Since taking the helm in 2005, the now-departing designer has defined the house as one inspired by – but never trapped in – the past
When Frida Giannini was appointed creative director of women’s ready to wear at Gucci in 2005 she had a tough act to follow. Her predecessor Tom Ford had brought the brand back from the edge of bankruptcy in the early 1990s by injecting it with hedonism and sex appeal, and with the investment of François Pinault had turned a storied but struggling house into the monolithic Gucci Group (now Kering). Having spent the past five years at Fendi – she joined at just 24 – in 2002 Giannini arrived at Gucci as director of handbags, soon promoted to overseeing all accessories. The 2004 transformation of the house’s iconic flora pattern – originally created for Grace Kelly in 1966 – into a new collection showed her skill as an innovator with an ability to energise the codes of the past into a modern vision of the future.
It was something that would come to define her tenure as Gucci’s creative director, an almost decade-long era now coming to a close as her plans to depart were announced this week. For proof of her knack for reinvention, look no further than the recent SS15 womenswear show. Classic Gucci staples like the Bamboo Bag – which first appeared in 1947 – and the red and green equestrian-inspired stripe – introduced in the 1950s – were updated in a collection that translated the psychedelic 70s into modern, feminine ready-to-wear. “Duality: the ability to look ahead without losing sight of the past,” responded Giannini to the question of what defined contemporary Italian fashion design in the March 2012 issue of Dazed. It's a statement that could be her personal mantra.
With a collection of over 8,000 vinyl records – many inherited from a beloved DJ uncle – music is a key inspiration for Giannini. One particular British artist is at the top of her list – “I’m in awe of Bowie,” she said in 2013, with Gucci supporting the V&A’s sell-out exhibition on the icon last summer. The singer’s most visionary decade, the 70s, are also a vital source drawn on in her designs. In her own words, a “strikingly visual period” in history, their influence crops up season after season, whether in a wide collar, slinky shirt or, as in the case of AW14, chunky tinted aviators teamed with shag coats. “I am not a minimal person and I am not a minimalist designer,” Giannini told Dazed. “It’s a good thing in life – and especially in this industry – to not always do the same thing as other people.”
Giannini’s time at Gucci will be remembered not only for its fashion, but also its philanthropy. In 2005, the house launched an initiative with Unicef, a charity they have continued to support year on year with limited edition pieces and collaborations. “The primary essence of the Gucci woman is to be very strong and independent,” Giannini has said, a sentiment that has seen her committed to empowerment of women worldwide. In 2013, Gucci revealed Chime for Change, a global campaign to support women and girls, for which they put on a concert in London featuring Beyoncé, Jay Z and Florence and the Machine (a muse for whom Giannini has designed bespoke tour wardrobes). Speaking to Dazed, Giannini explained the motivation behind her charitable focus – “Gucci has an incredible visibility and a very high profile around the world. Using this visibility to help children in need continues to be extremely important to me.”
Now taking leave of Gucci alongside the company’s CEO (and Giannini’s real-life partner) Patrizio di Marco, the rumour-mill is spinning about her replacement. “We never comment on rumors,” said a spokesperson from Kering, who assured the industry that recruitment “was under way”. Whoever rises to lead the next generation of Gucci, one thing is for sure – they’ll have big shoes to fill.