“I think being a part of a fashion house means we have a different point of view from the start,” says Delfina Delettrez Fendi, 36, musing on the Roman house’s first escapade into a complete high jewellery collection, Fendi Triptych, unveiled at the Fendi Couture AW23 runway show.
Delettrez Fendi, its artistic director of jewellery, is right about the vantage point – it’s rare to see high jewellery in catwalk presentations. Not only do the fragility and value of precious stones render these jewels the equivalent of carrying a Ming vase down the runway, but they also need to be visible from some distance.
“I wanted everything to be quite big, like some sort of theatre, because I knew before I started working on the jewellery that the collection would be shown on the catwalk,” she reveals. “But we have always worked with non-precious fashion jewellery at Fendi and that’s been a great exercise in experimenting with shapes and techniques. I think that has given me the freedom break the high jewellery rules.”
from left: Delfina wears Undarum earrings by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery; Catena bracelet and ring by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery
As a fourth-generation scion of the matriarchal Roman fashion dynasty, working to her own rhythm is, one assumes, an inherent family trait. Delettrez Fendi’s great-grandmother, Adele Casagrande, established the leather and fur bottega in Rome in 1918. Ever since, each female-led generation of the family business has made its impact, including the great Silvia Venturini, Delettrez Fendi’s mother, creative director of accessories, menswear and children at Fendi. Alongside Kim Jones, Silvia has infused our era with notable design greats, the Fendi Baguette being just one of them.
Now, with Fendi Triptych, a startlingly confident high jewellery collection, the Fendi knack for gauging the style mood at just the right moment reveals itself once again. “Things have changed. Women have evolved. We buy our own pieces and we wear high jewellery during the day,” says Delettrez Fendi. “That’s why I launched the teaser pieces, Fendi Flavus, two years ago. They were on the opening look of the show – a camel trouser suit. It just said everything about my masculine-feminine approach.”
The Icarus earrings are a fine example. Shimmering with the natural cool Delettrez Fendi exudes, the jewels sweep up the lobe like the fantastic wings of a mythical creature. A pear-cut yellow sapphire draws our gaze close to the ear, highlighting their seemingly precarious shape. “These earrings are me and not me,” she says, laughing at the contradiction. “They are very feminine, but at the same time, the way they move up the ear gives them a dynamism, too. I like an illusion of movement, because at Fendi nothing is what it seems. Materials are constantly transformed and pushed forwards.”
Catena bracelet by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery
In the distant past, it was traditional for one-off important jewels to be unlocked from vaults on special occasions only, and in full sets – parures – of necklace, earrings, bracelet and ring. The idea was that you entered the room in a blaze of dazzling diamonds, announcing your arrival and, in no uncertain terms, your wealth with it. But as Delettrez Fendi says, “We don’t have those kinds of occasions today, where you must wear a full set of the same design, in the same shade of gold and with the same colour stones. The idea of wearing just one ring, one special ring as your only piece of jewellery with a look, is how women wear jewellery today.”
It says volumes about her design philosophy that Delettrez Fendi is focused on how we wear jewellery as well as why. “I always ask myself, why should I wear this? In fact, I ask myself that every day, no matter if I’m creating for Fendi or for my own brand.” And, as she points out, it’s impossible to avoid carrying her own experience with her. “I can see when something is ‘very Fendi’ because it’s very natural to me. And, yes, sometimes the boundaries between what is mine and what is Fendi can be difficult to define. But I was raised with the family codes, so perhaps I don’t even want to be defined. I like it like this. And it’s working well.”
Delfina wears Undarum earrings by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery
Today, she is an expert when it comes to thinking about how to combine both technical and creative design simultaneously and aesthetically. And, in case we forget: “I’ve always had these incredible women who have gone before me and instilled a natural understanding in me around how things are made or how a piece is constructed.”With typical grace, Delettrez Fendi considers herself a “small engineer”. That, in turn, allows us all the insight we need to know why this woman has entered the notoriously complicated high jewellery design world with some swagger.
She was just 19 when she announced her eponymous jewellery label in 2007. To those that follow her it was obvious that with each new collection Delettrez Fendi had pushed herself not just creatively but technically, too. While her single Eye earrings and Dot rings have become go-to classics, Delettrez Fendi turned her delightfully skewed view on once-unfashionable pearls long before they became a thing. But one of her great strengths as a designer is that she’s never tried to create a ‘moment’ and, surprisingly perhaps, she hasn’t completely aligned herself with fashion either. She simply leads from the front. “Everything,” she says, “is very personal.”
from left: Gravitus earrings by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery; custom ‘Met Gala’ dress and bag by FENDI COUTURE
It comes as no surprise, then, that the ‘FF’ motif is repeated throughout the Fendi Triptych collection. “I have a natural attraction towards the logo,” the designer admits. “It’s like my family. There is so much sentiment for me in it, and no matter how you transform it, its strength remains.” By using the line-heavy logo “like a whisper” throughout the design process, she has, in a way, feminised it. The flow of the repeating FFs that shape the Undarum set illustrate Delettrez Fendi’s artistry. They seem to flow around the neck like a song. “The two Fs are like two halves,” she explains. “Sometimes they’re futuristic, sometimes more romantic. In a way, it’s a metaphor for the new kind of dynamism we bring to this jewellery world.” Unlike the tired marketing mantra of ‘jewels for powerful women’, Delettrez Fendi’s design vision speaks in the altogether less shouty tone of feminine grace. Playing with the logo also got Delettrez Fendi thinking about how she might approach future collections, and she is keen to challenge herself as her high jewellery design journey progresses. “I like the idea of something that is new and exciting but with less, of exploring the negative space. With high jewellery, there’s a tendency to think about adding more – complex techniques, baroque elements, voluminous forms.” Naturally, this high jewellery designer prefers “doing the opposite”, whether around the Fendi logo, the colour palette or the feeling of lightness, of movement.
The chance to work with rare stones also excites Delettrez Fendi. “The 40 or so stones we worked with on Triptych were collected over 45 years.” It’s obvious that the responsibility which comes with using the hallowed materials that elevate high jewellery into a universe all its own is not lost on her. “These stones that I have in my mind, in my hands, have made their way towards the surface over millions of years,” she says. “This once-in-a- lifetime chance for me to work with them makes me feel that I have to elevate them, to respect them, even if that means risking some of my creative freedom.”
Undarum necklace by FENDI TRIPTYCH High Jewellery
Of course, setting up any business is a tough call, but high jewellery design is a particular form of artistry. As with couture, teams are made up of various craftspeople with rare skills. It’s the design director who is responsible for creating a team that functions as a contented whole. Then, of course, there’s the need to work with rare materials. In effect, creating a high jewellery studio from scratch is like establishing a sculpture institute. Every step of the process takes careful thought and a lot of time – usually two years – to come to fruition. Delettrez Fendi puts it another way: “The concept of ‘I want this. I want it now. I want it yesterday’ just doesn’t work in the business of high jewellery.” But then, this sophisticated high jewellery designer is very obviously up to the task. “Fendi excels in so many fields, so in a way that has given me the courage to bring another field of excellence into the house and start this completely new department.”
Traditionally, high jewellery design was something of a male-oriented business, with names such as Benvenuto Cellini, the famed 16th-century Italian goldsmith and sculptor, to JAR (aka Joel Arthur Rosenthal), the mysterious New York jeweller-artist continuing to float around its higher echelons. There are, of course, some women who made their mark in the 20th century, Suzanne Belperron and Jeanne Toussaint, say, and there are a couple of women designers – including Louis Vuitton’s Francesca Amfitheatrof and Lucia Silvestri at Bulgari – at the creative helm of heritage jewellery houses today. But Delettrez Fendi has a point when she says, “It’s a beautiful feeling to be part of the small group of women designers who create for other women because we can really go deep into how we design for the body, creating what doesn’t exist.”
It’s hard not to imagine the spirit of Delettrez Fendi’s entrepreneurial great-grandmother echoing through her words.
Taken from 10+ Issue 6 – VISIONARY, WOMEN, REVOLUTION – out now. Order your copy here.
FENDI: DELFINA DARES
Photographer DAVID VASILJEVIC
Fashion Editor SOPHIA NEOPHITOU
Text CARAGH MCKAY
Talent DELFINA DELETTREZ FENDI
Sittings editor GARTH ALLDAY SPENCER
Hair ALESSANDRO ROCCHI at Simone Belli Agency
Make-up GIOVANNI PIRRI at Simone Belli Agency using Mascara AK by Simone Belli
Fashion assistants GEORGIA EDWARDS and SONYA MAZURYK
Special thanks to FLAVIA CIRRINCIONE and EMANUELE SANGALETTI
All dresses and boots by FENDI COUTURE AW 2023/24