“The location is important,” says Alda Fendi, speaking about the new headquarters of her Fondazione Alda Fendi—Esperimenti. “It’s where Rome was born.”
Indeed, a stone’s throw away is the bank of the Tiber, where those mythical twins Romulus and Remus—the central characters in the story of Rome’s foundation—are said to have been discovered in their basket. Archaeological evidence indicates that the city’s earliest settlements were built here, in the quarter known as Velabro, a kilometer from the series of public squares known as the Imperial Fora.
Now, some very contemporary things are percolating amid these ancient sites, thanks to Fendi, the youngest of the five sisters who transformed a small fashion brand they inherited from their parents into a global powerhouse.
After luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH acquired the Fendi brand in 2001, Alda had the wherewithal to begin realizing other goals. “From that moment, I said I will finally be able to do what I’ve dreamed about since I was young—work in art.”
That same year, she established her foundation. Its primary aim was, and remains today, to break down the traditional barriers between the disciplines of art, theater, literature, music, and performance.
Fendi maintains two homes in Rome—one, a minimalist apartment filled with Arte Povera works, the other, a house furnished in the Charles X style—and two in Paris, one of which formerly belonged to Jean-Paul Sartre. She also has residences on the Italian island of Capri and in New York, among others.
It was in Rome that she acquired a 19th-century palazzo, adjacent to the Foro Traiano, to base her activities. During the renovation of the ground-floor gallery, the remains of the largest basilica in ancient Rome were discovered in the basement—including pristine, intact marble floors. It was one of Rome’s most important archaeological finds in decades.
Over the years that followed, Fendi financed the subterranean restoration project, even as she presented provocative, avant-garde performances and exhibitions upstairs, with artists ranging from opera singer Cecilia Bartoli and ballet dancer Roberto Bolle, to actor Vincent Gallo and musician Marilyn Manson. In collaboration with the foundation’s longtime creative director Raffaele Curi, happenings were also staged in locations throughout the city, from the Curia (the Roman Senate House) to the Mercato del Pesce degli Ebrei (the ancient Jewish fish market).