Telegraph article on Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director - the Fashion Spot
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Telegraph article on Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director

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(Filed: 14/11/2005)
After a period of infighting, and following the high-profile departure of Tom Ford, Gucci has re-emerged with a fresh new look that is being garlanded with praise. Marion Hume meets the woman who is boosting the business. Photograph by Luca Babini

When Frida Giannini was named Gucci's new creative director for womenswear, the fashion world's response was a resounding 'Who?' Indeed, before she took a bow at the end of her first show, one that changed the whole style of the brand, hardly anyone knew what this woman, hired by Ford as a handbag designer back in 2002, looked like.

Frida Giannini: 'We needed to move on from that very aggressive, very hard look'

For the record, Giannini, who was born in Rome 33 years ago, is possessed of the near-symmetrical face of a Modigliani madonna and has poker-straight hair that is so shiny, one is tempted to ask what conditioner she uses. As for changing things, it is as if overnight, the translation of Gucci has gone from spelling sex, to spelling joy.

Joy is not a word one imagines was much used in the Gucci of old. Yet after two collections - the first mid-season 'cruise' line, which is just going into stores now, and the ready-to-wear main line, in which peachy-pretty models in fluttering florals virtually skipped down the same catwalk along which night vixens used to prowl - it is as if the new Gucci girl has announced a tea party.

Apparently, joy is good for business, too. Currently, the Gucci Group is a $2 billion global juggernaut. CEO Robert Polet has told shareholders he aims to take it to the $4 billion mark within seven years.

So who is the woman behind this new look and, given the pressure, how is she sleeping at night? When I asked Giannini this, 36 hours after the show in Milan in September, she was astonished. 'The night before the show, I slept very well. I slept immediately. Maybe just before the show, I had a little stomach ache, but really, I was fine.'

Not so her husband, Giovanni Battista Guida, who, the designer admits, was far more nervous than she was. 'I can tell you, he is very proud of his wife. He has a lot of emotion. Probably on the day of the show he was more emotional than me,' she said. As were her parents, Antonio Giannini, an architect, and Sandra Vellani, an art history teacher, who had tears in their eyes when they sat front-row to witness the work of their only child.

The last time they got emotional was in July, at their daughter's wedding. For, as well as being the new designer at Gucci, Frida is a newly-wed. The bride wore a dress of her own design. 'A white dress, with a really clean graphic line,' she recalled, beaming at the memory. 'And it had rich embroidery because I didn't want to change from the church to the evening and I tried to make a compromise between a wedding dress and an evening dress.'

But she laments that she has hardly seen her husband since their honeymoon cruising off the Amalfi coast. Battista is a website designer and based in Florence, which is Gucci's home town, except during the show season, when key staffers decamp to Milan. 'He offered to come with me, to help me and so we can have dinner together at night, but I say no,' Giannini said. 'I have to really concentrate.'

Back in June, hints that a fresh breeze was blowing through Gucci came in floral prints, patchwork dresses inspired by Positano and white trousers for yachting off Capri, shown in New York as the mid-season 'cruise' collection. Things got prettier still with the main collection, and the positive reviews deemed little floral dresses almost brave in their sweetness.

While falling short of the breathless praise that greeted Tom Ford's heart-stopping debut for Gucci in 1995, the key next-day notices, in The International Herald Tribune, Women's Wear Daily (the trade paper), and (which everyone knows is the voice of the mighty US Vogue), all gave the thumbs-up.

So did Ford send flowers? Giannini gives a little nervous laugh, 'No. Probably, he forgot.'

It is the only time Giannini, who has an almost beatific air, is remotely rattled. When asked if she finds the process of being interviewed difficult, she agrees she does, 'because my English is not perfect and also because of all the exposure of myself and my name.' What about comparisons between her and Ford? She makes it clear he is the past, she is the present. 'We are different,' she says. 'He is a Texan man. I am a Roman woman.'

As for the Gucci woman, 'We needed to move on from that very aggressive, very hard look.' Gucci also has to move on from high-voltage celebrities who have, themselves, lost their glitter. So who is her 'It girl'? 'Kate Hudson,' she answers, 'but not so much on the red carpet. For private parties.'

More proof that Giannini is doing things her way lies in her restructuring of the design studios: she has insisted everyone move back to Florence (excepting menswear, which is separate and remains in London). 'Florence is the headquarters,' she explains, 'Gucci was born there. As for logistics,

Gucci spring/summer 2006

I can't have one member of the team in London and one in New York. Of course, there are people from all over the place, but now they have moved to Italy. And it is good. We have an incredible relationship. We are more friends than colleagues.'

One might, however, want to be careful of whom one makes friends with at Gucci. Just six months ago, it wasn't Frida Giannini who was being interviewed as the new hope, but Alessandra Facchinetti, known as the Italian Stella McCartney because her father is in a rock band. She favoured a slick, lacquered personal style and lasted only two seasons.

Giannini, who is horse-mad and prefers to wear riding boots than stilettos to work, looks as if she has all the time in the world. She relaxes in her chair. 'I am very Roman,' she says. 'In Rome, it is always sunny, or even if it rains, it will soon be sunny again. So people live in the streets and, after work, you go to your bar, have a drink with friends, then dinner, then the surprise of the night. We don't plan. Now, yes, I have to plan. But I never want to think about it.'

You would think anyone at the helm of Gucci might be terrified. For if ever a fashion company had a history to jangle the nerves, it is this one. When Guccio Gucci, whose intertwining initials form the company's famous double G logo, died in 1953, he left the company to sons whose infighting culminated in a jail sentence for tax evasion, a boardroom brawl, and a label left almost bankrupt by the time grandson, Maurizio, was made president in 1989. This sparked a further ownership battle, after which Maurizio sold a 50 per cent share of the company in 1993, only to be shot dead by a hitman hired by his ex-wife in 1995.

By then the brand was no longer in the family, and 1995 was also the year of Ford's famous catwalk debut. But the unthinkable eventually happened to him too, when he and the-then CEO, Domenico de Sole, left the company in April 2004 after a management dispute with Gucci's corporate parent, PPR, formerly known as Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.

Pinault then brought in three in-house designers hardly anyone had heard of - Facchinetti, for womenswear; a Scotsman called John Ray who was, and remains, in charge of menswear; and Frida Giannini, as the director of accessories: the more background role, in that - despite accessories accounting for the lion's share of Gucci's profits - she didn't take a bow at the end of a show.

While Facchinetti struggled to create a new identity for a global brand, Giannini went back to the archives and came up with an unashamedly pretty collection of bags and shoes called Flora, inspired by a print designed in 1966 for Grace Kelly. It proved a bestseller.

While Facchinetti's hard-edged glamour faded fast, a rumour got out that Giannini was being courted to return to her former employer, Fendi, where she had worked alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi (while Giannini did not invent the famous little baguette, she did come up with at least 400 different versions of it before joining Gucci), in what was still a family company, run by the five Fendi sisters.

By the time Fendi approached Giannini to return, it was wholly owned by LVMH, the Gucci Group's bitter rival. The story continues (although it has been brushed off by Gucci top-brass as mere rumour) that the Gucci Group made a swift counter-offer which included Frida Giannini being promoted above Alessandra Facchinetti. What is certain is that the latter made a speedy exit.

That handbags and shoes are much more lucrative for Gucci than clothes - accessories account for 80 per cent of revenue - does not change the fact that catwalk shows need fashion. Yet here was Giannini, leading what has become one of the world's most famous ready-to-wear brands, with no reputation as a clothing designer. In fact, Giannini did have prior ready-to-wear experience: before Fendi, she had worked for six years for Karl Lagerfeld, who designs Fendi ready-to-wear. However, as Lagerfeld casts such a long shadow, no one outside the studio knew she was there.

No wonder there were doubters when this girl got Gucci. 'And I had the same concern,' Giannini says now. 'I always said it is a different approach. But you have to remember, historically Gucci started from accessories. Coming from the accessories myself, I knew I could do it.'

Giannini cites a photograph as the inspiration for her can-do spirit and her optimism. It is of her grandmother with her sisters, snapped in Rome just after the war. 'They had nothing, really nothing,' Giannini says. 'They couldn't eat. But they each had one dress and their high-heeled platforms. They were very poor, it was a tough situation, but they looked so optimistic.' So does she - and so, for the first time since the boardroom battle that ended with the departure of Tom Ford, does Gucci.

Frida Giannini, the new designer at Gucci, made her debut at Milan Fashion Week with her smart and sexy spring/summer 2006 collection

And I am nothing of a builder, but here I dreamt I was an architect
And I built this balustrade to keep you home, to keep you safe from the outside world
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I really hated this collection but the critics really loved it. Cathy Horne liked it to my suprise despite some of the obvious copies and lack of orginality. I think editors and Gucci themselves are just relieved to be moving away from Tom's vision of Gucci, something Facchineti couldn't do.

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I really didn't like this collection. It just lacked something regardless of the Tom Ford style or not. It just felt empty. Maybe she'll do better next time around...

sounds like "dirty European aristocracy".....

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Wait, didnt they already get rid of her?

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I still don't get why Gucci got ried of Alessandra Facchinetti's. I thought her two collections for Gucci picked up magnificently from where Tom Ford left off. It was glamourous, it was sexy, it was sleek. Frida Giannini however, made Gucci into some floral, soft, daisy-like label. I hated her Spring 2006 collection.

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I didn't think much of this particular collection either. However, before Tom Ford, Gucci was another old lady Italian leather goods brand... I understand they need a designer but Ford did such a good job reviving that dead horse... It's seems unwise to mess with what isn't broken.

Or perhaps, there never was anything about Gucci... it was Tom Ford all along... and when Tom Ford starts doing collections under his own name, everyone who thought they loved Gucci will follow him...

Brands fly and brands fail. If Gucci is not careful it will fall back into obscurity... again... worn by old ladies who were young in the 1990s

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I agree with you, Finalfashion

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i understand that giannini needs to move the house in a new direction, but this is too reminiscient of other recent collections (rochas and s/s 05 vuitton come to mind)...

i am interested in seeing what she can do for f/w 06...

j'adore couture (life in fashion and in print)
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I think her vision of the house is terrible. As someone mentioned, Gucci used to be an old-lady label....why would anyone in their right mind go back to that???

No matter what she does, how good or fresh it is, it will never be Gucci because like it or not, Gucci=Tom Ford. No, the designers shouldn't just follow in his footsteps, and if she was given the time I think Alessandra would have done very well, her last collection contained all of the sleek and sensual Gucci that everyone knows, but there were small things that were very, very new for the house. Puff sleeves, lace trim, brocade....all new. Where Frida failed imo, is that there was no progression, it was just this harsh 180 from Gucci as we know it to this pretty, floral, frilly mess that personally, I didn't know how to react to.

I think Faccinetti would've done well if given the time. Judging by her accessories and first big collection Giannini is all about Gucci's past, which isn't all that great if you ask me. Really, does the fashion world need more logos, or a rehash of those horrible red/green stripes a la 70s/80s Gucci. And that horrible flora print, I know there are many fans on the spot, but I detest it. But, it's less expensive than the leather bags, and you can slap the print on scarves and hats and shoes which equals big bucks for PPR regardless of whether or not it fits with the Gucci image.

You need to move fashion forward when there's a reason to move fashion forward - Tom Ford

Last edited by Spike413; 19-11-2005 at 12:02 AM.
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Originally Posted by finalfashion
Brands fly and brands fail. If Gucci is not careful it will fall back into obscurity... again... worn by old ladies who were young in the 1990s
Well said !

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Does anyone here know what Alessandra Fachinetti is doing?

"You can't have fashion by playing it safe." Gianni Versace, 1981.
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i agree with everyone...
i don't see it...
this collection doesn't speak to me at all...

"It is not money that makes you well dressed: it is understanding."

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It's for old women. It's all so...floral, spring wedding. I hate it. The accessories are spectacular, as usual.

Even the name Gucci fits Tom's asthetic, here it's soo out of place...We'll see...

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I see it..
Sure, my first reaction was bad, but I grew to l-o-v-e this collection. The daywear looks are fantastic, and I have a feeling that with less embellishment more attention is going to be paid to the contruction.

Anyway, I'm absolutely crazy about this collection.

"...buttoned up to the breast, and made with wings, welts, and pinions on the shoulder points, as mans apparel is for all the world...and though this be a kinde of attire appropriate onely to man, yet they blush not to wear it..."
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well, as Pilati said in comparing YSL now with YSL during Ford era:

``I've dealt with these comparisons because it was normal to deal with, but now it's time to stop. I mean, I didn't fire him. I didn't kill him!'' Pilati jokes. ``I worked with Tom side by side for seven days a week. But now it's over for me, and it should be over for everyone else. It's time to appreciate -- or to not appreciate -- the work.''
It's time to appreciate it or to not appreciate it, as he said.

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