ROME • Carla Fendi, one of five sisters who inherited a small Roman leather goods workshop and together transformed it into a global luxury powerhouse famed for its reimagining of the classic fur coat, died on Monday in Rome.
She was 79.
Her death was announced by Fendi, which said she had been ill but did not specify the cause.
Fendi, now owned by French luxury group LVMH, is recognised for making fur a contemporary fashion trend rather than merely a wardrobe staple of the upper-class or older consumer (its distinctive double F logo stands for "fun fur").
It is also noted for its luxe leather "it" bags, such as the Baguette, and long-time relationship with Karl Lagerfeld who has designed collections for the house since 1965.
The fashion house staged a spectacular show with a Plexiglas catwalk across the Trevi Fountain in Rome last year to celebrate its 90th anniversary.
In 2007, it put on a runway show on top of the Great Wall of China - the first fashion show, a spokesman said at the time, to be visible from the moon.
But the house, which at its height was a rare fully female fashion dynasty, had humble origins.
Founded in 1925 in Rome by Adele and Edoardo Fendi as a small leather goods store (and secret fur workshop), the business was a home away from home for the couple's five daughters, Carla, Paola, Anna, Franca and Alda.
They grew up on the shop floor, playing and sleeping amid its samples and handbags.
While the other four sisters later became important creative forces in the evolution of the brand, it was Carla, born in Rome on July 12, 1937, who was the mastermind of its commercial and marketing strategies.
Soon after the company moved to a site near the Spanish Steps in 1965, Fendi bags, furs and scarves became beloved by Hollywood, European royalty and the global glitterati.
In the next decades, Carla, affectionately nicknamed the General (her official title was house president), became central to the march of the Fendi brand, particularly regarding its North American operations and cementing its position as a patron of Italian heritage and the arts.
She had no children, though the other sisters went on to have 11 between them and more than 30 grandchildren.
It was a measure of the sisters' importance to Italy that a special government dispensation was granted to allow their descendants to adopt their maternal surname.
However, to best ensure the future of the company - and to preserve familial relations - the sisters decided in 2001 to sell a controlling stake to LVMH.
"Five sisters were too much," said Lagerfeld, who has often been referred to as the sixth Fendi child, after the deal was announced. "And they were not speaking. The husbands were all happy when they sold."
Despite the takeover, Carla remained as the honorary president until her death.
Deeply committed to Rome and its culture, she helped finance the restoration of the Trevi Fountain through her Carla Fendi Foundation.
An avid collector of 20th-century European art and design, she was also chief patron of the Two Worlds arts festival in the Umbrian city of Spoleto.
Her husband of 55 years, Mr Candide Speroni, died in 2013.
"Aunt Carla was one of the most visionary people I have ever met," said Silvia, Carla's niece and creative director at Fendi for accessories, men's and children's wear.
"She was very ambitious and driven, totally determined to make her small family company an international one in a way that was very rare for women in the 1960s."
Silvia, daughter of Anna, is the only family member still actively involved in the running of the house. Her men's collection was shown in Milan on Monday, hours before her aunt died.
Tributes from the Italian fashion world flooded social media on Tuesday as news of Carla's death spread.
On Instagram, Ms Simone Marchetti, fashion editor of Italian newspaper La Repubblica, wrote "how important it is to leave a trace not just on fashion and on business, but most of all on art, beauty and theatre".