Fendi, the iconic Italian brand, has been making waves in the Eternal City since it first opened in 1925. Originally a family-run atelier in the historic center of Rome, Fendi ranks among the world’s greatest fashion houses and has become increasingly visible in the Italian capital thanks to its numerous philanthropy projects and artistic investments.
From renovating the Trevi Fountain and establishing the brand’s headquarters in EUR’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana to opening a flagship store in the heart of Rome and creating a partnership with Galleria Borghese, Fendi’s love for the city is indisputable.
I recently met with Alda Fendi, the youngest of the founders’ five daughters, to speak about her newest foundation, why she gives back to Rome and the importance of investing in Italy’s cultural heritage.
“I love Italy and everything I do is for my country, to promote the prestige of Italy abroad and to help defend its values at home,” begins Alda Fendi. “We Italians need to become stronger in demonstrating our love for our country and we need to give back to cultural projects because culture doesn’t only help people, culture is inextricably linked to democracy. Culture represents the best of a country and it represents our civilization.”
It is this innate passion and sense of altruism that led Fendi to establish her first arts foundation in Rome back in 2001 with a mission of giving back to the Eternal City, the city of her birth and the city where the Fendi story all began. “I feel so lucky to have been born in Rome, in this cradle of art and civilization – the city is absolutely unique in the world. It’s a never-ending poem and every part of it is enchanting,” she explains.
Her latest project, the Fondazione Alda Fendi – Esperimenti, is housed within the 17th century Palazzo Rhinoceros and lies at the center of what was once Imperial Rome. The location itself is symbolic: this is one of the most evocative corners of Rome, overlooking ancient temples of the Forum Boarium and just beneath the Palatine Hill where Rome was born.
Alda Fendi reminds me, “the Palatine hill is where Rome’s emperors all chose to live, and if they chose this point it’s because it was the most beautiful place in the city” though up until recently the area had been neglected despite its significant position. She purchased the building in 2012 and worked with French architect Jean Nouvel to turn it into a space where contemporary art and ancient history collide – and where innovative cultural experiments can take place. With her foundation, Alda Fendi has given the Velabro neighborhood, and Rome itself, a new life and is eager to push the boundaries of creativity in the Eternal City.
In Jean Nouvel, Fendi saw an ally who could pay homage to her vision and mission. The building was meticulously restored and the original structure was left intact, a nod to its historic foundations. Fendi couldn’t have been happier with their partnership because Nouvel “knew how to honor Rome and respect the palace; he left the pre-existing structures in place, from the tiles in the bedrooms to the paintings on the wall,” Fendi explains. “He was the right architect for a city like Rome”.
This juxtaposition between new and old is evident in every aspect of the project. The palazzo is named Rhinoceros, a tribute to the enduring strength and power of Rome, and one of its key features is a life-sized model of a rhinoceros installed right beneath the 4th century Arch of Janus out front. Fendi enlisted award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to illuminate the Arch as a further gift to the city and to pay tribute to this focal point of the ancient city.
“Our space is not like other art spaces in Rome: we want to do something counter-culture in our palazzo, to give freedom to art and to take inspiration from the culture of the street,” explains Alda Fendi, who is a fan of mixing artistic mediums that go beyond static works to include theater, music and performance.
Inside, Palazzo Rhinoceros houses a series of exhibition rooms that will host art installations and performances; 24 apartments where guests can book a stay lasting between 3 days and 3 months; and the world-renowned Caviar Kaspia restaurant on the rooftop terrace. The foundation is a place where people can be fully immersed in art – where they can eat, sleep and “always see something new when they come to visit.” And in keeping with Fendi’s mission to divulgate the culture of Italy, exhibitions are always free and open to the public.
The Fondazione Alda Fendi – Esperimenti has also established a three-year partnership with the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and is preparing to launch its first major exhibition in the space. Michelangelo’s statue of the “Crouching Boy” will be inaugurated at Palazzo Rhinoceros on December 14th 2018 and will remain on view through March 10th 2019, the first time the statue has ever been on display in Rome.
“We wanted to unite ancient and contemporary art in this palazzo because after all, contemporary art is born from ancient art, so it was only fitting to pay homage to this duality through this beautiful statue. Michelangelo, of course, is one of Italy’s greatest artists and our mission is to promote Italy and Italian art.”
It’s impossible to not be inspired by Fendi’s fierce love for the capital and her determination to give back, something which she says has not been easy and has required incredible perseverance. “If you knew what I had to do in these years, even to give these gifts to Rome… I had to fight with all my strength,” she explains. Italy in general, and Rome in particular, are notorious for their bureaucracy but the past decade has seen innovations and entrepreneurial attempts in the capital reduced to a halt.
“The work I’m trying to do requires a lot of courage, a lot of humility and a lot of time. But I believe Italy needs to become international and that we need to spread the knowledge of our cultural wealth abroad. This is my mission and I’m going to dedicate everything I have in the next years to accomplish this goal.”
With its international partnerships and stirring concepts, the Fondazione Alda Fendi – Esperimenti is well on its way to becoming the cultural space Rome was missing and serve a beacon of inspiration for others.