Writer: Farah Aljundi
She doesn’t sport a tamed bob cut or powdered white hair. There are no fingerless leather gloves or oversized bowties. Wonder how to follow in the footsteps of one of fashion’s giants in a time of turmoil? Frida Giannini, the winner of the Ultimate Fashionism Award, does it in her Gucci pumps.
Following Tom Ford’s famous reign in the 1990s, this savvy young Roman steered Gucci’s ship back to calmer waters in 2002. Initially hired away from Fendi by Ford to design accessories, Giannini is redefining Gucci with her boho-rock sparkle and a woman’s touch.
Born in 1972 in Rome to an architect father and an art-historian mother, Frida’s bohemian touch and eye for sleek design is inherited in part from her parents. Her inimitable style, first manifested during her years at Rome’s Fashion Academy, landed her a job in prêt-a-porter at Fendi, where she worked under fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld.
Three seasons later in 1997, Giannini was made designer of Fendi’s leather goods. When the success of her ‘Baguette’ handbag reached Ford’s ears in 2002, she was enticed over to Gucci, where she joined its accessories department. At a time when Gucci’s accessories were all about exploiting its double ‘G’ monogram, Giannini turned to the label’s rich heritage for inspiration, drawing on images of the Grace Kelly scarf and botanical patterns of the 1960s and 70s. Her seed planted, Giannini’s Flora collection burst into flower.
Whether its Grace Kelly or a doorknob, Giannini’s ability to take inspiration from everything pleased Gucci’s powers-at-be so much that she was granted full control not only over accessory designs but also over the menswear line too.
Her plate continued to fill. Accessories and menswear proved to be appetisers. Her next dish was oversight of Gucci’s international campaigns, followed by the main course; creative direction of interior and exterior designs of Gucci stores. The cherry on the cake came in 2006 when at the age of 34, Frida Giannini was named sole Creative Director of the label.
Quite a feast. We spoke with Bespoke’s 2012 Ultimate Fashionism Award winner to find out more about the woman behind the ‘G’.
There is the sense of clean lines and subtle references to different eras in your work at Gucci. Would you say this is due to the influence of your father’s background in architecture and your mother’s background as an art history professor?
Yes, definitely. Growing up I was immersed in aesthetics thanks to my parents, and I’d say that my childhood deeply influenced the way I am. I grew up in a very intellectual, liberal and open-minded family. My mother being an art history teacher had many great art books that I read all the time, and we also used to take frequent trips to museums when I was young. Both of my parents instilled an appreciation for the arts in me and there were many creative debates over the dinner table.
It must have been daunting to take over the creative direction at Gucci, following in Tom Ford’s footsteps. What was the hardest part about transitioning the label from overt sexuality to sensuality?
When I came on board it was important to establish a strong, personal point of view that distinguished my own work from the past. My designs brought a new sensibility that was slightly less aggressive but still sensual and glamorous. I felt that it was essential to tap into Gucci’s remarkable past and to celebrate the quality and craftsmanship that makes it an exceptional creator of luxury goods. One tries to reflect the mood of the times, so I would say that my approach is perhaps slightly less provocative than it was before. I believe in what I am doing, and I believe in my ideas. I am never designing to impress a fashion critic. I design for the Gucci customer and what I feel she or he would want. I like to think I actually anticipate what they will want before they know – that’s my job as a fashion designer.
You are known for finding inspiration in the most unlikely situations - a car ride home, even a doorknob. Is inspiration a momentary event or an evolving process?
You are right, my inspiration comes from more than one source and it is definitely an ongoing process. I am constantly observing my surroundings: people, places, objects, and I collect ideas everywhere. When I start working on a new collection, I retreat to my office and spend a few days reflecting and then start elaborating concrete ideas. The final result is often completely different from the original starting point, but this is the most fun part of my job. You never know where the creative process will take you. Also, one the biggest points of inspiration for me are female pioneers, remarkable women who left an imprint on the world; women like Peggy Guggenheim, the Marquise Casati, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. For instance, my inspiration for the spring/summer 2012 collection came from the Man Ray photos of Louise Brookes and Nancy Cunard and the era in which they lived.
What, in your opinion, would you say are the three wardrobe staples every man and woman should have in their closet?
I strongly believe that in her wardrobe, every woman needs a little black dress, a tailored jacket or coat, high heel sandals, horse riding boots and an iconic handbag. For a man, I would say a sharply cut blazer, a classic moccasin and a leather briefcase.
You seem to be geared more towards today’s woman; practical, versatile and on-the-go. Your approach to empowering women is inspiring, this despite a busy agenda. What would you like to see women around the world fighting for more?
There is so much work to be done for women, from many points of view. Women in the world today still face many challenges from discrimination to violence. That’s why I joined the PPR Foundation for Women's Dignity and Rights to support projects that aim to combat discrimination and empower women.
I hope my job can inspire women to get more involved in all women’s rights causes, and at the same time, I hope our work with UNICEF, with over 9 million USD donated to date, will encourage people to be aware and proactive towards all humanitarian emergencies our world faces.
You’ve played an instrumental role in projects such as partnerships with UNICEF for children in Africa like Tattoo Heart, the Raising Malawi Foundation and numerous eco-friendly initiatives. It’s refreshingly hard to keep up with you. How do you choose which projects to stand for?
Previously our funding had gone to many different initiatives, from health care to orphans to school funding, all of which are very important. Now, I would like to focus our activities so we can make a larger impact in one area. In fact, our current key aim in our collaboration with UNICEF in Malawi is helping give children who live there an education, and above all, a future. In order to assure the visibility these initiatives deserve, I am always looking to partner with individuals who can also help to make a difference and who share my passion for helping disadvantaged children, which is where Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige and Madonna come in.
You are self-admittedly a constant project of self-reinvention and a woman of many passions. If you hadn’t gotten into fashion, where would you be?
Besides fashion, I have two other great passions: architecture and interior design. If I had not gone into fashion, I would have surely pursued one of these two.
Your love for music is apparent in your frequent collaborations with artists. Which musician do you dream of dressing next?
I adore working with musicians, they have a huge sense of style, and they are not afraid to take risks. I am currently working with Florence Welch, and she is such a great, strong artist and woman. And whether I dress him or not, I would love to meet David Bowie.
What are your means of physical and mental escape?
My idea of mental escape is to be able to dedicate myself to the simple life, my relationship and my house. A perfect night for me is to be at home hosting a dinner for my friends. My favourite escape is my house by the sea in Sabaudia, where I spend most of my vacations, horseback riding, cooking, sleeping and reading.
You’re known for your love of cooking and dinner parties. If you could host one for any three people of your choice, living or dead, who would they be? And what would you serve as a main course?
Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie, Carlo Verdone, a really famous Italian comic. I would serve spaghetti with tomatoes and basil.