Rome's newest luxury hotel doesn't have a look-at-me lobby. In fact, apart from a small plaque outside, it has no street presence at all. Accessed by a discreet marble-lined lift, Fendi Private Suites is hidden above the fashion house's remodelled flagship store in the heart of the city's exclusive shopping district.
Palazzo Fendi was built on Largo Carlo Goldoni in the 17th century, in a palazzo once owned by the aristocratic Boncompagni-Ludovisi family, which produced a pope. The landmark reopened with fanfare in March after a year-long makeover, with VIP guests including Sofia Coppola and Kendall Jenner joining Fendi creative director Silvia Venturini Fendi and chief designer Karl Lagerfeld for Champagne and sushi.
Overlooking the city's most elegant shopping street, Via Condotti, which stretches towards the Spanish Steps, the grand building is a reminder of Fendi's roots in Rome. The company was founded in the Italian capital in 1925 by Adele and Edoardo Fendi as a leather and fur workshop on Via del Plebiscito. Part of the global LVMH Group since 2000, Fendi has grown from a family of Roman artisans to an international fashion brand spanning fur, leather goods, women's and men's wear, accessories and furnishings. Its "Baguette" bag designed in 1997 by Venturini Fendi, granddaughter of the founders, remains a fashion essential.
Fendi boutique inside Palazzo Fendi.
Corporate HQ since 2005, the five-storey palazzo now houses Fendi's largest store, with women's handbags and men's accessories on the ground floor and women's ready-to-wear and shoes on the floor above. It also features an atelier where shoppers can watch furriers crafting bespoke furs - rare in the world of high fashion, where every stage of production is normally a closely guarded secret.
On the fourth floor is the city's first Zuma restaurant, the 10th in chef Rainer Becker's global chain of izakaya-style eateries. Diners order Zuma classics from the robata grill such as rib-eye with wafu sauce and tiger prawns with yuzu pepper, or have sushi at the bar. On the floor above is Becker's rooftop cocktail bar and outdoor terrace, offering spectacular views of the city. On the second floor is a private apartment for entertaining VIP customers, and on the third is Fendi Private Suites: seven very private guestrooms and two lounges.
Fendi's hotel lobby.
Fendi's chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari describes Fendi Palazzo as "a game-changer. Fendi is not just offering products, but a lifestyle", he says.
Tokyo-based interior designer Gwenael Nicolas was commissioned to work on the two retail floors linked by a dramatic central staircase of Lepanto marble that seems to flow like lava, while Italian architect Marco Costanzi converted the former office space into the hotel upstairs.
Design rivals Bulgari and Salvatore Ferragamo set the trend more than a decade ago, and Giorgio Armani a little later in 2010, when they established luxury hotels to complement their brands. Fendi has opted for exclusivity in size and style. "This is for a sophisticated traveller," Costanzi says. "We are in Rome. It's a small city, it's not like Milan. You need to have a different experience of Italy, and of Rome."
The architect, based in Imola, Bologna, designed Fendi's new headquarters in the striking Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a Fascist-era landmark built in the late 1930s, before turning the vacated offices at Palazzo Fendi into boutique accommodation. With a tranquil palette of beige and grey, the suites have walls clad in travertine, and bathrooms in white travertine and Lepanto marble.
Bathrooms in white travertine and Lepanto marble.**
On arrival, guests are greeted and directed to a third-floor reception desk of red, green and white marble blocks, then to a lounge with vintage and contemporary furnishings by the likes of the Brazilian Campana brothers and Danish firm Fritz Hansen.
In some suites living rooms are separated from the bedrooms by mesh-framed glass panels, and reversible TVs can be seen from either room. Oak floors are dressed with carpets by German designer Jan Kath and most of the furniture is custom-designed by Fendi Casa, though Costanzi stresses, "this is not a showroom". There's whimsy in the Fendi fur ornaments hung like paintings above the beds.
One of Fendi's seven private suites.
"We can't compare this space with big brands like the Four Seasons or the Mandarin," Costanzi says. "It is the Fendi home in the middle of Rome. For Fendi this is part of the family's DNA."
While Fendi is now part of a global fashion conglomerate, Venturini Fendi is still the face of the family in the company and enjoys a high profile in the Eternal City. As president of AltaRoma, she has thrown her weight behind young designers and is leading Fendi's efforts to spruce up the Italian capital. The company invested €2.1 million ($3.2 million) in the 17-month restoration of the Trevi Fountain completed in November and is leading a €300,000 ($450,000) project to restore four other historic fountains in Rome.
Cynics regard it as a clever commercial decision. Fendi prefers to call it a labour of love.
Suites from $1,360 per night including breakfast. Fendi Private Suites, Palazzo Fendi, Via della Fontanella di Borghese, 48, Rome, +39 06 9779 8080, fendiprivatesuites.com