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Gucci creative director manages a big brand trying to be 'everyday luxe'

November 10, 2014

LOS ANGELES — On a recent afternoon at Gucci’s newly remodeled Rodeo Drive flagship, creative director Frida Giannini is looking very at home in L.A.

She’s wearing a colorful patchwork print silk blouse from the label’s forthcoming spring collection, a pair of perfectly faded Gucci boyfriend jeans and metallic platform sandals that hint at her love of all things David Bowie and 1970s.

This is the look of Giannini’s Gucci now: everyday luxe.

"Evening gowns are an incredible market for us," she says during an interview in the store’s lush new third-floor VIP suite, built for celebrity dressing, with crystal-embroidered gala gowns hanging nearby. "But for me, it’s important to have special items in each collection that you can keep in your closet for years. I call them essentials, but they are still objects of desire."

Under construction for two years, the remodeled boutique at 347 Rodeo Drive announces itself in gold and crystal, with a sparkling façade.

Walking in, the first thing a visitor notices in the center atrium is a massive two-story LED screen, used to display a variety of content, including runway show footage and an animated film that features Gucci’s newly reworked Flora print, updated with moodier blooms by Toronto-based visual artist Kris Knight.

The screen represents the way luxury brands have evolved from makers of finely crafted goods to multimedia companies with hands in filmmaking, visual art, philanthropy and more.

"I remember 10 years ago when we were working on the fashion campaigns, it was just (photos), that’s it," says Giannini, 41, who joined Gucci as a handbag designer in 2002 and was elevated to creative director of the entire brand in 2006. "Now, we spend many days doing videos, banners, something for Facebook and Instagram. This LED screen in the store symbolizes the modernity of the technology we’re working with; we’re all communicating in a new way."

Gucci has embraced the role of cultural curator and content creator around the world. In 2012, the brand tapped "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn to make a short film with Blake Lively for its Gucci Premiere fragrance, and premiered it at the Venice Film Festival. In 2013, it supported Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation to help restore the classic "Rebel Without a Cause." Also last year, Giannini created Chime for Change, a global philanthropic campaign for female empowerment that was launched with a televised concert in London headlined by Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, among others.

In addition to celebrating the Rodeo store’s reopening, Giannini was in L.A. to host the recent LACMA Art + Film Gala, which Gucci has sponsored for four years, alongside Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of Gucci parent company Kering Group, his wife, Salma Hayek Pinault, and other notables including socialite and model Charlotte Casiraghi and Italian industrialist Lapo Elkann, who are both Gucci collaborators.

"I like that (LACMA Museum Director) Michael Govan’s main idea was to put fine arts and film together," Giannini says of the event, which this year honored Barbara Kruger and Quentin Tarantino. "It’s nice to have an opportunity to celebrate one director and one artist, and to see all the communities coming together with mutual admiration."

Besides being a retail entertainment center, the remodeled boutique features the full range of Gucci goods for men, women and children in an environment that’s full of natural light and polished gold, smoked mirrors and black marble, giving the space an Art Deco feel.

On the ground floor are handbags and accessories, including the limited-edition new Jackie bag, based on the one originally made famous by Jacqueline Onassis, created in citrus suede for the opening. There’s also the new, soft-sided Jackie flap shoulder bag that Giannini is carrying, an appealingly understated style with very little noticeable stitching or hardware and no logo.

There’s also a corner featuring the new Gucci Beauty collection, created in partnership with makeup artist Pat McGrath.

A brand as big as Gucci has to be a lot of things to a lot of people, in different kinds of markets all over the world. It has to be old — as in reverent to its heritage as a made-in-Italy leather goods brand founded in 1921 — but also new, to keep us all interested. It has to be luxe, as in aspirational, but also attainable, with enough affordable little luxuries to pad the coffers.

Getting that formula right has been challenging for Gucci.

Recently released third-quarter sales results were disappointing. And some press coverage of the brand has suggested that Gucci is too overexposed for today’s exclusive-leaning luxury consumer. There have even been rumors that Giannini and her life partner, Gucci President, Chairman and Chief Executive Patrizio di Marco, are leaving, which they deny.

But Giannini’s work has never been better or more wearable. In recent collections, she’s been drawing heavily on the brand’s heyday in the jet-setting 1960s and ’70s, when Onassis was photographed on the street carrying her Jackie bag and wearing flared pants and slim coats. "Gucci is a lot about living the good life," Giannini says.

Besides great-looking faded denim, in boyfriend and sailor silhouettes, the resort collection that’s about to hit stores features striped sweaters with crystal embroidery or tie-dye effects, crisp shorts, capri pants and raincoats in soft pastels and the new Flora print on silk dresses, blouses and pleated skirts. Prices run $395 for a pair of boyfriend jeans, $5,600 for a silk column gown with crystal knot embroidery, $6,500 for a fun, baby blue shearling jacket.

Tending to Gucci’s global market takes Giannini all over. In a single week, she’s gone from her base in Rome to Japan — to host a charity gala with UNESCO and donate 25 million yen to scholarship programs there — and to L.A., where she hopes to find time amid her official duties to go to the Griffith Observatory and have lunch by the ocean in Malibu.

Before the year is over, she’ll travel back to Rome, to Moscow, back to Rome, then to Art Basel in Miami, where Gucci will sponsor an exhibition of Knight’s artwork.

In between, she has to carve out personal time to spend with daughter Greta, just a year old, and Di Marco. When asked about how they manage, she says, "The only way to survive is to stop talking about work. Since we had the baby, it’s changed because the short time we have to spend with her, we want to be fully dedicated. In the past few months, we’ve also started planning meetings where we sit with thousands of sheets of paper on the table and talk about everything at once.

"But it’s a world and work that takes a lot of time and a lot of oneself. When you’re responsible for a big brand you feel all the pressure on your shoulders. You need to be well balanced. At the moment, it’s working."

 

 



Associated Press