FENDI Commemorates 15 Influential Years

by Long Nguyen

Rusnak-page-1-.jpg

Baguette in multicolored fabric with embroidered mirrored pieces from 1999 by Fendi.

Rusnak-page-2-.jpg

Baguette in leather with beading and Tuscan embroidery from Spring 2005 by Fendi.

Rusnak-page-3-.jpg

Baguette in leather and canvas floral embroidery Zucca print from Spring 2000 by Fendi.

Rusnak-page-4-.jpg

Baguette in multicolored leather and fur patchwork from Spring 2000 by Fendi.

FENDI Commemorates 15 Influential Years

FENDI Baguette at 15 The Anatomy of a Phenomenon

“I was asked, among other things, to come up with a particularly easy and functional handbag. In a certain sense, it had to be technological and minimal, just like the times. My response—fortunately I am indomitably disobedient—was the Baguette,” says Silvia Venturini Fendi, who is in Rome when I speak to the accessories guru about her simple, rectangular-shaped bag, with its small handle and double F inverted logo closure that has, after 15 years, solidified its status as the break-through design leaven for the couture handbag market.  “We called the bag ‘the Baguette’ after the French loaf as a reference to how the bag should be carried—under the arm. This easy, yet chic, way of carrying a handbag made it the perfect size to hold all the essentials. Nothing more. Nothing less.” She emphasizes that the small size of the bag was an intentional design concept, but the widespread and immediate success of the Baguette that revolutionized the Fendi label and launched a late 90’s phenomenon, and ushered in the It Bag era—was certainly something she hadn’t intended.

“I was surprised by how immediately the Baguette was sought after, and at that time we were a family-run company, so I don’t think we were prepared for such a success from a production point of view. The lack of this bag [on the market] made it even more popular and everyone wanted to be put first on waiting lists.” The waiting lists lengthened substantially after Carrie Bradshaw flaunted her Baguette in several episodes of Sex and the City, and soon fashion designers were racing to establish the next must have accessory. Joining the Baguette were other famous designer handbags of the times—Chloé’s “Paddington,” Balenciaga’s “Motorcycle,” or “Giant City,” YSL’s “Uptown,” “Downtown” and “Muse,” and Prada’s “Antik Hobo” to name a few.

Yet when the It Bag bubble burst around 2006—presaged by significant and worrisome trading losses at the Société Générale and a shift in consumer taste from loud luxury to shifted from loud luxury to more of a discreet sort—the Baguette never faded, primarily due to Ms. Fendi’s emphasis on crafting an endless variety of Baguettes. Each one had a particular individual feel: multiple color options, materials ranging from leather to exotic skins to print fabrics, embellishments, fringes, even unique options for the F logo buckle closure.  The simplicity of the design allowed for greater customization and is, in essence, what assured the Baguette’s survival and continued relevance despite faltering economies and changing moods.  “Over 1,000 styles have been created since 1997, with many more variations to come. From exotic leathers, embroidery and beading to fur accents, luscious fabrics and artist interpretations, the possibilities are infinite. The bag’s versatility is what accounts for its longevity. Its clean shape can be treated with any kind of material and workmanship, so everyone can find a Baguette that they feel is their very own.”

The celebration of an anniversary is also cause for revisiting the past. For those who may have missed the original Jean bag made from washed denim, or the Specchietti with mirror embroideries, Ms. Fendi has reissued six of her favorite designs to be available at stores this Fall. In conjunction, Rizzoli has published Fendi Baguette, a 250-page book of true-to-scale photographs of the Baguettes, including the one-of-a-kind collaborations between Fendi and artists like Richard Prince—he printed a handwritten personal confession to a psychiatrist on the bag—or Damien Hirst, who used rows of differently colored circular geometric forms for his Fendi creation. During the Haute Couture show week in Paris last July, Fendi set up a pop-up shop, ‘Baguettemania,’ at the Colette store to fête both the book and the re-issued favorites from past seasons.

“These Baguettemania pop-up stores are envisaged as temporary installations that transform the pages of the new book into tangible reality, showing the experimental nature of the Baguette in a non-celebratory way,” says Ms. Fendi.  The next stop for Baguettemania is a pop-up shop in early September at Maxfield in Los Angeles, with an exhibition and auction of art Baguettes by Chaz Bojorquez, Kenny Scharf and Pae White to benefit MOCA. Then Baguettemania will travel later this year to the Dover Street Market in London before jetting off to Tokyo.

The Baguette has negotiated the transition from trend to icon that proves, more often than not, too difficult for most fashion accessories. No matter how astringently declared the death of the It Bag is, elegance and simplicity will never become stale. And as the there seems no shortage of customers queuing up for Baguettes, the House of Fendi will continue to bake delicious Baguettes for its customers, for years to come.

Photography: John Michael Rusnak.

Creative Photography Assistant: Carl Schwartz.

Photography Assistant: Ira James.

Style Director: Long Nguyen.

Location: Design Studio of Stephen G. Anderson, Ltd, NYC.