Growing up at the knee of Fendi's creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, could easily inspire someone to pursue a career in design. Team that with being a fourth generation member of the venerable Fendi family, and one's destiny is pretty much sealed.
Delfina Delettrez Fendi, who spent her childhood jetting between Rome and Rio de Janeiro, is a 29-year-old jewellery designer who is carrying her family's torch to a territory all her own. Her distinctively edgy line of fine jewellery was first launched at the smartly curated Colette store in Paris in 2007. Five years later, she became the youngest designer ever to exhibit at the Louvre's Musée des Art Decoratifs. Today her pieces, which often feature animal, insect and eye motifs (the latter being her signature), are worn by A-listers like Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Jessica Alba.
The Rome-based designer was in Toronto last fall for the exclusive Canadian launch of her line of watches for Fendi at Archives in Yorkville. I caught up with Delfina to talk about growing up in a legendary fashion family, what she learned from her illustrious inner circle, and what values she's trying to instill in her young daughter.
As a little girl, what was the fashion world like for you? I'm interested to know how you processed what you saw.
It's weird because when you are raised on fashion as milk, everything looks so natural. I sat on Karl's lap without really understanding who he was for everybody else. I could see he was a genius because he was so rapid, he was so funny, he was so cultured. I could speak with Karl about anything. He's like a walking library. My family used to bring work home – even on Sundays – so when we'd all get together to have lunches, it was like speaking about the weather for us. And the beautiful thing is that all the different generations were welcome to listen, to participate, to state our point of view. Nobody was left behind. Everybody had a role in a way. But I wasn't just interested in the spectacular event of a 20-minute runway show. I was also interested in why certain materials were chosen, why certain shapes worked. My mom was my idol and I would dream of her with all those materials. To me, she was a magician.
What did Karl teach you about always looking forward?
We know he doesn't want to look at the past. So even the present is a sort of past. He gave me this desire to move on and this motto that nothing is impossible. You can do whatever you want. Just experiment, experiment and experiment. And this is a word that has been passed through him, through my family.
Was your family always happy that you were going to pursue a career in the business?
I think they were able to prepare me since I was small. They showed me the passion and the business sense that was required. You have to be devoted, and sometimes, it's not easy at all. I was able to see all the sad, difficult moments. I was able to see my mom not being able to leave work, or always having her mind going non-stop. So my family was conscious that I was prepared for all that and that I wasn't taking this lightly, but they were surprised that I was going towards the jewellery world, because they knew that I wasn't a jewellery person at all. I was more interested in furs and fabrics, but I was also interested in the technical aspects of things because I had an older brother and we were always building things. I wanted to go off by myself, and take what I'd learned from my family but apply it in a different art form. Jewellery was something that had been untouched by Fendi; it was the only sector that Fendi didn't evolve. I was intimidated but I also really wanted to make the point of going out by myself not using the Fendi name, of making it with my own legs. I also love challenges and wanted to work in an area that wasn't familiar to me. I wanted to apply my fashion rules into a more static sort of art, like the jewellery world where traditions are important, but where you could twist traditions and experiment.
You say you weren't a jewellery person growing up, but now you love it, obviously. Are you the type of person that really piles it on, or do you take a minimalist approach?
It depends. Sometimes I can become a tropical bird, covered with jewellery! But I felt that there was a hole in the market for my generation's needs. Every time I wore jewellery, I felt it didn't belong to my generation. And the majority of jewellers throughout history have been men. So I started making what I wanted to wear, taking my personal story and my personal shapes.
What do you tell your daughter about jewellery and fashion? Do you think she looks at you the way you looked at your mom?
I try to show her everything. She's always been very attracted by colours. I want to build a sort of a fairy tale for her. I want to show her all the different aspects of my work. She comes every Wednesday to work at my studio with me and she has her own table where she plays. She can polish, she can enamel. I want to show her that yes, her idol Katy Perry wears my pierced earrings, but then I want to show her all the different aspects of what I do – the hard work. She needs to understand that jewellery has to be something that makes your life happier. We should not be scared of it; we should play around with it. And we must be open to accepting every kind of material. But at the same time, it's hard work. It's respect for craftsmanship, it's respect for materials, it's respect for perfect quality.
It's everything your family taught you growing up. It's also an appreciation for the timelessness of certain pieces, like the watches you've designed.
That's why I wanted it to look like a bit of a deco watch. I like imagining someone finding one of these watches in 200 years and not really knowing whether it's contemporary or if it's deco...trying to figure out where it comes from. I like to give each piece a sort of a past, present and future, because the present reassures us and the future excites us. This watch is in between the two. It makes you ask questions.
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