In Rome with a Fendi

Ilaria Venturini Fendi, a refreshingly down-to-earth member of Italian fashion royalty, takes time out from running her farm and eco-conscious accessories label to give GT a personal tour of her favourite experiences in The Eternal City.

By Marion Hume
Ilaria Venturini Fendi had planned on being a farmer. But with both Rome and fashion in her blood, she was soon called back to the same path as her famous family members. The youngest daughter of Anna Fendi, one of the five sisters of the fashion dynasty, Ilaria is also younger sister to Silvia Venturini Fendi, who works with Karl Lagerfeld on the Fendi line.
Ilaria was herself once in the Fendi design fold. But five years ago, she decided she wanted to rediscover the countryside she had fallen in love with as a child alongside her beloved father, who died when she was 10. So she left the company bearing the maternal family name (by then owned by luxury giant LVMH) and bought a farm about 30 minutes north of Rome, with a view to turning it entirely organic.
"I thought being a farmer would be my life, but fashion pulled me back," she laughs. It was honey bees that sealed her fate. Having successfully introduced beehives to her property, she was asked by the University of Rome to welcome a visiting delegation of farmers from Cameroon in West Africa and teach them about the vital importance of beekeeping for the health of the land. Later, her guests returned with gifts - traditional crocheted hats from their homeland - to thank her for her hospitality. Immediately, Fendi turned a hat upside down and, in her mind, saw it trimmed with leather as a funky new handbag. Soon, these bags were for sale in Re(f)use, a little store she opened in a family-owned property in Rome. Today Re(f)use also offers a range of beautiful upmarket pieces made entirely from reclaimed materials, both under Fendi's own label, Carmina Campus, and by other designers. "Recycling used to mean cheap and amateur, but I am a Fendi!" she says. Carmina Campus is also available at 10 Corso Como in Milan, L'Eclaireur in Paris and Dover Street Market in London.
"Before, I really wanted to find out whether I was born to be a designer or something else," Fendi says. Now I know I am a mix of both my mother and my father; I realised I could be a farmer and in fashion." For her personal wardrobe, she favours layered T-shirts, skinny jeans and sturdy boots "because I could be sketching at my desk [at her design studio on the farm] one minute and talking to the shepherd the next."
Fendi divides her time between the farm and Rome itself, which she loves for its eclectic vibe - its antiquities sitting almost casually next to the funkiest bars. "I grew up breathing the leather of the workshops in Rome, but I've always been something of an activist," she says. "I used to find fashion people so passive about what was happening to the environment, although that is changing now. I saw a way both to use things differently and also make ugly things fabulous. You could say I have found the balance to my life."
"You can eat and drink all day and all night in Rome," says Fendi. Indeed, the day starts with the morning's first doughy, orange-scented cornetto, pepped up with a shot of espresso, and ends with an icy granita.
Morning in Rome begins, of course, with coffee. You'll find all the city's politicians at Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè, having their morning espresso before heading to the nearby Senate, while La Casa del Caffè Tazza D'Oro is where Romans go to stock up on beans for the kitchen cupboard. Be prepared for crowds at least three-deep at the bar. Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè, Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, +39 06 68802048; La Casa del Caffè Tazza D'Oro, Via degli Orfani 84, +39 06 6789792
Tourists and many locals may love the grand gelato parlours such as Giolitti, which Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn visited in Roman Holiday; Fendi prefers San Crispino "because everything is fresh and seasonal". This little gem (also the favourite of Cate Blanchett when she was in Rome filming The Life Aquatic), doesn't look like much; just a stainless-steel counter with labelled lids indicating the treasures frozen beneath. A scoop each of fresh "sorbetto di fichi neri", or black fig, and "sorbetto alla pesca gialla", or yellow peach, is surely the food of the gods. (Note: it's tubs only here; for cones, go to Giolitti.) Gelateria Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario 40, +39 06 6991243; San Crispino, Via della Panetteria 42, +39 06 6793924
The pizza was not invented in Rome - it probably came from Greece and made its way through Italy, via Naples, in the 18th century - but don't bother telling that to a Roman. The best pizze are Roman and the best Roman pizze, according to Fendi, are the thin-crusts from Baffetto. You'll have to queue, she says, and don't even think about lingering at your table after devouring your Margherita. Baffetto, Via del Governo Vecchio 114, +39 06 6861617
"I love the bars at Piazza di Pietra; either Caffè Fandango, where you can also read or buy books, or Salotto 42 or Osteria dell'Ingegno, they are all there," says Fendi. And how Roman is this piazza? On one side of the square are bars with great music, mini-screening rooms and a vast array of wine to enjoy pre- or post-dinner, from 6pm to about 4am, while across the street are the remains of the great temple dedicated to Hadrian and built in 145AD, incorporated into a 19th-century building and housing the Chamber of Commerce. "Here, it's so typical to build on the top of everything else. Rome is a living city, not a museum," says Fendi. Caffè Fandango, Piazza di Pietra 32/33, +39 06 45472913; Salotto 42, Piazza di Pietra 42, +39 06 6785804; Osteria dell'Ingegno, Piazza di Pietra 45, +39 06 6780662
"This really is a secret favourite," says Fendi, naming Said Roma as her choice for winter eats. Why winter? "They cook with chocolate, which doesn't work so well for summer." In fact, when chocolate first reached Italy in the 16th century, it was used for savoury, not sweet purposes. To this day, the Piedmontese hunters' meat stews often include a hint of cocoa. Said Roma is a find for several reasons. It's in the San Lorenzo industrial area, off the tourist track yet still central (think Sydney's Surry Hills or Melbourne's Fitzroy). You eat surrounded by contraptions used for melting, cooling and shaping chocolate. And this vast still-functioning artisan chocolate factory, built by the current owner's grandfather in 1923, is a favourite with locals who stock up after dinner on any of the 60 varieties of praline. Said Roma, Via Tiburtina 135, Quartiere San Lorenzo, +39 06 4469204
SHOP Delfina Delettrez
Goth skulls decked with jewels, a raven as black as night with a spider of diamonds in its claw; the imagination behind Delfina Delettrez's jewellery collection draws fashionistas from around the world - and Karl Lagerfeld - to a tiny shop down a narrow Roman street. Delettrez is a fourth-generation Fendi - the daughter of Silvia Venturini Fendi - although she is making her own way with her dark, moody sparklers. "So she's my niece, but I would mention the store anyway!" says Fendi. Delfina Delettrez, Via del Governo Vecchio 67, +39 06 68134105
"Luxury bags don't usually make you smile," says Fendi. The key to the success of her Carmina Campus line is that the quality of the leather and the craftsmanship of her bags, all made in Italy, complement the handiwork, sometimes created in Africa. Everything on sale at Re(f)use celebrates the invention of a new life for old objects. The store acts as a showcase for the most innovative recyclers, including British artist Stuart Haygarth, whose stunning chandelier, made from discarded spectacles, is the store's centrepiece. Re(f)use by Carmina Campus, Via Fontanella Borghese 40, +39 06 68136975
Luna e L'Altra
"I like to mix things up," says Fendi, whose fashion boutique of choice is Luna e L'Altra, which carries labels such as Yohji Yamamoto, Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Dries Van Noten and Rick Owens. "Fashion people travel constantly, and maybe this store is not what you'd expect in ancient Rome," she says. Luna e L'Altra, Piazza di Pasquino 76, +39 06 68804995
VISIT "I'm fascinated by the Etruscans," Fendi says of the people of the pre-Roman civilisation who inhabited central Italy. Her own farm stands within the Parco di Veio, an ancient Etruscan site, and includes an arch dating from the 5BC. "The Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia is simply wonderful. Don't miss the exceptional jewellery, much of which looks like you could wear it now." Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9, +39 06 3226571,
DAY TRIPPING I Casali del Pino
It's perhaps no surprise that Fendi mentions the restaurant at her farm, I Casali del Pino, an easy 30-minute drive north from the centre of the Rome. Donkeys wander around and the food is "very simple cuisine of the Roman tradition, but all products are made in the farm or, in any case, come from other organic farms in the area". Try the pecorino cheese from Fendi's own flock of more than 700 sheep. Afterwards, take a walk around the 19th-century buildings of what was once a municipal tobacco plant and will soon open as a spa and accommodation for visitors wanting to learn about sustainable living. The restaurant is open to the public from September to April, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes only. I Casali del Pino, Via Giacomo Andreassi 30, La Storta,
Fregene, about 40km west of Rome, was where film director Federico Fellini holidayed in summer. Of course, there is a sensational seafood restaurant called Mastino right on the beach. "I lived right near this beach for a while when I was younger," says Fendi, as her design team join her for lunch. Out come slivers of octopus with balsamic vinegar, and vongole to be sopped up with crusty bread. Then there's the zuppa di pesce followed by a seafood pasta. "In the '60s, this was la dolce vita and all the actors and actresses came here," says Fendi. "I love it still." Mastino Ristorante, Via Silvi Marina 19, Fregene, +39 06 66563880
  • undefined: Marion Hume