young cus­tomers, she’s Fendi’s se­cret weapon.

To that end, she’s been work­ing with F is For…, the dig­i­tal plat­form set up by Fendi in 2016. Pro­duced by and aimed at mil­len­ni­als – the con­sumer group that all luxury brands are des­per­ate to woo – it show­cases live art and DJ ex­pe­ri­ences on the roof of Fendi’s Rome HQ, as well as pro­fil­ing young artists, ac­tors and cre­atives.

Fendi – un­pre­ten­tious, charis­matic, warm and con­fi­dent – is a nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era, and stages video takeovers and show cov­er­age on the site as well as scout­ing for young tal­ent to high­light. Its val­ues of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and op­ti­mism chime with her. Ob­sessed with au­then­tic­ity, plugged into so­cial me­dia (‘I get all my news from Face­book and In­sta­gram’), she says her generation wants to en­gage with brands that re­flect their val­ues. ‘We want to change things for the bet­ter and we need ev­ery­one’s sup­port. We can’t do it by our­selves. The peo­ple that are in power now, we want to have a di­a­logue with them. We don’t want to wait to be in power to change things. We will make our voices heard.’

Pol­i­tics was al­ways dis­cussed at home, and she cred­its her phil­an­thropic Aunt Carla with in­spir­ing her to get more in­volved with the causes she be­lieved in. She reg­u­larly vol­un­teered at Carla’s hos­pice for chil­dren with can­cer. Her in­ter­est in pol­i­tics deep­ened when she left home at 15 to at­tend United World Col­leges At­lantic, a pro­gres­sive board­ing school in the Vale of Glam­or­gan, which de­scribes its alumni as ‘agents of pos­i­tive change’.

Her mother, Sil­via, had an un­con­ven­tional up­bring­ing. Her mother, Anna, was such a ded­i­cated aes­thete that she dressed Sil­via and her sib­lings only in black be­cause it was more chic than wear­ing colour, lead­ing many who met the young­sters to be­lieve they were in con­stant mourn­ing. Anna art-di­rected the fam­ily’s life to the point that they even ate food dyed to match her favourite shades. ‘There was the blue pe­riod, the green pe­riod, the black pe­riod… All my friends would love to come over be­cause we’d serve blue rice for din­ner, up un­til my mother re­alised she was poi­son­ing us with chem­i­cals,’ Sil­via said in an in­ter­view last year.

Sil­via in­her­ited her mother’s aes­thetic sense (al­though not her culi­nary tastes), grav­i­tat­ing to­wards the Fendi ate­liers. She be­gan work­ing for the fam­ily busi­ness as soon as she could.

Fendi re­mem­bers her mother wasn’t like the other par­ents at her school in Rome. ‘Like most of the women in my fam­ily, she was both the woman and the man,’ she says. She re­calls ask­ing her mother to do the school run but Sil­via was too busy at work.

‘All the mums would hang out at and come and pick up the kids af­ter school. I would think, why is my mum not do­ing that?’ While hav­ing a mother with a high-pow­ered job might have given her pangs of anx­i­ety as a child, Fendi now has a dif­fer­ent take on it.

‘It is good be­cause she is very pow­er­ful. She gives me a sense of em­pow­er­ment. I can do what­ever a man can do and do it as well as she could, and I can take care of my­self with­out need­ing anyone else to look af­ter me.’

As a mem­ber of one of Italy’s wealth­i­est fam­i­lies, Fendi doesn’t try to hide her priv­i­lege. In­stead, she wears it lightly. Dur­ing her first year at SOAS she was too em­bar­rassed to in­vite her univer­sity friends over be­cause she was liv­ing in her mother’s Lon­don house in Knights­bridge. ‘I hated it. I didn’t know where to go for lunch or din­ner and all my friends were in east Lon­don,’ she says. She moved to Dal­ston in the sec­ond year and spent her time going to marches, lec­tures and ex­hi­bi­tions, and cy­cling back and forth to Peck­ham, where her then-boyfriend lived. ‘I go to Loulou’s [a pri­vate mem­bers’ club in May­fair] but also Blues Kitchens or any bar I find. I feel I can adapt to ev­ery­thing,’ she says.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she took some time out, surf­ing in Por­tu­gal with a group of 30 friends, putting off the tricky busi­ness of de­cid­ing what to do next and where to call home: Italy, where her teenage bed­room is still plas­tered with One Di­rec­tion posters; Lon­don, where she’s spent the past three years; or New York. ‘My mum is say­ing, “Did you find your­self an in­tern­ship yet?’’’ What­ever she does, we can ex­pect her pres­ence at Fendi to grow.

As for fash­ion, there are plenty of things she would like to change. ‘It’s not enough to put a slo­gan on a T-shirt – you have to put in place what you talk and ad­vo­cate for – but it’s a start,’ she says. Sus­tain­abil­ity is a big con­cern for her and her generation, as is ex­ploita­tion in the sup­ply chain. ‘Fash­ion has to be con­scious about what’s hap­pen­ing around the world. It’s such a mas­sive in­dus­try and it also has much po­ten­tial to reach the youngest in so­ci­ety. Now, it has to have a pos­i­tive im­pact.’ Cur­rent and fu­ture CEOS take note.

Clock­wise from be­low

left Leonetta with her sis­ter, the jew­ellery de­signer Del­fina Delet­trez Fendi, at spring/sum­mer 2017 fash­ion week in Mi­lan; with her mother, Sil­via Ven­turini Fendi, who de­signs ac­ces­sories and menswear, at the haute

four­rure au­tumn/win­ter 2017 show; at the F is

For... launch party in New York, Fe­bru­ary 2017

In tweed plaid jacket, £2,790, Fendi (fendi.com)

In cot­ton dress, £910, and leather belt, £530, both Fendi (fendi.com) Styling: Sophie Daw­son. Hair and make-up: Jo­hanni Nel at S Man­age­ment us­ing Kéras­tase and Bobbi Brown

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