The jewellery designer Delfina Delettrez – petite, made-up and blown-out, wearing a vermilion mid-length voile-panel dress from Fendi’s spring/summer 2021 collection and a pair of vertiginous raffia heels – is standing in mud, cradling a damp, dirty lamb to her chest. Plucked moments before from a massive scrum of flighty sheep that have just been driven into a paddock on this farm north of Rome, the lamb vibrates with alertness. The trembling, Delettrez tells me, is normal for such a tiny new animal; this one was born the day before, and is still getting to grips with its neuromuscular system. Behind us, the hundred-strong herd bleats and bellows in full-throated cacophony. A photographer and her assistant hop from set-up to set-up, tripod and gels in tow; a pair of stylists coo over the other baby lambs capering in the paddock in between tracing fussy orbits around Delettrez with brushes and lip pencils. But Delettrez herself, her head bent to whisper into the lamb’s ear, seems to have momentarily forgotten any of the rest of us exist.
There is a modicum of cringe potential to this visual salvo: a fourth-generation Fendi (Delettrez is the 33-year-old daughter of the Roman house’s artistic director of accessories and menswear, Silvia Venturini Fendi) dressed to the nines for a portrait sitting on one of her family’s many properties. Accessorised with a token beastie in an attempt to confer a bit of country-life bona fides, the cynic might append. But portrait sittings rarely tell the full story. Delettrez, it turns out, actually knows farm animals, and farm life. The particular farm we are shooting on, I Casali del Pino, is a 100 per cent certified organic agricultural estate founded in 2003 by her aunt, Ilaria Fendi; a place whose 175 hectares – set inside the Parco di Veio nature reserve – Delettrez has roamed since she was a teenager. These days she, her partner, the artist Nico Vascellari, and her three children share one of the restored houses on the property with her mother, Silvia. The amphibious Gator tractor she roars around on when in residence is the vehicle on which she first learnt to drive. New sheep, old sheep, dirty and clean sheep; biodynamic produce, cheese and salumi production; firewood-gathering, fence-checking and copious woodland walking. All these are actual, non-photo-op components of Delettrez’s life here.
On a good traffic day, I Casali del Pino is only about a half-hour drive from the Colosseum; but its unalloyed natural rhythms and seasonal cycles are a world away from Delettrez’s professional milieu, which unfolds between Rome (where she collaborates with a workshop of some 30 metal and gem artisans, and lives in a loft-like flat in Ostiense, the city’s answer to Williamsburg) and Paris (where she has a pied-à-terre on the Place de Furstenberg). “This thing happens for me that the second I cross through the gate here, I actually feel my body relax,” she says. “Because we’re inside the reserve, it’s all completely protected. So very suddenly it looks like you’re in Tuscany – you go from a suburban road to seeing only fields and pines and cypresses. There are the farm animals, the pigs and the sheep” – Ilaria Fendi later tells me she keeps almost 1,000 of the latter on the estate – “but also deer, wild boar, foxes…”
The Casali themselves were formerly a borgo, inhabited by the employees of what was, a century and a half ago, a thriving tobacco farm. The building housing the restaurant – which on sunny Saturdays bustles with stylish young Romans out for some kilometro zero cuisine and open green spaces – was the drying warehouse. The Casa Cappella, where Delettrez and her extended family live at weekends, was the owner’s house. Above its cavernous deconsecrated chapel (in which she has been known to throw a blow-out party or two), there is a bedroom where the parish priest slept; the barest hint of incense still lingers in the air. Another holds at least half a dozen antique iron-and-wood children’s beds – cousins and friends of her children pile in for regular sleepovers. (“It’s like a bunk room – only beds in it. It’s kind of surreal and wonderful.”) The kitchen, its walls and floor clad in ornate ceramic tiling, still has its original hearth, which blazes against the bone-penetrating damp on the day we spend here together.
In non-Covid times, I Casali del Pino is also home to a country-house hotel; the 16 rooms are in a three-storey outbuilding where the tobacco-pickers would bunk. (“My daughter loves to stay in the hotel when we come,” Delettrez says. “For her, it’s a lot more fun being a guest.”) There is an on-site alimentari, selling the farm’s organic output of cheeses, meats and dried pasta and various sauces made with grains and produce grown in situ.
For Delettrez, I Casali manifests “the idea of subtraction, not addition” – the place where she peels away the constraints of her work week and replaces them with open hours and nature. “We sit for half a day in front of the fire. We take the tractor out and have a picnic by a beautiful river over the ridge beyond the farm, or a different lunch in a different wood every day. It’s one of the only places I can decide exactly how to use my time.”
From the time Delettrez founded her eponymous line in 2007, themes of nature have underpinned many of her collections. Gemstone frogs cluster atop rings; tiny enamel caterpillars sit on delicate leaf pendants or earrings shaped from 18ct gold. Honeycombs and spiderwebs are imagined into striking statement necklaces. And there is no shortage of bones, skulls or allusions to memento mori. The Baroque has always permeated her designs. “The mystery of it attracts me,” she says. “I’m Roman, it’s a part of my culture.” Death, one of the Baroque’s abiding themes – and nature’s great equaliser – isn’t something she shies away from.
“I spent part of my childhood in Brazil,” she tells me. “I learned that nature can be scary. The insects are much bigger there, the colours are more acid. If you think about it, there is repulsion in nature, there is violence in it. There are a lot of shadows, and the shadows are always interesting to me. My parameters of beauty are constantly shifting. It doesn’t matter sometimes if something is [considered] pretty or ugly; if I respond to it, if it compels me, it’s interesting.”
Recently, Delettrez has been engaging with these signal themes from a new platform. In December, Fendi’s new artistic director for couture and womenswear, Kim Jones, announced that Delettrez would be joining his team as creative director of jewellery. It’s a new role within the house (though not Delettrez’s first work for Fendi: she collaborated on a watch collection in 2016). She showed her first pieces on 27 January 2021 as part of Fendi’s maiden foray onto the January couture calendar (previously it only showed once annually, in July).
Delettrez characterises alta gioielleria as “total liberty, without having to think about serial production; basically, you’re creating artworks. Experimentation and art are the first points of order,” she says, in that order. (The privileges of her proximity to the brand aren’t lost on her; beyond conventional access to the historic company archives, she notes, “I have the good fortune to be able to walk into my mother’s and grandmother’s closets” for inspiration.) She collaborated closely with Jones: “In the collection, there’s this union of the two cultures: the England of Woolf, that Bloomsbury [aesthetic] that is a passion of Kim’s, and Rome. There was one image in particular from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando that really struck me, of a Russian princess who wears a pearl choker on her head instead of around her neck – a personal, eclectic choice. For me, it began from there.”
She feels largely unencumbered by the constraints of high jewellery’s orthodoxy. The absence of formal training has, in part, allowed her to gravitate to unusual material treatments, combinations and ideas in her own designs. The Delfina Delettrez signature engagement ring, for instance, conceals a diamond eternity band beneath another of solid metal. Nose and ear cuffs, laden with precious stones, are par for the course. For Fendi, she has experimented with material sleights of hand: Rome is evoked in the heaviness of marble, but the “stone” is really Murano glass, in some cases coated with resin – a technical innovation as well as a creative departure. “I wanted to unite that lightness… with a marble effect – [to create] ‘objects’ in marble inspired by marble sculpture, but they’re actually glass.”
In between sojourns in Venice to oversee the production of the jewels (“It was very dramatic, working with these Murano artisans with the city in this almost spectral state”), Delettrez has these past several months been collaborating with her brother, Giulio Cesare, to reinvent Villa Laetitia, the 25-room hotel on the River Tiber owned by her grandmother, Anna Fendi. Its distance from the centro storico’s crowds, its stile Liberty interior charms, and its old-world restaurant have won it a diehard fan contingent in the fashion world. The rooms – all unique and named for family members or collaborators – are dense with heirlooms, as well as Anna Fendi’s studio designs. The siblings are reconfiguring the Villa to serve a further function as a private members’ club. It will have its own bar, and the building’s beautiful glass conservatories have been commandeered for club use. “In many ways, it’s already so close to entertaining in a family home,” she says of the Villa. “Our clients know us, and we know them; some insist on the same room every visit. Every once in a while I’ll come to stay the night, and in the room I sleep in there’s a chest of drawers from my childhood. The room named after Giulio is full of things from his. The one named after Karl [Lagerfeld] is lined with his original sketches. Each space, each thing, tells a personal story.”
Back at I Casali, Ilaria Fendi has joined us at Casa Cappella for a late-afternoon lunch. Delettrez, long since changed out of her Fendi ensemble and into old trousers and Wellington boots, is handing around platters of sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses and spicy salamis, all made just across the lawn at the alimentari. Pasta all’amatriciana, studded with glistening cubes of pig’s cheek, is ladled into bowls. Afterward, aunt and niece – Fendi leaning against the mantel, Delettrez seated on the stone ledge in front of it, arms wrapped around her knees – discuss the rigours of running a farm that adheres to Italy’s strict criteria for organic agriculture and animal husbandry, and the years of certification hurdles that required clearing; Fendi, a total neophyte in 2003, learnt as she went. They tell me about the ancient history of the region, which pre-dates the presence of their farm by almost 3,000 years; the Piazza D’Armi of Veii – where the Romans laid siege to, and ultimately defeated, the local Etruscan populace – is an easy walk from the house. The entire area is an architectural gold mine; the better preserved, Delettrez says, for being relatively unknown. “I think we” – the family – “feel a bit like the guardians of this place.”
Earlier, before the sun disappeared behind a wall of pewter cloud, Delettrez piled us all into the Gator’s truck bed and powered down a dirt road towards a canyon below the farm. At one point she braked abruptly and pointed to the ridge: an enormous boar was weaving along the edge of the treeline. A monumental stone arch – another Etruscan site – emerged from just beyond the slope. She cut the motor, hopped down and pulled up the chain link from around the grass in front of it, so we could come underneath for a closer look. The air was cold and restless; the bleating of the sheep in the paddock, far up the hill, carried faintly down. Somewhere above us, the huge boar fossicked for food. I thought about something Delettrez had said when we spoke earlier in the month: “Being able to spend my time exactly how I want to there – it’s like a material good, how satisfying it is. That place for me is the real concetto di lusso.”
UK ends damaging post-Brexit clash over status of EU envoy
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has finally ended a corrosive diplomatic dispute over the status of the EU’s ambassador in London, a stand-off that had added to post-Brexit tensions.
Raab had previously refused to grant João Vale de Almeida full diplomatic status after Brexit took effect on January 1, arguing the EU was an “international organisation” not a state.
Brussels retaliated by shutting Britain’s head of mission to the EU, Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, out of key meetings with EU officials, adding to Brexit tensions on trade and Northern Ireland.
But on Wednesday the issue was settled after a meeting between Raab and Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief.
Officials briefed on the deal said Vale de Almeida would now receive the same diplomatic recognition as his counterparts in EU missions in all other world capitals, including Washington and Beijing.
In a joint statement, issued at a G7 meeting in London, Raab and Borrell said they had reached an agreement based on “goodwill and pragmatism” on an establishment agreement for the EU delegation to the UK.
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While Vale de Almeida will enjoy full ambassadorial status, British officials said Raab had secured a deal “which gives us some of what we want” regarding the legal situation of EU staff in London.
EU officials will enjoy a largely similar status to other diplomats but with some downgrades: notably, under the agreement, they will not have immunity from prosecution for road traffic accidents.
Raab insisted on this carve-out following the death of Harry Dunn, a British motorcyclist killed in 2019 in a collision with a vehicle driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat. She returned to the US claiming diplomatic immunity.
But many British diplomats were dismayed at how long it had taken to resolve the dispute. “It was a stupid thing to do in the first place and we’ve had to back down,” said one former ambassador.
The diplomatic rapprochement was hailed in Brussels as a sign of a “new cycle” in UK-EU relations following the European parliament’s formal ratification last month of the trade deal between the two sides, which took effect on January 1.
There has also been a thawing in relations over the management of tensions in Northern Ireland, as London and Brussels look for ways to soften border checks on goods coming from the British mainland to the region.
Vale de Almeida will now get to present his diplomatic credentials to the Queen — an honour not available to the heads of international missions.
Boris Johnson has never recognised the EU as equivalent in status to a national government but Number 10 insiders insisted that the Foreign Office — not the prime minister — was responsible for the diplomatic dispute.
Meanwhile, Ireland and the UK announced plans for the first meeting in two years of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a structure created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for the two countries to liaise on issues around Northern Ireland.
“We are aware that there are sincerely held concerns in different communities in Northern Ireland in relation to a number of issues and firmly agree that the best way forward is through dialogue and engagement,” said Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney in a joint statement after they met in Dublin on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting will take place in June, ahead of the July marching season in Northern Ireland, which could inflame tensions between unionists — who feel that their region’s status in the UK is under threat from post-Brexit trading arrangements — and nationalists, who are pushing for a vote on a united Ireland.
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France threatens to cut power to Jersey as fishing tensions rise
France has threatened to cut off its power supply to Jersey in the Channel Islands, as tensions rise with the UK over the post-Brexit fishing regime.
Following the UK’s full departure from the bloc in January, French fishermen have expressed concerns at difficulties in receiving the necessary licences to fish in British waters.
The dispute also comes at a time when UK and EU negotiators are in discussions over the 2021 catch quota for shared fishing stocks.
Jersey, the largest channel island and a British crown dependency, receives 95 per cent of its electricity from France through underwater cables. Its foreign policy is governed by the UK, which means it is treated as a third country by the EU.
Annick Girardin, the French maritime minister, told France’s National Assembly she was “revolted” that Jersey had granted 41 fishing licences that included conditions and specific criteria that were “decided unilaterally and without explanation”.
“It’s unacceptable,” she told lawmakers. “We’re ready to resort to retaliatory measures . . . concerning Jersey, I’ll remind you of the transport of electricity via submarine cables.” Girardin added she would “regret” any action but “we’ll do it if we have to”.
French fishermen and ministers have been complaining for two weeks about the difficulty of gaining access to British waters despite the agreement on fisheries reached at the end of last year.
The anger among French fishermen at the delays in receiving licences for fishing in UK has prompted barricades for lorries arriving in Europe with UK-landed fish.
Clement Beaune, France’s junior minister for European Affairs, last week threatened to block regulations that would allow UK financial firms to do business in the EU if Britain does not respect its Brexit commitments on fishing.
Bertrand Sorre, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s governing La République en Marche party, gave the example of a fisherman from Granville in Normandy who had previously fished for scallops and whelks for an average of 40 days a year off Jersey; he had been told he could fish for only 11 days this year, and only for scallops.
Ian Gorst, Jersey’s external relations minister, said it had issued the licences in accordance with the UK’s trade and co-operation agreement with the EU and the new regime would “take time for all to adjust”.
“If French fishermen or the authorities have further evidence they would like to submit, we will update the licences to reflect that evidence,” he said in a statement.
The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are clear that Jersey is responsible for its own territorial waters.”
UK business minister Nadhim Zahawi urged both sides to “iron out” issues with fishing. “We’ve got to look at this urgently and the best way to fix this is to work together,” he told Sky News.
A senior UK official said the government had been taken aback by the strength of the French reaction, which was seen as an “aggressive escalation” given that the UK had been working together on the question of licensing. “It’s a strange way to behave, from what is meant to be a friendly country,” they added.
Hello, Berlin? Germany’s future raises foreign policy concerns for allies
The writer is Fritz Stern chair at the Brookings Institution
President Joe Biden has made it clear that he really, really wants to work with Europe. After the four traumatic years of the Trump presidency, that seems an opportunity not to be missed. Also, Moscow and Beijing are undeterred by US and EU sanctions over the jailing of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and the mistreatment of Uyghurs in China.
They are dialling up the pressure on Europe with countersanctions, expulsions of diplomats and thuggish-sounding threats. But in Brussels, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is fighting with European Council president Charles Michel over charges of sexism and a Turkish sofa, instead of getting a grip on a double-dip recession and the pandemic.
British premier Boris Johnson is in trouble over costly wallpaper. French president Emmanuel Macron, up for re-election in 2022, is neck-and-neck in the polls with his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, while retired and current military officers are warning of civil war.
This would seem to be the moment for Germany, as a responsible neighbour, to step up and help out. But Europe’s most powerful economy is going to the polls even sooner than France: on September 26. As the 16-year tenure of Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to a close, the six parties scrambling to rule in the post-Merkel era are somewhat less than focused on goings-on beyond Germany’s borders.
The reason is the fragmentation of Germany’s colour-coded party landscape. In current polling, the Greens are fighting for first place with the CDU (black) at about 25 per cent, with the Social Democrats (red) far behind at 15 per cent, followed by the liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and the Left party (dark red) at around 11 per cent each.
The far-right Alternative for Germany is so radical that Germany’s domestic intelligence service wants to place it under observation. No other party will work with it, but it still captures about a tenth of the vote. This increases the likelihood that Germany’s next government will be a three-way coalition, with a kaleidoscope of possible combinations: black-green (or the reverse, with the CDU as junior partner); “Jamaica” (CDU-Greens-liberals); “traffic light” (Greens-SPD-liberals); and finally, “R2G” (SPD-Left-Greens).
This is why the small parties’ ideas suddenly matter. But in terms of foreign and security policy, none of the five presents a fully reassuring image to a neighbour or ally of Germany.
The Left party’s only path to government is R2G, a goal the powerful leftwings in the Greens and the SPD have been actively pursuing. But the Left too has radicalised, shedding its once influential east German pragmatists. Its new top duo opposes military engagement abroad of any kind. But it is also apparently clueless about pensions, and that may alienate its base.
The FDP has cabinet-ready experts on finance, digital issues and foreign and security policy — and a liability in Christian Lindner, their leader. The CDU and Greens are still smarting because of his petulant walkout from coalition negotiations in 2017. Last year, he faced a revolt in his own party after supporting the decision of a regional liberal politician to let himself be elected state governor with the AfD’s help.
The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is caught in a double bind. As Merkel’s finance minister, the opposition accuses him of oversight failures in a spate of financial scandals. As candidate for chancellor, he has seen the SPD leadership wrench the party to the left with anti-nuclear slogans reminiscent of the 1980s. Fritz Felgentreu, one of several seasoned legislators to resign in protest, calls his party’s security policy a “smouldering fire”.
Armin Laschet, the CDU candidate, has come under fire for sounding soft on Syria, Russia and China. Yet his real problems are corruption scandals and circling party frenemies. His party may be dealt another blow in next month’s state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, where some polls have the AfD in close pursuit.
All this does much to explain the rise of the Greens and Annalena Baerbock, their laser-focused candidate. Her criticism of China, the Kremlin and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is music to Washington’s ears. Yet the party’s feisty base has had ferocious fights over defence spending and nuclear deterrence. Its reliability as a partner is by no means guaranteed.
Of course, elections are generally not fought, or won, on foreign policy. But German voters would do well to remember that their country’s wealth and power depends on the stability and security of its neighbourhood. Maybe it is time to pay attention, and get a little worried. Its neighbours and allies already are.
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