PURE PAS­SION

Frida Gian­nini is all heart and out to make a real change. By Sasha Slater. Pho­tographed by Mert Alas & Mar­cus Pig­gott.

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Gucci cre­ative di­rec­tor Frida Gian­nini is set to change the world

In Septem­ber 2013, Gucci sent a pha­lanx of top mod­els down its gleam­ing mir­rored cat­walk in a high-oc­tane Latin take on sports luxe, while swirls of art nou­veau pat­terns in­spired by Erté flick­ered on floor-length dresses, slashed to the thigh. Su­per­mod­els Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, and Anja Ru­bik sashayed to techno in me­tal­lic Lurex and mesh bras, and piv­oted on leather stiletto boots whose heels called to mind in­verted Shards. Spring/Sum­mer ’14 at Gucci was a tour de force of power, con­fi­dence, and sex­i­ness. In­deed, power ra­di­ates from the very stones of the brand’s of­fice in Mi­lan. The lobby is floor-to-ceil­ing bronzed mir­rors and pol­ished white floors. Black-suited guards hover in the hall­way; acolytes and sup­pli­cants, of whom there are many on the day visit, have to show a pass­port to get past the re­cep­tion desk. But grad­u­ally, as you pen­e­trate the build­ing, the at­mos­phere soft­ens. The staff can­teen may be a min­i­mal­ist white space, but it has art books dot­ted around, and staff chat on the ter­race as they sip cap­puc­ci­nos. Up on a higher floor, I dis­cover the rea­son for both the power and the warmth. Frida Gian­nini, cre­ative di­rec­tor of the la­bel for the past eight years, is a slim 41-year-old blonde, clad head to toe in un­remit­ting black, some of it high-sheen. She’s wear­ing lethal heels and looks the epit­ome of the ef­fi­cient fash­ion ty­coon – un­til she smiles. And then the joy breaks through.

“I am re­ally find­ing a new en­ergy,” says Gian­nini ex­cit­edly. “I’m start­ing again in a new life and new ca­reer. I am liv­ing a mo­ment like a phoenix.” There are three strands to this re­birth: the ar­rival of her first child, a daugh­ter called Greta, in March last year; a re­newed fo­cus on her role at Gucci; and her char­i­ta­ble work on be­half of women the world over. There is a buzz about her that

Gian­nini’s whole life ap­pears to be an el­e­gant equi­lib­rium be­tween love and work, pre­ci­sion and pas­sion.

she feels has been ab­sent in the re­cent past. “On the per­sonal side I was suf­fer­ing a lot be­cause the baby was not ar­riv­ing,” she says. “I was look­ing for a baby and I had a cou­ple of years that were re­ally quite tough for me per­son­ally. So now, fi­nally, I had a baby and I can find a bal­ance and it’s just a mat­ter of some or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Hap­pily, or­gan­i­sa­tion is one of her strong suits. She’s teased by her friends for be­ing a Ro­mana Svizzera (Swiss Ro­man): half clin­i­cal ef­fi­ciency, half in­spi­ra­tion. In­deed, Gian­nini’s whole life ap­pears to be an el­e­gant equi­lib­rium be­tween love and work, pre­ci­sion and pas­sion.

The daugh­ter of an ar­chi­tect fa­ther and art-his­to­rian mother, she spent her childhood partly in and around Rome’s gal­leries and his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments, and partly on horse­back. Hav­ing stud­ied fash­ion in Rome, she joined Fendi in 1997 as a ready-to-wear de­signer, but was soon pro­moted to de­signer of leather ac­ces­sories. In 2002, Tom Ford re­cruited her to Gucci as his de­sign di­rec­tor of hand­bags. When he left the com­pany in 2004, Gian­nini be­came head of women’s ac­ces­sories, and two years later she was pro­moted to cre­ative di­rec­tor of the la­bel. Such ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer leaps don’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent; they’re the re­sult of fe­ro­cious hard work, vi­sion, and am­bi­tion. The se­cret be­hind her fi­nal pro­mo­tion was, per­haps, the Flora col­lec­tion. For this, she took an ar­chive de­sign of a scarf Gucci made for Princess Grace of Monaco and reimag­ined it on hand­bags, totes, minaudières, dresses, more scarves and, even­tu­ally, as the in­spi­ra­tion for a suc­cess­ful per­fume. She also united the her­itage of the Gucci la­bel with that of the Mone­gasque royal fam­ily when Princess Grace’s grand­daugh­ter, Char­lotte Casiraghi, her­self beau­ti­ful, al­lur­ing, am­bi­tious, and with an out­stand­ing pedi­gree, be­came a face of the brand. It’s the same play of past and present, sex and class, which has made Gian­nini’s Gucci such a suc­cess for nearly a decade.

The suc­cess also comes about be­cause Gian­nini, essen­tially, de­signs for her­self. “The Gucci woman,” she says, “is all about at­ti­tude, a strong per­son­al­ity, and a strong sex­u­al­ity and fem­i­nin­ity. She’s very, very busy in ev­ery­thing she does – in her fam­ily, her job – but with a great en­ergy. She has power.”

She also has a heart. For to think of Gian­nini as be­ing merely ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful would be a mis­take – a strong streak of phi­lan­thropy runs through her. In the past, she has col­lab­o­rated with Ri­hanna to raise funds for Unicef, but now she’s work­ing for another cause. “I wanted to do some­thing for women’s em­pow­er­ment – it’s such a cur­rent prob­lem, and not only in the de­vel­op­ing world but even here in Italy,” she says. This drive to im­prove the lives of the most down­trod­den women around the world led Gian­nini to link up with Salma HayekPin­ault, the ac­tress and wife of FrançoisHenri Pin­ault, the CEO of Ker­ing, Gucci’s par­ent com­pany. As Hayek-Pin­ault told me her­self: “It’s Frida who had the ge­nius idea of Chime for Change, and it’s be­cause of her that we’re do­ing this. She’s re­ally am­bi­tious, she’s re­ally courageous, and she had the in­fra­struc­ture to say, ‘We’re go­ing to do this.’”

Chime for Change is a gi­ant um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion link­ing thou­sands of small women’s char­i­ties – some fo­cus­ing on health, some on ed­u­ca­tion, and some on women’s ac­cess to jus­tice. What’s im­por­tant to Gian­nini, though, is that while many of th­ese op­er­ate in the poor­est coun­tries in the world, oth­ers en­gage with women’s is­sues in the West, such as one in the heart of her home town, Rome, that helps to dis­suade des­per­ate moth­ers from aban­don­ing their new­born ba­bies. Along with Hayek-Pin­ault, Gian­nini re­cruited Bey­oncé. “I wanted to do some­thing with mu­sic, I wanted to do some­thing like Live Aid,” says Gian­nini. “We wanted

to in­volve Bey­oncé and Jay Z as they know many, many artists. We called her and in a very short time we put to­gether all th­ese peo­ple, and then there we were,” she says in­sou­ciantly. And why not? Af­ter all, the women know each other well and, th­ese days, Gucci de­signs Bey­oncé’s spec­tac­u­lar se­quinned out­fits for her live shows.

It all came to­gether in the sum­mer of 2013 with a sell-out con­cert, the Sound of Change Live, to raise aware­ness and money for the ini­tia­tive. With the line-up of Bey­oncé, Florence + the Ma­chine, Jay Z, and Jen­nifer Lopez, the show at­tracted an au­di­ence of more than 50,000. And the venue for this phil­an­thropic ex­trav­a­ganza of mu­sic, Hol­ly­wood, and fash­ion? Twick­en­ham Sta­dium. “Lon­don is the most in­ter­na­tional place at the mo­ment, even more than New York,” ex­plains Gian­nini. “And mu­sic has such a her­itage here.” She knows Lon­don well, hav­ing spent a year in the city in 2002, though she says she never got used to the weather. She stays in Clar­idge’s when she comes back. “I love the Art Deco de­sign. It’s very me,” she says with a smile.

Her house in Rome is dec­o­rated with Art Deco pic­tures and fur­ni­ture – as well as the odd Modigliani – and Greta lives there, but not her fa­ther – or at least, not yet. Gian­nini’s part­ner is Pa­trizio di Marco, Gucci’s CEO, who joined the brand in 2009 af­ter a stint at its sis­ter com­pany Bot­tega Veneta. “Her fa­ther still has to live in Florence for work,” says Gian­nini in her deep voice, speak­ing ex­cel­lent but ac­cented English, and break­ing into Ital­ian when words es­cape her. “We don’t have so many chances for see­ing each other dur­ing the week, but we’re very well or­gan­ised about the week­ends. It’s quite tough, but in the end it’s not bad.”

A few years ago, Gian­nini chose to move her cre­ative team at Gucci away from the claus­tro­pho­bia of the brand’s Tus­can home town to Rome. Her em­ploy­ees didn’t seem to mind the change of scenery – they, like her, en­joy the fact that they’re only 20 min­utes from a beach – but it makes life hard for the new fam­ily. Mean­while, it’s Gian­nini’s mother, San­dra, who looks af­ter Greta while her mother works. “My mum is al­ways at my side,” she says. “She’s here in Mi­lan with me and the baby now. I didn’t want Greta spend­ing the whole day with a nanny – it’s never as good as a grandma.”

And so the new mother con­tin­ues her del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act, com­bin­ing her de­sign­ing and phil­an­thropic roles with the de­mands of a baby. “I am very pas­sion­ate about my job, so it’s not dif­fi­cult. Of course, there are days when I’m very tired and when ev­ery­thing has to come to­gether. On the day of the show, I hosted a cock­tail party and then a din­ner, and at the end I was com­pletely ex­hausted. And the next day I had to start all over again. But I feel priv­i­leged to do this job and I en­joy it.” Spo­ken like the true Gucci woman.

Joan Smalls mod­el­ling Gucci Spring/ Sum­mer 14

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