It’s not that unusual for a brand to receive feedback from customers about what they’re looking to buy, whether it be superfans emailing young designers’ studios for the killer showpiece or oligarchs doing special-order luggage at an artisan trunkmaker. But in the case of Frida Giannini, creative director for Gucci, her current bequest came via direct phone call – and showjumper and Monaco princess Charlotte Casiraghi was at the end of it.
“She was really interested in me designing some special equestrian wear for competition,” Giannini explains from Gucci’s Rome HQ. Casiraghi debuted the first of her personalised apparel in 2010. It was far more stylish than the offerings from technical brands. “Then I tried it on myself and asked her if we could commercialise a few pieces this year,” Giannini, a keen rider herself, continues. “I think it is good to have a little corner of it in our stores, because first of all, there are a lot of people in the world that practice horseriding and want beautiful stuff. Secondly, it’s something really connected to the Gucci world and the Gucci heritage; think about the classic loafer with the horse bit as just one example.”
Current muse Casiraghi is the granddaughter of Grace Kelly, for whom the house’s Flora print was designed in the 60s. Giannini, an only child, was born and raised in the 2,750-year-old Eternal City of Rome. Growing up with the Colosseum as your precinct and ancient history on your doorstep is bound to leave a mark on the mind (or spirit) in one way or another, and as an adolescent Giannini developed a strong attitude.
“Maybe I was quite rebellious or rock ‘n’ roll when I was younger but now I’m getting older and there’s not so much time to be,” she laughs. “But my work is often very romantic or sensual, so there it continues.”
Giannini studied at the Academy of Costume and Fashion in her hometown, and interned with small companies until she got her first role at Fendi aged just 24. “I was intrigued by designing since I was a child and it was something that I could understand very early on. In the 80s the prêt-à-porter moment was born in Italy and basically there was a lot of partying – and all of the big brands like Armani, Ferré, Versace, everyone, were blowing up. I was surrounded by all of these images and pictures and it was the first moment I understood that I really wanted to work in fashion. I grew up with both clothes and music so they are very connected for me.”
We’re not talking DIY, safety-pinned Perfectos and spray-painted t-shirts here but a very bohemian glamour, influenced by the one and only David Bowie. “My uncle was a DJ in the 80s and would be preparing these amazing playlists from an incredible record collection. I was totally impressed. Unfortunately he passed away when I was 15 or 16 years old, but because he was my mother’s brother I inherited all this music.” Her vinyl collection is estimated at around 8,000 records, and Bowie has a strong presence within it. “I have a few rare pressings of his that I’m very attached to,” she rhapsodises. “I’m in awe of Bowie.” Gucci will sponsor the upcoming Bowie exhibit at the V&A, a decision she surely had a hand in.
Giannini is also in awe of Depeche Mode – and here comes the subtle part. Look closely between the lines of today’s Gucci and the strands of Frida Giannini’s obsessions become apparent. The Guilty fragrance advert features covers of the Basildon synth heroes’ hit “Strangelove” by Friendly Fires (Guilty for Her, 2010) and Bat for Lashes (Guilty for Him, 2011).
“Yes I’m a big fan of Dave Gahan!” she exclaims. “Depeche Mode’s music has travelled with me through life and each song has a story. They continue to be some of my favourite songs ever.” Giannini’s brilliantly odd culture-injection has also included having Raquel Zimmermann, Natasha Poly and Freja Beha disco-dance to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” for David Lynch, each girl feeling a breeze of elevated consciousness in a 2007 Gucci by Gucci perfume clip. How to follow one of the greatest directors of the 20th/21st century? With a cult one. In 2010, Chris Cunningham, the director behind Björk’s robo-sex video “All is Full of Love” and Aphex Twin’s greatest visual moments, directed the promo for the Flora fragrance (a homage to the print). To the soundtrack of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” – re-recorded in haunting style with Summer herself – it saw Abbey Lee getting supernatural in a field of blooms before merging with her flowing chiffon dress into a miasma of moving cloth and light.
“I am not a minimal person and I am not a minimalist designer. It’s a good thing in life – and especially in this industry – to not always do the same thing as other people,” she explains frankly. “I was never in the Belgian mood, which was very important in the 90s.” Just as well – being able to boast that your design studio is in a 15th-century building with a façade and fresco by Raphael and Giulio Romano is a gift that shouldn’t be white-emulsioned out.
“There are a lot of paintings and colours and marble here, and my office is actually in the old chapel of this building, so it’s quite ‘decorated’,” she says. “Beyond that, I try and treat the environment in a new way – I have modern furniture, including pieces designed for Gucci stores. I don’t like empty space. I like spaces you can live in.” A scented candle takes care of the punctuated air of smoking and crucially she’s never without speakers for her iPod, adding, “I don’t have any special rituals for creating, apart of course from my music.
“The best advice I ever received is probably from my parents, to create a good balance between your personal life and your career and your professional life. When I started doing this job in 2005 it was one of my worst years, because I had this incredible opportunity, but I didn’t know about the pressure, about the difficulties I could have – it was really bad and I was upset.”
Giannini, who has risen in the company from handbag-design director to creative director of accessories to creative director of everything, has succeeded in the monumental task of taking a house that really is a household name, namechecked to the hilt in pop culture, and keeping it relevant, desirable and focused on the future. The gilt is shining very brightly.
“The best thing about working hard is that I can do something great everyday. But I always have a rest, a breath of fresh air, and talk about something else other than fashion, just to give my mind space to approach different things and come into the office with new ideas and new energy. It’s important to give out good energy instead of being very dramatic! In fashion we are always running, rushing, so you need to have something lighter in your approach to inspire and motivate those around you.”
But does Frida Giannini go home after a long day and watch trash TV like the rest of us? “When I have spare time I prefer to be at home with friends or to have a nice dinner, I love cooking,” she says. “But sometimes I do, of course! I’ve been watching a reality series with people that used to be famous in Italy, which is one of the most trash-TV programmes you’ll find!”
Back to the equestrian look. The capsule she’s created is about function as well as form but what does Giannini love about it as a uniform, an aesthetic?
“The elegance,” she muses, “and I really love the rigour because to horse ride, you have to have a strong discipline. Another thing I love is that it is almost completely unisex, so basically you can wear the same jacket and the same trousers and the same boots, which is quite interesting. The sport is one of the only ones where men and women can compete together.
“The primary essence of the Gucci woman is to be very strong and independent and selfconfident. It is always very inspiring when I can see women so elegant and powerful and original in their way. It is not very easy to find beautiful women with a strong attitude.”
Such women head straight to Gucci – or, even better, speed-dial its creative director.
TEXT DEAN MAYO DAVIES
PHOTOGRAPHY HARLEY WEIR
FASHION AGATA BELCEN
DAZED & CONFUSED, JANUARY 2013