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.

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ROME, ITALY - JULY 09: (L-R) Carla Fendi and Marina Cicogna attend the Valentino Mirabilia Romae Fashion show at Piazza Mignanelli on July 9, 2015 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - JULY 10: Carla Fendi attends Coulture/Sculpture Vernissage Cocktail honoring Azzedine Alaia in the history of fashion at Galleria Borghese at Galleria Borghese on July 10, 2015 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Carla Fendi attends a private dinner celebrating the Victoria and Albert Museum's new exhibition 'The Glamour Of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014' at Victoria and Albert Museum on April 1, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - JANUARY 27: Carla Fendi attends Curiel Couture fashion show as part of AltaRoma AltaModa Fashion Week on January 27, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - JANUARY 28: (L-R) Carla Fendi and Renato Balestra attend the 'Be Blue Be Balestra' at Renato Balestra's Atelier on January 28, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03: (L-R) Speroni Candido, Carla Fendi and guest arrive to attend the 'The Glory of Water' Karl Lagerfeld's exhibition at FENDI store on Avenue Montaigne on July 3, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)
Carla Fendi arrives at the Fendi 80th Anniversary All Hallows Eve Party in New York October 29, 2005. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

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.

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