SERGE BRUNSCHWIG, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER AND CHAIRMAN AT FENDI DISCUSSES THE HISTORY AND THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE FASHION HOUSE.
Established in 2011, Les Journées Particulières, opens the doors of 56 of LVMH’s iconic Maisons, inviting members of the public to come and experience the savoir-faire and creativity of the artisans within the group. The luxury houses also display the architectural and cultural heritage of the brands in never-seen-before ways and celebrate the beauty of craftmanship and its importance in today’s culture. Inspired by the success and generosity of the houses that make up the group, Les Journées Particulières, allows the public to have an up close and personal experience of some of the world’s biggest fashion houses, giving them an insight into how their beautiful products are made.
At the forefront of the operation is Fendi – a house who has truly unique craftsmanship. Fendi invited members of the public to its home at Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome to experience a homage to its ready-to-wear, fur, leather goods, shoes, watches and even Fendi Casa home products. This year’s event featured a live craftmanship exhibition that saw Fendi artisans from the Fur Atelier in PDCI, as well as those from the Ateliers in Florence, Porto San Giorgio, Forlì and Neuchâtel come together for a unique experience. These skilled craftsmen were creating unique handmade creations on site, expressing the daring creativity, experimentation and infinite heritage of the Fendi house.
One of the highlights of the event was a wall dedicated to graffiti art. Master artisans of the fur atelier created a one-of-a-kind fur graffiti-inspired inlayed tablet using discarded pieces of fur material. The art piece became a map of the world created from various cuts, colours and styles of fur – the first time anything of its kind has been created in this way. Visitors were then given the option to actively participate by drawing their own graffiti on the wall.
Serge Brunschwig, who was responsible for bringing the exhibition together, joined Fendi as CEO and Chairman in February this year. No stranger to the LVMH Group, Brunschwig first began his career in luxury at Louis Vuitton in 1995. Since then he has held a number of key positions within the company, including Managing Director of Louis Vuitton, where he was in charge of development of the international retail network, as well as Chief Executive Officer and President at Celine, before becoming CEO at Christian Dior Couture and most recently looking after Dior’s menswear unit. This is a man who has decades of experience in luxury, and now he is putting that into practice with a new chapter at Fendi. In this exclusive interview with A&E, Brunschwig discusses Les Journées Particulières as well as how he intends to look to the future, while still sustaining the strong heritage and legacy of the Italian house.
How are you paying tribute to craftsmanship through this platform?
The house is sharing one of its treasures, which is found in the hands, hearts and eyes of these artisans. We wanted to share all of their education and experience with the public. In my experience we know that it will be of immense value for the people who see it, as well as great value for us. In the Middle East you know how important it is to open your home for guests and that is what we are trying to do here as we open our house to show our customers the best of what we have.
To what extent do you think storytelling and touching emotions is still relevant today?
I think it is more and more relevant. The beauty of our times is that we have improved a lot in storytelling and I think the public is very eager for the stories. People want the real stories, not ones that are invented. My children ask me if stories are true – they want beautiful real stories, and I think that’s what we are doing – showing that it is real and not something that is invented. There is a lot of value and comfort for the customer in understanding these stories and the products.
What do you think is a challenge today for Fendi?
Luxury exists today because it is relevant and I think the challenge is asking “how am I relevant for today and how do I find the words, images and techniques to tell the story that the people of today will find useful?” So the challenge is staying relevant for today and tomorrow. That is why the word ‘millennials’ is so important. I think soon we will need to find another term to speak to the next generation – to make them aware of our existence. Letting them know that this craftsmanship and aesthetic exists today and it has a long history but it is still modern.
Fendi is among the few brands that has managed to appeal to both millennials and existing clientele without pushing either away – what is the recipe to this success and how hard is it to appeal to both?
I think firstly it is product innovation. It’s having great designers and artistic directors. We have two – Karl Lagerfeld who of course is quite famous, and Silvia Fendi who has this strong heritage from her family. Both of them are interested in the future and the new generation. We just did a lovely show, but for them, in a way they don’t want to speak about that anymore because it is in the past. They are really focused on what’s next and how they are going to surprise again. We always use the same authentic craftsmanship, but the question is how we adapt it so that they [the customer] will be interested?
We have just seen on the wall a beautiful piece of artwork using discarded pieces of material – what can you tell us about this concept?
The art of fur at Fendi is in our DNA. Fendi knows how to create these fantastic colours with fur and skins and they know how to assemble them beautifully. So we have this fantastic craft and we have paired it with a graffiti artist to transform a graffiti art piece of the world into a piece of art using fur. We have people in our team who are looking for the next ideas, they are artists, craftsmen, and they are inspired by the light and air of Rome. The map is a fantastic symbol of the world coming together in this place.
You joined Fendi just nine months ago – what is your vision and direction for the brand?
I’m here to make sure that talented and passionate people can express their art and invent and design beautiful objects. I also need to ensure that these objects will entertain beautiful people around the world who will be interested in what we produce and ensure we have the right channels of communication. My vision is that we expand this in a natural organic way, and that we have more success because we are doing a good job.
If there is one thing that that you still aspire to achieve that has not been done yet at Fendi, what would it be?
There is a fantastic history so far, so what we need to do now is continue the story. Opening the next chapter, which means talking to a new generation and inventing a new generation of products to go with it. This needs to be done in all sectors. There are some aspects that are more developed than others, so there are some that can be developed more and product lines that can be added. Naturally Fendi can incorporate new savoir-faire.
What is your take on education and what is Fendi doing to share what they do with the new generation?
We are here at an exhibition that is celebrating craftsmanship and we give a strong educative message through this. I asked the teams to invite as many schools and associations as possible so that we can show young people what we do. I want them to see these jobs and the people that are doing them so that they can understand the value and future in it. These roles are something that could have disappeared, but fortunately they are still here in Italy; but it is a very fragile industry. It is our responsibility to make sure that these jobs still exist in twenty years. So I think the LVMH group, and Fendi in particular, have a very important responsibility. That’s why we are investing in craftsmanship. In two years we will open an amazing factory with state of the art equipment and we will internalise craftsmanship with plans for a new generation of people working at Fendi. This is a very important step for us.
What is the recipe to creating an object of desire and how do you maintain desirability?
It’s a mix of things. Of course we have the reputation of the brand – we are now at a size that when we do something we have the power to show it. And of course the quality and the creativity of the object is important.
How do you feel about the digital world?
I use it all the time. Not as much maybe as someone who is twenty years younger than me, but I use it a lot for mail, for social media, for talking to others.
What is your social media of choice?
Instagram and WhatsApp.
What do you say no to?
Bad ideas. I say no when I need to, and also to help people make the right decision.
What book are you reading right now?
A book about the fascism in Italian history.
What is your personal motto that you tell yourself every day?
What can we do best and how can we do it better?
If you were not doing what you’re doing today, what would you be doing?
I wouldn’t like to do something else! I am trained as an engineer but I was fortunate to arrive into this business. This industry didn’t even exist when I was young but then I met a genius; Bernad Arnault. He proposed I join the group (LVMH) and I said yes because I was impressed by him. I remember my first day so clearly. It was January 2, 1995 in Hong Kong at the Louis Vuitton office, I was in charge of Louis Vuitton for Asia Pacific. I had no idea what to expect. I remember very well somebody coming in to ask me about the store and what to do with the windows. We discussed it and there were so many questions that day and I knew I was doing the right thing. When I experienced the passion of the people in my office I knew. I was used to looking at numbers, but I had not been trained on judging the quality of a display for example – so I looked to the part of my brain that I use when I judge what I like and what I don’t like visually, and I trained very fast.
If you were to summarise Fendi in one sentence what would it be?
Nothing is impossible.