MI­DAS TOUCH

Wheter creat­ing hand­bags un­der Tom Ford or de­sign­ing one of the most prof­itable and fash­ion-for­ward la­bels in the world, ev­ery­thing FRIDA GIAN­NINI touches turns to gold; her ge­nius can­not be ig­nored.

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR - By Varun Rana

Most non-fash­ion peo­ple—by which I mean those just not that into fash­ion—can never un­der­stand the col­lec­tive an­guish brought on by the de­par­ture of a fash­ion fig­ure­head like Tom Ford from Gucci. Nor can they fathom the un­cer­tainty of hav­ing a then unknown de­signer, like Frida Gian­nini, pick up the reins. It’s a con­ster­na­tion born of pour­ing not only your money into the brand, but the emo­tional in­vest­ment of get­ting to know and ad­mire their style sea­son af­ter sea­son. That was the state of the fash­ion fra­ter­nity when Ford ex­ited the Ital­ian la­bel in 2004.

How­ever, Frida Gian­nini, with her six years de­sign­ing hand­bags at Fendi (1996-2002) and two more do­ing the same un­der Ford (2002-’04), rose to the chal­lenge. From 2004, she spent the next two years con­sol­i­dat­ing Gucci’s creative pro­cesses, and was named sole creative direc­tor in 2006. And over her 10 years at Gucci, Gian­nini has sys­tem­at­i­cally re­built the la­bel to her spec­i­fi­ca­tions, root­ing out al­most ev­ery­thing that was Gucci un­der Ford. In do­ing so, she has deep­ened the foun­da­tions. The con­trast is stark. She coun­tered Ford’s de­bauched de­signs with cere­bral con­cepts like luxe-sports­wear, one of her go-to sig­na­tures and—in­creas­ingly—the flavour of fu­ture fash­ion. “Of course our way of work­ing is dif­fer­ent,” she says. “We are dif­fer­ent. I am a woman; he is a man. I am Ital­ian; he is Amer­i­can.”

But tak­ing over af­ter Ford is hardly the sum of Gian­nini’s achieve­ments at Gucci. In the time that she went about rein­vent­ing the house into a more fem­i­nine en­tity, she de­signed a com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful (if panned by the press) line of clothes in­spired by a vin­tage flo­ral scarf de­signed by Gucci for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1966, and in­tro­duced Flora, a suc­cess­ful fra­grance as a fol­low up. She also went about re-form­ing Gucci’s im­age in the minds of the pub­lic. And it wasn’t so much a makeover as it was a do-over. “My own first mem­o­ries of Gucci are from the ’70s, as I was born dur­ing this decade,” she says. And that trans­lates into her work to­day (she has of­ten said that this decade in­spires her most), like her Spring 2011 col­lec­tion with in­tense jewel tones colour-blocked into pant-suit com­bos and sa­fari in­flu­ences ga­lore, all topped with gold, fringed ac­ces­sories. She has also re­vived the jump­suit, go­ing back to it sea­son af­ter sea­son, and has made a state­ment out of bold prints, flow­ing cuts, and lan­guid fab­rics. “It was a time of rev­o­lu­tion in fash­ion, and a golden era for the house,” she says of the ’70s. And she would see those heady days re­turned.

“Of course our way of work­ing is dif­fer­ent,” she says (about Tom Ford).

“We are dif­fer­ent. I am a woman; he is a man. I am Ital­ian; he is Amer­i­can.”

Here’s how. In the past decade, Louis Vuit­ton mo­nop­o­lised the art-meets-fash­ion space by do­ing spe­cial col­lec­tions and lim­ited-edi­tion hand­bags with artists like Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Mu­rakami, and Yayoi Kusama, spark­ing off a world­wide, me-too phe­nom­e­non. Col­lab­o­ra­tion be­came a by­word in fash­ion; you weren’t do­ing any­thing un­less you had some­one to do it with. Par­al­lel to and in­de­pen­dent of that, Gian­nini was per­fect­ing her own method. And her medium of choice was the per­form­ing arts.

But it wasn’t just anybody who made the cut. They had to be young, hot, and about to hap­pen. Take Ri­hanna, for in­stance, whom Gian­nini part­nered with in 2008 for the brand’s Tat­too Heart col­lec­tion of hand­bags, 25 per­cent of the sales of which went to UNICEF (this at a time when the world was just be­gin­ning to sway to Ri­hanna’s Um­brella, in the year that the Bar­ba­dian beauty and Jay Z got a Grammy for the song). Next came Florence + The Ma­chine lead singer Florence Welch, to whom Gian­nini ded­i­cated her Fall 2011 col­lec­tion. She went on to de­sign Welch’s stage out­fits for the band’s North Amer­i­can tour. And last year, one of Hollywood’s hottest tal­ents, James Franco, turned pro­ducer for a be­hind-the-scenes doc­u­men­tary on Gian­nini. They all added ‘cool’ to Gucci, and made ev­ery­one want to keep up with Gian­nini.

That’s not all. Gian­nini also roped in Hollywood pow­er­houses Madonna, Bey­oncé, Salma Hayek-Pin­ault, and Jen­nifer Lopez for Chime For Change, a global cam­paign for fe­male em­pow­er­ment. All these part­ner­ships, creative or ad­ver­tis­ing led, have helped Gian­nini re-forge Gucci’s im­age as a global fash­ion pow­er­house with an in­tel­li­gent edge. They are—counter to Ford’s svelte de­bauch­ery—celebri­ties of the ‘think­ing’ kind, the pub­lic in­ter­est in them kin­dled not only be­cause of their beauty, but also their tal­ent and their per­sonal back sto­ries. How does she pick them? “In­tu­ition,” she says. “Need­less to say that all my work is team-work, and that I have a strong team of col­lab­o­ra­tors. I en­joy work­ing with celebri­ties be­cause they of­ten share my am­bi­tion to in­no­vate and evolve,” she adds. “When join­ing forces, en­ergy is very im­por­tant—I am op­ti­mistic and look to work with peo­ple who share this pos­i­tiv­ity.”

It’s telling that she uses these words of­ten: Share and Pos­i­tive. Maybe be­cause she isn’t your typ­i­cal de­signer and had to rein­vent the rules, she doesn’t play by them to­day. She isn’t com­mod­i­fied into be­ing a me­dia phe­nom­e­non by a PR ma­chin­ery keep­ing her un­der wraps (we could name names here). She is easy to ac­cess, and fan­tas­tic to in­ter­view. On one hand, she has made a suc­cess of her first ever job as head de­signer, and on the other, she is a mother who loves to hol­i­day at her seaside res­i­dence, south of Rome, “where I can do all the things I never have time for, like horse riding, cooking, and read­ing”.

But per­haps even this per­fect bal­ance isn’t the true mea­sure of her. Maybe it lies in the fact that she has been able to raise over $18 mil­lion for UNICEF in an on­go­ing part­ner­ship. Maybe it has to do with helm­ing a global be­he­moth with con­sum­mate ease, the same ease with which she has taken art deco il­lus­tra­tor Erté’s il­lus­tra­tions, and mixed in her love for sport for her Spring 2014 col­lec­tion. Or maybe be­cause her hus­band and Gucci CEO Pa­trizio de Marco, says “I don’t have to tell Frida to do any­thing other than to be her­self”. Maybe we’ll never know. But so long as she con­tin­ues to do what she’s do­ing, we’re happy.

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