SILENT MESSAGES. Delfina Delettrez Fendi is a designer and jeweller based in Rome, Italy. She founded her namesake label Delfina Delettrez in 2007, creating fashion jewellery and fine jewellery pieces in partnership with local goldsmiths and artisans. Celebrities including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicole Kidman, and fashion’s coolest stylists, have sought out her fine-jewellery pieces for their polished punk vibe.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Delfina Fendi, how would you define yourself?
I like my pieces to speak for myself. Look at my collection and you can see and understand much of who I am, because I design for personal pleasure and for my personal requirement. I was raised with two different lives; one part of my childhood spent in Brazil and the other in Rome. I had rules and school in Rome, and in Brazil I was in the middle of nature where the only rule was not to come home before sunset! This beautiful sense of freedom helped me build up my aesthetic and I became interested in clashes, in abstract combinations. I’m a very curious person who likes to go behind things. Every object, every shape, has added value, has a deep meaning; this is what my family taught me.
What differs between your jewellery and that of the famous houses such as Cartier or Tiffany?
It’s a different approach. I naturally applied fashion rules to the jewellery world, which is less experimental, less innovative and less secretive than the fashion world. There are plenty of incredible historical beautiful pieces, so I realised that if I had something to say in this sector it would have to be something new that speaks of the woman of today and her new way of wearing, considering, and buying jewellery.
Nowadays a woman can buy her dress, a bag, a piece of jewellery, and doesn’t have to wait for the gift of a father, husband or boyfriend?
Women are liberated from this sense of having to wait for someone else to help them with what to wear. This doesn’t take away meaning from jewellery, it gives a new energy and sense of feminine emancipation. Also, at Fendi I don’t want the jewellery to speak a different language; I want the jewellery sector to be as innovative, as experimental, as modern, and as contemporary as the other categories.
Does that mean you work closely with Kim Jones, the present artistic director of Fendi?
Yes, with Kim Jones and with my mother Silvia. It’s teamwork, but we all put our individual vision into this new Fendi woman who we imagine together. I am honoured to be part of this new Fendi chapter. I can experiment a lot with fashion jewellery, go deep into my ideas and then bring those ideas out into the design universe.
Does jewellery respond to the changing role of women and the new needs of society?
Yes, the fashion and the jewellery worlds are like anthropological clocks. You can understand society by looking at the evolution and the transformation of jewellery. The distinction of jewellery for the day or jewellery for the evening doesn’t exist anymore. People want jewellery that is versatile, that corresponds to and respects their needs. Our lives have changed. I work on intimate and personal things that you wear in your everyday life, that are an extension of yourself. As a designer this is challenging, because you have to work on comfort as well, whereas before it was all about the impact that the piece needed to have on the viewer. Now a piece of jewellery has become like an accessory, and the aura of opulence has faded away.
“I’m truly inspired by women. My work is an homage that I pay to them every day.”
“Couture is the best platform for experimentation. It’s the platform of freedom.”
Delfina Fendi, what does it mean when people say that you love to mix technology and magic?
I like pieces that are engineered. Growing up in my matriarchal family, these women with different personalities and different styles all loved jewellery and all selected different kinds of jewellery. My grandmother would come to me with these engineered, very technical pieces, transformable, versatile – brooches that would become earrings – and she would tell me, “Look at this beautiful stone.” And I used to flip the piece upside down, because I was attracted by the mechanism that was hidden behind it. Technology is the closest thing to magic. It is part of my creative and productive process because I use innovative techniques, even though every piece is made by hand in Rome and infused with human warmth. Every piece is treated as noble as the other, any material too.
Do you have favourite materials; metals, woods, stones?
I am very classical, and I like the classics to be mixed with some other kind of material. I like materials and shapes that have strong attitude. I am obsessed by gold. It’s imperishable. Mixing gold with wood, for instance, comes from my childhood, from the way I grew up respecting any kind of material and treating it as precious. I put effort into designing objects. Sometimes it can take you six months to accomplish one piece that will last forever.
What about stones?
I like the absence of colour of the white diamond. This very strong stone truly fascinates me. It’s actually called the “Stone of the Warriors”, and it has this poetic and romantic aura.
Are wood, gold and diamond your basic elements?
Resin is also an innovative interesting material that I’ve been using a lot. It’s a way to create fossils today, because you can englobe anything you want in the resin, even organic things.
Do you give great importance to what is sustainable and organic?
Absolutely. The gold that I use is recycled gold. It’s fundamental. It’s an added value, and it’s something that especially the younger generation requires.
Do you use only gold, or also silver and platinum?
For Fendi I use any kind of material, from gold to platinum to Plexiglas. I used Murano glass for my first couture collection and when I went to Murano it was really emotional because it was during the first lockdown and so I had Venice to myself. It was a wonderful experience to get closer to understanding this material that I didn’t know. At Fendi we have the motto: “Nothing is what it seems”. We like to transform materials so that a feather can look like a fur and things like this. I wanted glass to look like marble, taking the material somewhere else and adding this surprise effect which is very dear to Fendi. The surprise effect is the essence of the baroque, very Roman, something we always look for. I wanted to work on a material that looked fragile but was also very solid at the same time because I wanted the material to reflect the opposite of the character of the soul of Virginia Woolf. Couture is the best platform for experimentation. It’s the platform of freedom.
What was so special about your two pieces that were purchased by and exhibited at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs just a few years after you started in jewellery?
More than the two pieces, which of course I believe were special, it was a very precise moment when the jewellery world connected to the fashion world. I knew the fashion rules and how to move in the fashion system – I didn’t know any other universe – so it made sense to me to present my jewellery collections during Fashion Week and to stage some shows, and not do the classic static jewellery presentation. I staged immersive universes, and one of them was at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. It was a way to liberate jewellery from the very traditional.
Yes, especially in the couture shows. It’s nice to imagine these unique pieces or limited series on women who are muses and goddesses, but at the same time what interests me is to see those same pieces worn, understood and acquired by normal women who decide to collect these pieces for their lives.
Why is the single earring one of your icons, this idea that a woman can wear only one earring, not necessarily a pair?
Perfection annoys me. I just don’t like to be too balanced, there needs to be something wrong, something twisted. I enjoy wearing one earring, it’s eye-catching. You don’t know how many times women run after me and tell me I have lost an earring! It stimulates a reaction, just as it’s not that obvious to take elements and shapes from different universes – such as the punk universe – and elevate it into the fine jewellery world. It’s fantastic to see that I have accomplished my mission, which is to elevate this earring and this shape and to have it become a classic of nowadays.
Is the shape always the same?
The way of wearing it is. You wear it from the back of the lobe, and usually earrings are worn from the front. You close it with this pearl closure that I came up with. The element always changes, but the shape remains the same.
“I naturally applied fashion rules to the jewellery world, which is less experimental, less innovative and less secretive than the fashion world.”
Delfina Fendi, they say there is no fashion without jewellery, but is there also no jewellery without fashion?
They go together, especially now that fashion houses have started to work on jewellery. It also depends on if it is haute joaillerie or fashion jewellery. Sometimes a piece of jewellery can suggest a garment; or a garment or an accessory can suggest a piece of jewellery. Both, fashion and jewellery, are silent but strong ways of communicating. They’re like silent storytellers.
What about men wearing jewellery, as they did historically?
Actually men were the only ones wearing jewellery, and the more jewellery they wore, the more power and masculinity and virility they emanated. Also the jewellery designers – like Benvenuto Cellini and Enzo Schiaperelli – were mainly men. This new wave of contemporary young female designers arrived when I started working, because we had Elsa Peretti and other great fashion designers doing incredible jewellery.
Genders are fluid in today’s society. Is your jewellery also fluid?
I don’t do a male/female distinction, it is just one brand. I have many male clients, mostly collectors who buy for the pleasure of a beautiful shape. It doesn’t mean they have to wear it or gift it to someone. It is just for the pleasure of having it sitting there at home. This is beautiful, because I give great importance to the piece, both when it’s worn and when it’s not worn.
Is your jewellery as expensive as for instance Bulgari, or are your prices different?
I like to have a democratic approach, and my customer base is very wide – from the teenage girl to her grandmother. No matter what, you can always find something. I can’t compare myself to the big name houses, because we have a different approach and I don’t do haute joaillerie. I am maybe mid-haute joaillerie, but I work a lot on unique pieces and that’s where prices do go up. But my prices are very affordable.
Do you have many competitors?
I wouldn’t say I have competitors, because I create what I can’t find elsewhere. If it’s a competitor, it means that magically we had the same idea at the same time. I am happy to be part of this exciting new wave of female young designers. We, all together, are bringing real change to this work.
Is this because you are women, so you know what you want?
Finally, somehow the pieces respond to the woman’s need. We are more sensible towards our needs. Also, growing up in such a female oriented world, I may have become more sensitive to what is in the air.
We have had the corona virus for the last two years, and now are in a time of war. How is the jewellery business going?
Incredibly, the jewellery business is growing. Everything around the face is having a huge growth, so earrings and necklaces. Women are going back to an almost talismanic feeling towards jewellery, wanting to invest in things that have a real meaning and a real value, and are protective.
Is that why you like gold?
Let’s not talk about gold, because it has become very expensive. No one could ever have imagined 10 years ago that we would have reached that number. It goes up very fast, and when it goes down it only goes down just a tiny bit. Today you have to think twice before creating something with gold and ask if it has something new to say. This is exciting because you go deeper into what you’re doing.
In these inflationary times where are you most important clients?
I am a more European connected brand, even if today, with the internet, I don’t have a specific clientele. Inflation has a deep impact, more than just on the prices but also on my creative approach. There’s no way now you can think of pieces on a large scale when you work with gold. Everything has to be more minimal, subtler, a whispered preciousness. For jewellery it’s a moment of small, tiny, delicate things, which makes them even more personal and more intimate for the woman.
Who are your clients?
I’m truly inspired by women. My work is an homage that I pay to them every day. I’ve observed their transformation, their new way of being, of wearing, of buying. My client is a dynamic and ironic woman, because there is also this sense of irony in my pieces. I like anyone who is out of the ordinary, who is bold and does not really conform to anything. I also appreciate people who can look beyond the intrinsic value of a piece, who give value to the design itself, to the idea. Many women call me and ask for special pieces, and I enjoy this exchange. I love people who are away from the ordinary and thinking in a different way. I am someone who doesn’t want to be categorized. The moment you think that I am something, I do the opposite!
“It’s very important to have a boutique in Rome, to mark the fact that each piece is made in Rome.”
A ring based on white gold and diamonds by Delfina Delettrez.
White gold and diamond from Delfina Delettrez.
“The logo at Fendi was the double faced Roman god Janus before the double F logo.”
“Both, fashion and jewellery, are silent but strong ways of communicating.”
“I’m obsessed by jewellery, and I love to apply my passion in the fashion world.”
“I now feel that I’m winning over the prejudice that people have over my being the daughter of Silvia Fendi.”
Delfina Fendi, which is the most desired piece of jewellery?
The ring is the most personal piece of jewellery ever, by tradition full of meaning. I like their secretive aspect and their intimacy. The ring, as the bracelet, is something that you wear for the pleasure of looking at. You can’t look at earrings or necklaces, so it’s something connected to yourself and speaks of the woman who is wearing it. Observing a woman’s hand is like doing an inverted palm reading. The rings are silent messages.
Nowadays do women tend to wear many rings on their hands, as you are doing?
Now it’s this concept of multi-layering, multi-stacking rings, because we’re in the transition of still caring about our grandmother’s ring or our antique ring, but wanting to add on top of this another message. We started layering because we had a connection, even if they didn’t respond to our personal taste. I am reshaping the traditional codes of the jewellery world and understand the new needs. Why do I have to be engaged with a ring and not with an earring or with a bracelet? So I slightly twist and modify these rules that need to correspond to today. The logo at Fendi was the double faced Roman god Janus before the double F logo, and it really speaks of the brand, of the house, and also how we were raised, one face looking at the past and the other face to the future. It’s a game of equilibrium, a balance between the two, always looking at the past and respecting it.
How is your personal equilibrium, since you were raised in Brazil, your mother’s city is Rome and you have a lot to do with Paris?
I am very adaptable to different situations. I like to be normal but I always have what I call “healthy dissatisfaction”. It’s a healthy fuel that makes you continue, creating new shapes or looking for your happy place.
How is your working day? Do you go to an office?
I don’t have a routine. I split myself between my brand Delfina Delettrez and Fendi. For my brand, I have a small office in the centre of Rome, in the artisanal area, and I also have a boutique. It’s very important to have a boutique in Rome, to mark the fact that each piece is made in Rome. At Fendi every morning when I see the incredible Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana it’s a great reminder of how small we are. It’s a very special building, and it’s like a giant watch because you have these arches where the light changes during the day and you have these moving shadows. It’s nice to step out from my window and see Rome from the balcony, you feel invincible when you are on top of the city.
Fendi also has the beautiful Palazzo Fendi boutique in the centre of Rome, where you have a huge work of art Foglie di Pietra by Giuseppe Penone. Does this symbolize that Fendi is very close to the worlds of art and cinema?
Yes, especially in Rome. It was very exciting and my grandmother and her sister had the best time. They didn’t want to move from Rome when most of the fashion world was moving to Milan, because they were part of that scene. There was a real exchange. It was very modern and anticipatory that a fashion house could collaborate with theatre, with cinema, with any kind of film, as it still does today.
Your mother Silvia who designed the famous baguette still works inside Fendi. How was it, these generations of women working together?
It wasn’t only women. It was very much balanced with the presence of men. Fendi is a beautiful story of women of course, and my great-grandmother was a real example of feminine emancipation at a time when power was in the hands of the male. She had these five daughters and this led her to raise her daughters with a different attitude, to prepare them to find a place in a male oriented world. I am happy that this contributed to emancipation, not only in society, but also in the world of work, and I am lucky to contribute to and to continue this story. Everything here is very familiar to me, even though today the house doesn’t belong to us anymore, but belongs to the LVMH family. But familiar doesn’t mean easy. I still feel the pressure, but I now feel that I’m winning over the prejudice that people have over my being the daughter of Silvia Fendi. When you have this name, you never know if you are called because of your last name or because of your talent. Even though talent is passed through our DNA it’s also a process of observation, and it’s beautiful for me to work with my mother because we have this very direct way of saying the truth to each other.
Would you say that you have found your own niche, not only within Fendi but also with your own brand Delfina Delettrez?
I’m obsessed by jewellery, and I love to apply my passion in the fashion world. This I truly enjoy, because I love this dynamic, the energy of: “OK, what’s next?”
For you will that always be gold and white diamonds?
Portrait of Delfina Delettrez Fendi by Luca Anzalone
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