Carla Fendi, philanthropist and fashion force, dies at 79

MILAN — Carla Fendi, one of five sisters who transformed the family leather-goods business into a luxury fashion house that was one of Italy’s first to win global renown, has died in Rome following a long illness. She was 79.

Fendi died Monday and the Rome-based fashion house confirmed her death in a statement Tuesday, expressing pain for the loss and gratitude for her continued contributions.

“She was for all of us a source of inspiration and an example of dedication, culture of work and sensitivity to beauty,” the company said.

Carla’s parents, Edoardo and Adele Fendi, founded the company in 1925 with a store fronting the workshop in via del Plebiscito in Rome’s historic center, but it was with the next generation that surged it to prominence as ready-to-wear took off in Italy.

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The five Fendi sisters — Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda — took control of the family business after their father’s death and opened their first Fendi store in another location in Rome’s historic center in 1964.

A year later they hired a young designer named Karl Lagerfeld who helped catapult the Italian brand into global fame by elevating fur from staid symbols of luxury to fashion pieces, acquiring lightness and softness, becoming easier to wear and less pompous.

Under Lagerfeld’s direction, Fendi arguably became the most famous furriers in the world. The brand also helped revolutionize leather handbags in the 1990s, making them softer and less rigid, while Fendi’s niece, Silvia Venturini Fendi, invented the famed Fendi baguette bag inspired in shape by the traditional French loaf.

“We said to ourselves: ‘today women are working. We need to change everything,’” Fendi was quoted by La Repubblica as saying. “No one had yet thought of the cross-body bag, practical, comfortable, soft, light.”

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