Anyone strolling along the Seine last night in the drizzle (never a deterrent in Paris) would have noticed the cluster of black geodesic-style tented domes along the embankment near the ornate Pont Alexandre III bridge, where giant tent poles bearing yellow Fendi flags competed for attention with the Eiffel Tower in the background. A short distance away, a bustling cocktail party celebrating the opening of Fendi's new presence on the Avenue Montaigne spilled out into the street as if it was the city's hottest brasserie.
Fendi's two-for-one fête on the final evening of the Haute Couture collections presented a Roman twist on two Parisian specialties: luxury retail and ephemeral art shows. The latter played out within the darkened domes (shaped to represent Rome's major cupolas) as 'The Glory of Water', an exhibition photographed by none other than the brand's artistic director Karl Lagerfeld, who focused his lens on Roman fountains.
Fifty of the images - some romantic, some melancholic, all open to interpretation - have been presented as daguerreotypes that encircle the space, their silver-plated surfaces reflecting the light and creating an almost supernatural effect (the faint haze from a smoke machine helped). Another 50 appeared as platinotypes, an even rarer photo-chemical process involving platinum and palladium on Japanese paper. The sound of rushing water streamed through both rooms.
Fendi's relationship with fountains represents more than just alliteration. Occupying another dome was a screening room for 'Histoire d'Eau', the 18-minute film Lagerfeld oversaw back in 1977 to showcase his first ready-to-wear collection for a brand that, at the time, was better known for its fur coats and accessories. Newly restored for the occasion, it stars actress Suzie Dyson as a wide-eyed tourist making a posh pilgrimage to all Rome's famous water monuments (her mother believes she's in Baden-Baden). A teenage Sylvia Venturini Fendi, now the founding family's most visible face, makes a brief cameo.
'Today, everyone does a fashion film, but [Karl] thought about it in 1977, which shows how modern and forward thinking he is,' said Pietro Beccari, Fendi's chairman and CEO from one of the few quiet areas during the store cocktail. 'That the story is around fountains tells a lot about the fact that the fountains of Rome have penetrated the history of this maison.'
Fendi has made a significant commitment to ensuring this story continues; in January, the LVMH-owned brand pledged €2.1m as the sole sponsor in the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, a four-year initiative that will also include the Four Fountains in Rome.
The Avenue Montaigne store, meanwhile, suggests that Fendi wants to elevate its retail image. Designer Gwenaël Nicolas has created a gleaming, sumptuous space that goes heavy on dynamic sculptural elements; look no further than the spiralling column from Tony Cragg that thrusts upward near the entrance. Paris-based Maria Pergay created three site-specific works in stainless steel and wood, each evoking nature (a table molded from an enormous tree trunk is inlaid with its bluish, aged remnants). A funnel-shaped light fixture covered in multicoloured Perspex strips shoots down through the central staircase, while a wall devoted to Fendi's iconic Baguette has been pierced with 30,000 bronze needles. It's as if the bags have been caught in a golden meteor shower.
The back part of the ground level is devoted primarily to Fendi's Made to Order service. Clients can choose their choice of skin from a frame sectioned off like a Mondrian painting. Nicolas' subtle flourishes - bags resting on gently convex ledges, leather-enrobed rails for displaying fur accessories, a wall in black lacquer cut with gold, the cube-pattern in the wood flooring - complement statement furniture by Gio Ponti, Gabriella Crespi and Hervé Van Der Straeten (at one point, the designer paused from hobnobbing to size up his pair of bronzed lamps). Altogether, the boutique gives off a timeless, nuanced glamour that won't require any sort of restoration or renovation anytime soon.
'[The store] gives justice to the sophistication of the house and we want to target a very mature customer and I think that's where we're heading,' said Beccari. 'The brand, the history of Fendi deserves this.'