Fendi bags' creator sees inspiration everywhere

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. --- Every woman who has ever owned a Fendi Baguette bag has Silvia Venturini Fendi to thank.

The bag was her creation, coming out at a time when the minimalist Prada nylon backpack had taken off and opened the market for new designs. Slender and clutchlike, but with a short, shoulder-ready handle, the bag became an international sensation in the late 1990s once it was carried by Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw.

"Before the Baguette, the bags were not on the catwalks. They were like accessories aside from the show. So, it started a new era for the accessories. They became more fashionable than the outfits," Ms. Venturini Fendi said.

As creative director of the house and designer of accessories and menswear, she began to treat the bag as a garment, dressing it up with everything from leopard print to embroidery.

"We had to fill the demand. It was a crazy time," she said. "It's still very popular ... Now it's becoming a timeless piece ... I am very proud of course."

Other must-have bags followed, including the Spy and the B Fendi.

Ms. Venturini Fendi -- blond and dressed head to toe in black while sitting poolside at National Hotel -- recently traveled to Miami Beach when Fendi sponsored talks for the Design Miami fair, which runs concurrently with the Art Basel international art fairs in Switzerland and Miami Beach.

She's the daughter of Anna Fendi, one of the five Fendi sisters who inherited the business from their parents, Edoardo and Adele, who founded their first handbag shop in 1925. (In 2001, Fendi was taken over by the French company LVMH.)

In the 1960s, then-rising star Karl Lagerfeld came aboard, helping to make Fendi's furs famous. While Mr. Lagerfeld has taken on dozens of other projects -- and perhaps is now better known as the man behind Chanel -- he continues to create designs for Fendi in a relationship Ms. Venturini Fendi says she is constantly learning from.

"Karl has always been doing many things ... Probably that's the only way to have a such a long relationship because you know, I think, that the relationship that there is between Fendi and Karl is the longest in the history of fashion, I think," she says.

They understand each other and get along well, she says. They work with their desks placed side by side while designing.

"He is always teaching something because he's a person who has a great, great knowledge of any aspect in life ... He has also a very big sense of humor."

Ms. Venturini Fendi, 47, lives in Rome, but travels to Paris regularly to design with Mr. Lagerfeld. She says she is always looking for inspiration, including from architecture, design pieces and even popular culture. She and Mr. Lagerfeld also exchange books for ideas.

For her designs, Ms. Venturini Fendi says she targets new things that fill voids in her own life. She doesn't sketch and instead might bring to her team a chair, table or other object that appeals to her.

"For me especially, I was born in this family. So, I was involved in fashion and the process of creativity from the very beginning. I saw all the aspects. It was like going to university ... I have been looking at people working around me from when I was a little girl," she says.

Her creative process is not easy and she says she doesn't create bags with a specific client in mind.

"I feel that until the end I am totally unsatisfied ... There is a little bit of suffering also," she says.

Ms. Venturini Fendi also says it's dangerous to have a strategy in fashion and so she only thinks ahead to the next six months.

The most recent bag on the runway for spring 2009 is the "Peek A Boo." It has a large square shape and held by a short handle and opened with a turnlock on both sides. It can also be worn with the sides turned down. Ms. Venturini Fendi calls it discreet and classical.

"In a world when people have everything you really have to commit yourself and be strong and take risks," she said. "We want to mark our time. This is what we want to do."

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