Like many other designer handbag companies, Fendi started as a leather goods store that offered horse saddles and carriage fittings. Opened in Rome in 1925 by married couple and artisans Edoardo and Adele Fendi, the company gained great acclaim among the Italian elite and became a destination store for wealthy tourists visiting Rome.
It wasn’t long before the leather and fur shop added hand-stitched handbags to its offerings, opening new stores around Europe. Because of shortages during World War II, the Fendis took to making handbags out of hard materials like wood.
Adele’s five daughters—Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla, and Alda—slept in the handbag drawer as infants, so it’s not surprising that they joined the company once they became adults. Unlike their traditional parents, these young women were not adverse to taking risks with the company. In 1965, they started working with a flamboyant rising young designer named Karl Lagerfeld. Soon, he created the famous double-F Fendi logo.
At Fendi, Lagerfeld took a whole new approach to fur. He altered its texture and shape so it was easier to wear, and he would tint mink and other luxury furs unnatural colors like violet and pink. In 1969, Lagerfeld introduced Fendi’s first ready-to-wear fur collection. He was just as experimental with leather, trying out different ways to print, weave, dye, and tan it, and making handbags softer and less-structured.
In 1977, Fendi launched its Lagerfeld-designed ready-to-wear clothing collection, which furthered its reputation as a firm of sophisticated and well-made fashion. The '70s was also the decade the earth-toned logo bag became the thing to have, so Fendi produced a whole line of muted chocolate-and-carmel striped bags with the double-F logo on the front.
During the early '90s, Silvia Venturini Fendi joined the company as the design coordinator. She found the company's line of post-’80s bags to be “plastic, normal, plain, ugly.” Her first order was to revive the hand-stitched handbag tradition of Adele Fendi with the Selleria line, which featured naturally treated cowhide and was characterized by a slightly bumpy surface and big, obvious saddle stitches. These bags soon developed a cultish following.
But it was her 1997 creation, the Baguette Bag, that ushered in a new era of It Bags for Fendi. This purse, which was diminutive in size and designed to be carried under the arm ...
You could purchase a Baguette in silk velvet, fur, snakeskin, crocodile, raffia, or printed faux pony. Or it might be beaded, adorned with Swarovski crystals, or paillette sequins. Some employed Northern Native American or Aztec patterns, Scottish tartans, or denim. The logo could be shiny metal, beaded, or encrusted with crystals. Some Baguettes were even embellished with feathers or mirrors.
This It Bag was seen on the arms of Madonna and Naomi Campbell; Meryl Streep tossed one around in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” The Baguette was practically an uncredited cast member of “Sex and The City” season 3, appearing in gold, purple sequin, white diamond, and brown snake.
Sophia Loren says collecting Baguettes was like an addiction for her. Fendi, which introduced a new Baguette style every six months to keep them hot, made an even smaller riff on the Baguette called the Croissant, which is about the size of a grapefruit wedge and really only good for carrying a cell phone or wallet. It’s actually meant to be held inside a bigger bag.
In 2005, though, the Baguette was finally upstaged by the Fendi Spy, a soft leather bag with a curved sack-like shape that isn’t quite a hobo bag or a satchel. Favored by Kate Moss, this slouchy bag has hidden compartments and double-braided leather handles. Almost immediately after its release, the Spy, which sold for upwards of $2,000, had a wait list.
Just a year later, the much-coveted B Bag came along, Characterized by two large belt buckles on the front, the B is made in everything from calfskin and snake to straw and patent leather.