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Ilaria Venturini Fendi has translated the same attention to detail and craftsmanship she learned working over the years in her famous family's Italian fashion business to her own line of bags that feature repurposed items including everything from old light switch plates to leather seats from cars once used in crash tests.
"What I did was simply to add my already existing know-how I had from my family to my new vision of the fashion industry," said Venturini Fendi, who was in Dallas last week as part of an Italian Fashion Week featuring runway shows and receptions that also included an Italian Fashion Expo at the Dallas Market Center with more than 100 Italian designers, including Venturini Fendi, showcasing their collections.
Her Carmina Campus bags are each different, made from "only reusable materials, or unused but out of production, which give a second life."
As Venturini Fendi puts it, she "grew up in fashion." Her grandparents, Edoardo and Adele Fendi, founded the Rome-based design house in 1925. The house was then inherited by the five Fendi sisters, including Venturini Fendi's mother Anna, before being taken over in 2001 by French conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.
Venturini Fendi spent two years working for Chanel in Paris before going to work for the family business, where she spent about two decades. She worked a shoe designer and as creative director for the Fendissime line, and continued to work there for several years after LVMH took over.
Eventually though, she had the desire to do something different. She left the family company and bought a farm in northern Rome.
"My dream since I was a young girl was to live with nature and to work surrounded by nature, so the first thing I did was to buy a farm," she said.
As she worked on her farm filled with sheep, horses, pigs, goats and hens she began to feel her original passion for fashion re-emerging. Then, after designing bags to raise money for a group aimed at stopping female genital mutilation, she began to develop the idea of resuming her career in fashion, but in a "different way."
In 2006, Carmina Campus was born, which translates from Latin to "chants of the fields."
Working with repurposed items, she said, made her look at the way she designed much differently. Where before she would start with a sketch of what she had in mind and then search out the materials, now she finds the materials first and creates the designs around those.
"The creative process changed tremendously," she said.
In a collaboration with the Mini car company she used materials from cars used in crash tests, incorporating seat belts, handles and even visors, which be flipped up when affixed to the outside of a purse to create a handy makeup mirror.
Another group of bags have been constructed from trash bags with accents made from the bottoms of aluminum cans. Leather samples are also made into bags, complete with the stamp indicating the sample's color intact. For other bags she's incorporated old light switch plates. Her purses have also featured old military blankets and disused tents.
She also has a line of bags that is made in Africa with locally reclaimed materials in collaboration with the International Trade Centre, a joint United Nations and World Trade Organization agency that fights poverty with trade-driven projects that employ local workers. The line's motto, which can also be seen on some of the bags, is "Not Charity, Just Work."
Venturini Fendi, who also designs furniture and jewelry from repurposed items, including earrings that incorporate the plastic hands from dolls, has a flagship store near Rome's Spanish Steps. Her Carmina Campus line is can also be found in boutiques, on the online luxury fashion website yoox.com and in the Japanese department store chain Takashimaya.
Italian Fashion Week in Dallas — a collaboration between Italian Expo.us, which puts on trade and consumer events in the U.S., and the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest — was designed to introduce area industry professionals to a variety of Italian designers. At one reception during the festivities, the chamber recognized Venturini Fendi for excellence in ethical business.
Maurizio Muzzetta, president of Italian Expo.us, said that Venturini Fendi is "an example of how fashion can be."
This is the second year that the Italian fashion festivities have been held in Dallas, and they expect to continue for at least the next five years. Fulvio Calcinardi, executive director of the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest, said that many Italian companies have focused on New York and Los Angeles, but that these events helps promote the designers in a new market.