Designed in the late 1930s at the behest of Benito Mussolini, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is viewed by many as Rome’s most recognisable 20th-century landmark. Home to the fashion house Fendi since 2015, the iconic palazzo will be celebrated in an exhibition at this year’s Design Miami, where Fendi has invited Swiss studio Kueng Caputo to create a family of objects referencing the HQ’s architecture, as part of an ongoing programme promoting emerging design talent at the fair.

Sarah Kueng and Lovis Caputo developed a simple visual language of planes and arches to evoke the superposed loggias of Fendi’s travertine-clad ‘Square Colosseum’. The Zurich-based designers, who are known for their experimental process and playful use of materials, gathered further inspiration during a research trip to Fendi’s archives. ‘We love how committed Fendi is to preserving the heritage and future of craft,’ says Caputo.

For Silvia Venturini Fendi, creative director of the Roman house, this dedication provided the foundation for a synergistic collaboration. ‘Lovis and Sarah’s primary focus is the exploration of materials and how these can be applied to craft using new techniques,’ she says. ‘This is exactly our approach at Fendi, which is driving us to the forefront of innovation in craftsmanship with leather and fur.’

The designers chose glazed terracotta bricks and Fendi’s supple Selleria leather to fabricate the furniture. The unexpected combination of two age-old materials speaks to Italy’s long tradition of experimentation. ‘Fendi has a DNA of contrast and dialogue, which we wanted to celebrate by choosing a strong and heavy counterpart to its soft and flexible leather,’ says Kueng. The leather is moulded into arches, circles and undulating surfaces that combine with the artisanal bricks to create architectural forms including stools, benches, tables, room dividers and a stylised palm tree.

Silvia Venturini Fendi
Silvia Venturini Fendi with the collection’s desk and ‘peekaboo’ bag with contrasting lining. ‘I love how Sarah and Lovis were so inspired by the shadows made by the arches of our HQ,’ she says, referencing how the furniture designs make a similar play on negative space in the shadows they cast on the wall.

While working with leather was familiar to the designers, who have used hand-painted vegetable-tanned leather in previous projects, the decision to include brick necessitated research into new techniques to achieve the desired shapes and finishes. The brick elements were carved by an industrial waterjet device, in a process that has more in common with garment cutting than masonry construction. The next challenge was finding a way to glaze the bricks to match the vibrant hues of the dyed leather, which the duo managed with the help of a Zurichbased ceramics specialist. The smooth, coloured glaze transforms the standard brick into a refined, decorative material.

Colour is central to much of Kueng Caputo’s work. ‘We come from a place where life is very grey, so colour is important to us,’ says Caputo, adding that the bright hues chosen for this project are intended ‘to make it feel appropriate for a Roman or Italian sensibility’. The bold, uniform hues focus attention on the different material finishes and also reference the colour-blocking aesthetic that is a Fendi signature. A canvas version of the brand’s classic ‘Peekaboo’ handbag was also developed to complement the collection.

Individually, the ten objects celebrate craftsmanship, but it is as a collection that they truly come to life. In Miami, the furniture will populate a salon where visitors will be able to take a seat and experience the colourful, tactile surfaces up close. The designers say the intention is to create ‘a hang-out area with the feeling of an outdoor space, like the loggias at the palazzo’. We expect it will feel just like Rome.