We experience the balmy, truly luxe world of Design Miami, Fendi style.
Miami. Stepping off the plane and into the Caribbean air is like wiping your face with a particularly steaming towel at a Chinese restaurant. I’m here with Fendi, to see their annual partnership with Design Miami, the interiors giant that places its feet not only in its eponymous home but also Milan and Basel. Mindful of my hosts, or perhaps that should be hostesses, I’ve got on an enormous fur stole over a fetching ruffled outfit. Perfect for visiting the House’s Roman home in December, but not so much the tropics. I might melt before I ever get to see some furniture.
Since 2008, Fendi has been supporting limited edition creativity at the fair, with highlights including a live atelier, interactive art and round table talks with design world luminaries. In 2012 however, they made the leap from more experimental work to actual production and distribution of furniture pieces through Fendi Casa. At this point enter Maria Pergay, icon of modernist design, still prolific in her eighties.
“What is Fendi? What could be Fendi?” Silvia Venturini Fendi is recalling how she first came to work with Maria Pergay, in a meeting with her CEO in which they were trying to distill the House’s essence. “Basically I said this family atmosphere, which is very Italian and should be reflected in the stores. This would make it less predictable and cold, as stores can be. Less functional but more casual, casual in a luxurious way, adding things that are not there for a purpose. To have a private apartment, and fill it with things that you love. So what do I put in my house? Maria Pergay.” From here sprung their collaboration on the House’s boutique on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, which is full of incredibly tactile and organic pieces by Pergay that speak of discreet luxury – golden branches of trees inlaid in the walls, beautiful furniture. Since then they’ve worked together again in Paris, for which Pergay decorated two salons, and now their most extensive collaboration at Design Miami.
The collaboration is entitled ‘Metamorphosis’, and seems to embody the Fendi dichotomy of heritage and innovation. Walking round shifting silver screens, Pergay’s iconic Cabinet Petales is revealed in shining steel. Similarly, her Chaise Lion erupts with gorgeous fur (which more than a few attendees seem to enjoy having a stroke of), and the Pouf Vague has a cloud of white fox lying atop it. Just as these pieces seem to embrace both past and future, they also seem to reflect feminine strength; both hard and soft, steely yet glimmering. Says Venturini Fendi when asked about how her work embodies this contrast, “In reality women are stronger. So it’s true you can talk about female power, as to achieve and gain position you have to struggle more.” Of Pergay herself she adds, “She is at an age where she doesn’t have to prove anything, so she can choose to live her life the way she want.”
One might imagine that a woman who most enjoys working with steel and fur would be somewhat dour, but Venturini Fendi says this couldn’t be further from the case. “She is someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Every time I meet her and look at what she’s wearing, I always say “Maria you dress so elegantly,” and she loves it. She always has the best quality things, shirts and linen all beautifully pressed. One of the first things we spoke about was whilst we were in Rome, and she said let’s talk but I need to go and look for a Canaletto; one of my clients has an immense wall and I would like to put something extravagant and beautiful there… Her approach is very artistic.”
Another preoccupation in both Pergay and the House of Fendi’s work is Surrealism; fur shaved to look like feathers or cloth, Pergay’s cabinets with feet. Venturini Fendi says “This surreal edge is always implied. There are many cabinets hat have a double door so you never know if it’s open. [At Fendi] We really like to twist materials, for instance when my Mother or Sister started fur was very big, a great status symbol women were obliged to wear as men were buying it for them. It was a way to express his wealth, but they had these incredible fur coats that were so big they couldn’t move.” This calls to mind a Lord Snowdon photograph of the Fendi sisters, cocooned in the largest furs known to man, and perfectly illustrates the ties that bind Venturini Fendi and Pergay together. “They wanted to liberate these women, so they got rid of all the linings… then they started cutting in spaghetti stripes, something that didn’t give a concept of priced luxury. In their way they were very strong women, sure of what they wanted to have, just like Maria Pergay in the 50’s using steel, which was not used in interiors.”
Pergay’s pieces for Metamorphosis are so opulent, such as her Cabinet Arlequin with galuchat panels. As well as their reflecton of the Fendi ethos, they also merge seamlessly with their baroque Miami surroundings, with its endless absorption of moneyed runaways from other cultures. Silvia Venturini Fendi evidently loves the city, exclaiming “I love Miami it’s so free. Also, there’s the presence of nature here, which is something I find also in Maria’s work, like the iconic metal pieces she made in the 60’s with big rock crystals and amethysts… she’s attached to the primitive.” Perhaps there’s a certain savage charm to Pergay’s curving steel, and the ease with which she combines materials, but also to Fendi’s furs.
Describing the strength of their collaboration and the beautiful collision of steel and fur, says Venturini Fendi “Fur is the most primitive of materials, and very powerful. When you put it on you feel strong, just like a warrior. That’s why Emperors and Queens always wore it. Maria is a sort of alchemist, bringing these emotions to her work.”
Maria Pergay first found acclaim in 1968 with a collection of stainless steel furniture which included the now iconic Flying Carpet daybed and Ring chair. Throughout her career her work has been highly sought after internationally, but especially since a groundbreaking show of new work in 2006. Here she talks about the Metamorphosis collaboration.
What did ‘Metamorphosis’ mean to you in the context of your design?
My work often reflects ‘metamorphosis’. I love to extol steel, rough in its raw form, and give it the ‘softness’, the elegance. I treat it as satin. The pieces I created for this collaboration definitely stick to this theme. The Louis XV desk for example is a light wooden structure from which an ‘exploded’ corner reveals the leg of a Louis XV table. The ‘Cabinet Petale’ follows the idea of a material that is dead, then all of a sudden, it’s like an artichoke: one leaf, two leaves, three leaves and in the heart there is something beautiful and delicious.
What parallels, if any, do you see between your design and the work of the House of Fendi?
What truly matters is creating objects which never leave you indifferent. This is why I’ve never been contrary to a bit of humour in each piece, playing with different materials, just like Silvia Venturini Fendi does in her creative work for FEND, showing a daring creativity and mastery of materials.
How do your designs created for this project differ from your other work?
Things happen in my mind spontaneously, I do not take the pencil to draw the object, in my mind I see it fully finished. I drew inspiration from Silvia’s desire and creativity for these pieces. All my pieces are artisan made, nothing is produced in series, this is something that links myself and Silvia Venturini Fendi.
Are you able to tell us your favourite piece in the show?
I like them all! I made them.
Silvia Fendi described your working relationship as being similar to that of her and her sisters – how would you describe the dynamic between you two?
My encounter with Silvia was magical. It is incredible to get along so quickly with someone you don’t know. It’s as if she opens doors for me. This encounter was for me extremely fortunate and full of future I hope. It’s a fertile ground. Everything Silvia touches becomes magical. Working with her is all I hoped it would be.
What was the highlight of your collaboration?
Working with Silvia. This collaboration has enabled me to overcome barriers, to explore new creative territories. I am 83 but don’t feel an age.
This issue we’re focused on female strength – is this something you feel you communicate through your design?
Steel is often seen as masculine, heavy and cold, and I like to transform it into something elegant and refined .It wasn’t easy to convince people that steel was a generous material and suitable for elegant houses. As I said I am 83 but I keep going, I don’t have time to think about my age.
Silvia told us you have a fantastic eye for art – which artists and designers inspire you to create?
I was originally brought to Salvador Dali as he was looking for someone capable of realizing phantasmagorical artworks for him. He was a painter, he drew and did not make things in 3D with his hands. When I worked with him he gave us “carte blanche” to create what we wanted, giving us only the theme and that the object had to be in virgin gold. When it was realized, he gathered everyone’s work and chose the head of one piece, the legs of another, the body of a third. The object was his, without him ever touching it. He was very inspirational.
Words Jack Sunnucks