Walking the streets of Rome with Delfina Delettrez its like entering Gian Battista Piranesi engravings.
The Discovery of the most melancholy and poignant corners of the city: from the Protestant Cemetery where, amidst ruins and towering cluster pines, Keats and Shelley are buried in the shadow of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, to the Baroque Quattro Fontane lying at the crossroads of the city’s most famous Renaissance roads. With her penetrating gaze, Delfina Delettrez, who closely resembles a romantic heroine, feeds upon this plethora of soul destroying beauty. The Fourth generation heir of the Fendi family, she is a highly unconventional jewelry designer. Her office,in Tor Sanguigna, in a Rationalist building constructed on the ruins of the Stadio di Domiziano, is like entering the laboratory of an alchemist where studies are conducted on parrots’ beaks and sections of shells. The strength of her work lies in her romantic approach towards innovation, design and minimalism with, however, a nod towards the complexity of ancient artifacts. Her creations are so special that, as she laughingly told us, an admirer actually mistook a stag beetle which had somehow become entangled in the lace of her dress, for one of her bold, fantasy-laden brooches.
Alessio de' Navasques: Who did you take in discovery of the hidden corners and places in Rome and what is your relationship with the city?
Delfina Delettrez: Because of everything that I have invested in this city – it is the place where I established my atelier of artisans - every item that I have designed is branded ‘Made in Rome’. When I started out seven years ago, I created what I call my magical triangle, namely a workshop, an office and a boutique, an ideal setup that enables me to develop my work. I see my relationship with the city as a source of ongoing interaction. The idea of walking on layers of different eras is something that excites and inspires me. What strikes me most is its perfect harmony, consisting of the myriad contrasts between different styles, ranging from the severity of Rationalist architecture to that of Baroque. In fact, this aesthetic tension is a recurrent theme in my creations, starting from pieces where the stone, though cleaned and smoothed, has been left in its purest form, right up to my more figurative, organic work. I am fascinated by the idea of contrasts and opposites.
AdN: I once read that you compared your family to a family of killer whales, how did your background influence your life and your work?
DD: My background was obviously a formative part of my life. From the time that I was a child, I had the good fortune to take part in endless discussions about work, discussions that also took place at home where nobody minded if I expressed my opinions freely. I was able to actually watch the entire creative process and the underlying dynamics. Therefore, not only the glamour but also the hard work and the endless risks involved. I am trying to transmit the same ideals to my daughter. I talked about killer whales because we are a close-knit family group that would not dream of being separated, even for a moment. As Karl Lagerfeld commented, the five Fendi sisters are like the five fingers of the same hand, so different yet so complimentary, you can learn something from each one of them. It is a close-knit group of strong women who, despite having had to fight endlessly to achieve their goals, have nevertheless always supported each other, sharing their rules and their values.
AdN: Your creative path has evolved by themes and images passing from the idea of memento mori to insects. How did this process occur?
DD: When you give life, you also tend to ask yourself lots of questions about death. It all started when I was pregnant, I wanted to make a ring for my daughter, to give to her when she was born. There was something miraculous about creating that piece in my workshop. I found the smell of metal appealing at a time when everything else made me nauseous.
It was while questioning myself about death that I created my memento mori series, consisting of smiling, playful skulls embellished with flowers and other vital elements. Life can be so transient and, for me, this was a way of exorcising my fears. To begin with it wasn’t easy to transmit my ideas to other artisans so I decided to invest in a workshop and to employ young people with whom I could interact and create a longlasting relationship. Because we don’t make technical designs, our work is based on tests, experimentation and the use of unusual, alternative materials.
AdN: How did your latest collection come into being?
DD: My latest collection, consisting mainly of brooches, earrings and nose rings, is based on contrasts: on minimalist jewelry that contrasts with other, stronger, more Baroque styles. I worked on this idea of an earring with a double circle. An earring that, thanks to an unusual play of concave and convex shapes and diamond effects, resembles a lunar eclipse. They are like two circles that mirror one another and move on the lobe, creating light and movement. The circle becomes like a removable frame that can also be applied to my piercing earring. I also presented several unique pieces: large brooches in agate, others in diamonds and rubies.
AdN: Your collections are presented in a highly unusual way, what inspired this idea?
DD: I believe that it has something to do with my profound link to my Italian roots, this idea of theatricality is an inherent part of my DNA. I have never liked jewels suspended in nothingness, I find that they lose their proportions and dimensions. This explains why, when developing my presentations, I often reconstruct anatomical elements that are confused with the jewelry itself. For my latest collection entitled Faceted I played on the idea of a mirror as a liquid surface, as another dimension based on the idea of duality. Marble and metal elements as parts of the face supported the jewelry and began gliding along the glass surface, leaving those who saw them awestruck.
AdN: Your creations combine Italian artisanal tradition and technology, how do you manage these two aspects?
DD: I consider myself a jeweler of my times meaning that I am determined to use everything that this era offers me. Technological elements fascinate me because, as far as I am concerned, they resemble a form of magic, they reward me with surprising effects. In some of my jewelry, like my ‘Tourbillon’ bracelet, skills pertaining to physics and statics were required to study movement on the body. The timelessness of a material like gold absolutely fascinates me. I am humbled by the idea that the objects that I create could resist for thousands of years. I like combining gold with new, alternative materials like resins which resemble rock crystals but which, over time, could be used to encase an insect, a flower or a fruit.
AdN: Timelessness is a recurring theme, can you elaborate?
DD: As far as I’m concerned it’s very important, one reason being that it distinguishes real jewelry from costume jewelry. They are two totally different worlds which, unfortunately, are slowly becoming dangerously confused. I define my pieces as ‘ultra-modern classics’, like a string of pearls, a watch or a diamond brooch. To some degree, these were the jewels that were worn by our grandmothers, they represent our childhood memories, the things that are handed down from mother to daughter which I like to reengineer. I love the idea of an old watch that is no longer used becoming an accessory. Hence the idea of my series of watches which instead of a dial feature a stone.
AdN: According to classic, medieval lapidaries, stones have mystical powers. Do you believe in this theory?
DD: I believe that thoughts influence stones, it’s the way in which we imbue them with meaning. When I created my first piece of jewelry for my daughter, I tried to infuse it with positivity so that it would bring her good luck. Years ago, I took a course on the meaning of stones and I am convinced that there are some stones that do good and others that do harm. I have experimented this on myself. Some stones give me energy while others drag me down. However, during the creative process I try not to allow myself to be influenced by all of this, attempting rather to give the jewelry the meaning that I want it to have.
AdN: Are you a fan of contemporary art?
DD: Not really contemporary art but art in general, intended as an interior revolution, like that particular detail that makes an object or a dress unique. I believe in a wider concept of art, linked to the applied arts, more similar to the olden-day concept of an artist who apart from the painting also created the frame. Although there is no-one more fascinating than Bosh, in my collections I also drew inspiration from De Chirico, Gnoli and Piranesi. Generally speaking, the vision of artists of the past appeal to me more strongly.
AdN: You told me that you enjoy reading the biographies and diaries of extraordinary women, do you consider your own life extraordinary?
DD: My life has been marked by meetings with extraordinary women. I have always been impressed by their freedom and independence. In general, I enjoy reading anything that is autobiographical, even diaries and love letters like those written by George Sand. I am struck by those who are driven by passion and impulse. Just take, for example, Elizabeth Bathory the bloody countess who bathed in the blood of virgins. They are such incredible stories, because they are generated by a force that is both negative and positive.
AdN: How would you define style and fashion?
DD: I have never been interested in following trends. Even when I was an adolescent, I always tried to be different, to wear something that was mine and mine alone, often going from dressing like a nun to a rocker. I only buy a few things and if I buy anything, I buy it for my collections consisting primarily of special pieces by Capucci, Yves Saint Lauren and Ossie Clark. On the other hand, I have always enjoyed playing with style, changing moods according to my will. With clothes you can have fun and become whomever you want to be, there are clothes that give you strength, they’re like amulets. In my case this applies to furs. They empower me and make me feel at ease. I refer to many of my jewels as ‘conversation pieces’, they are those things that attract people’s attention and break the ice at lunches or dinners. You can’t help asking what they are. This has its pros and its cons. I remember a lunch with Valentino when a woman stopped me and complemented me on my brooch. I touched my dress and, to my surprise, I found an enormous stag beetle caught in the lace at my chest.