Carla Fendi, face of famous Italian luxury brand, dies aged 79

ROME, June 20 (Reuters) - Carla Fendi, one of the five Italian sisters who transformed their parents' small leather workshop into an international luxury fashion powerhouse, has died at the age of 79, the family said on Tuesday.

Fendi, who died late on Monday and was the fourth of the sisters, was the public face of the company famous for its line of colorful "baguette" bags that cost thousands of dollars.

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While other members of the family were the creative forces, Carla concentrated on promoting the company brand, whose logo of two F's, one of them upside down and backwards, became an internationally recognized symbol for luxury.

The multinational LVMH luxury group gained a controlling stake in Fendi in 2001 in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars that brought together some of the world's most famous luxury brands. LVMH significantly increased its stake later.

It was a far cry from the family's humble origins nearly a century ago.

See photos of Carla Fendi:

The sisters' mother, Adele Casagrande, opened a small leather workshop in 1918 just off Rome's bustling Piazza Venezia.

Adele Casagrande married Eduardo Fendi in 1925 and the two opened a small boutique next door and lived above the shop.

The five sisters were born between 1931 and 1940 and as children they played among the leather shreds on the shop floor and slept amid the handbags.

"Accessories were our first toys," Carla Fendi once told Women's Wear Daily.

The sisters moved to company to the chic neighborhood around Rome's Spanish steps in the 1960s and in later expanded into ready-to-wear, shoes, perfume, household goods and children's wear.

The company received a big boost from the creative collaboration of Karl Lagerfeld, who helped in the design of clothes, furs, and accessories.

Animal rights activists frequently protested against the company for its use of furs.

In her later years, Carla Fendi became a well-known patron of the arts. Deeply committed to Rome and its culture, her foundation financed the restoration of the city's famous Trevi Fountain.

She was also a chief patron of the Two Worlds arts festival in the Umbrian city of Spoleto.