Fendi and design, it’s an old story! It all started in 2008, at Design Miami, with design talks that brought together a young creative team, from the Campana brothers to Tom Dixon. It didn’t stop there: the following year, the brand did it again at Milan's Salone del Mobile, with Craft Punk, a performance where the designers, supported by the craftsmen of the house, had a blast reinventing manufacturing methods. A series of amazing collaborations have followed each year: in Miami, Milan and Basel. This past year, at Design Miami, Fendi’s creative director, Silvia Venturini called on the Swiss studio Kueng Caputo, led by Sarah Kueng and Lovis Caputo. They created Roman Molds, a collection of ten objects inspired by the architecture of Fendi’s Italian headquarters, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
How did this collaboration begin?
About ten years ago Fendi established a close partnership with Design Miami. Together, they examine and select tomorrow’s talents for future collaborations. In our case, it was the directors of the fair, Rodman Primack and Rudy Weissenberg who, among others, suggested our name. Then, we were lucky to have aroused the interest of Silvia Venturini at Fendi, who selected us for this edition.
Why do you think the brand selected you? What is your main strength?
At Kueng Caputo, for each new project we think that it is important to question the norm, to transcend the obvious and to express a different opinion. We always approach a situation with a unique and critical point of view, without limiting ourselves to what we already know or what has already been done. Despite our many collaborations, our passion remains intact, as did the desire to work as a team. Fendi gave us a carte blanche with incredible freedom in terms of creation and experimentation. This created the possibility of also making new discoveries, while bringing across our point of view.
How did the inspiration for Roman Molds and these new designer pieces come about?
Usually, when we approach a new project we try to make our works reflect a reaction, resulting from our perception. The first time we visited the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Fendi’s headquarters in Rome, we were impressed by the building, its proportions, the way it occupies the surrounding space. And especially by the light and shadow. We immediately knew that it would be the foundation of our project and that this building would inspire us for this new adventure. In our pieces, we, therefore, tried to reinterpret this alternation between empty and full, just like the repetition of the arches and the purity of the lines. By studying the identity of the brand, we discovered in the archives that Fendi was a specialist in counterparts, staging oppositions in dialogue and creations in which contrasts admirably coexist, thus contributing to making pieces, classics that are not at all classical. Like this Peekaboo navy bag which hides a surprising fuchsia lining. We wanted to apply and adapt this approach to furniture, which we designed by making materials coexist through contrasts, all in the same piece. The other thing that inspired us was Fendi’s use of Trompe-l’œil. In this project, we used it through leather and the appearance it could take: we used a soft leather, which we worked in order to obtain not an aspect of flexibility but of rigidity.
Can we say that, like Fendi in the world of fashion, the way you use this material is innovative in the world of design? How did you do it?
We wanted to pay tribute to the craft and to show the leather in all its splendour. It’s a symbol of excellence, one of the iconic materials used by Fendi. It’s one of the first also, to have been used by humans and various civilizations, who over the centuries have developed a wide variety of techniques. Fendi cultivates this heritage while looking to the future, trying to reinvent its uses.
To do so, we had to find a material whose identity would contrast with the natural and organic beauty of leather: we, therefore, decided to use rough, hard and mineral bricks. We were delighted with the idea of playing with contrasts and showing that opposites could also coexist. In this project, the crucial step was the exchange and the dialogue that we had with the craftsmen. It was by talking to them, by getting closer to their creative process and their precious savoir-faire, that the project was able to grow. It then helped us a lot when we reinterpreted the material and reworked it to bring it to our final vision.
What constraints did you come across? And how did you manage to get around them?
To create the shapes we had imagined, we had to work the bricks a lot so that we could cut them, build them and combine them with leather. We first took a standard brick, which we burned once and then a second time. This is not usually the case: when you work bricks you only burn them once. This was not obvious because some bricks were melting ... we, therefore, used an innovative technique that is used in the building industry: you pre-build a wall and, once it is built, you cut the windows. The factory we collaborated with had never cut rounded shapes before. So, they had to work upstream to see how they were going to adapt their techniques and their tools to our needs. We didn’t just want to paint these shapes, so we adopted a glazing technique used for ceramics. It was important for us to use glazing because it produces pretty contrasts with the bricks. Now that the pieces are finished, it sounds easy. But the process behind it has taken several steps, resulting in many attempts, errors and surprises! We did not expect such a result!
What do you think of the partnerships between fashion brands and design?
When experts from different fields work together in accordance with their respective working methods, it inevitably creates an unprecedented and unique fusion of savoir-faire and expertise. This kind of collaboration is fruitful and the result is a tangible and often surprising mixture of two universes. It is stimulating, inspiring and enriching to immerse yourself in other universes. We are fascinated by passionate people. And mutual respect for each other’s knowledge is the basic principle of our work, which is based on collaboration.
Through this creation, what message did you want to convey?
We wanted to give our point of view on Fendi’s identity and express it through our creations. Fendi and its headquarters have inspired us so much, just like the importance the house gives to craftmanship and to passing down traditions. But also, their search for technical innovation and perfection, this unique way of processing materials. And finally, their ability to design and create a dialogue between contrasts... we wanted to transform all of this into something other than fashion.