"We must move on, move on, move on," Frida Giannini insisted to her design team last March when she took over the reins as Gucci's new creative director for women's ready-to-wear.
At the time, she faced a daunting challenge: designing her first apparel collection ever while trying to escape the long shadow of Tom Ford.
"I would be stupid and arrogant to say that I didn't feel Tom's weight, because he did a tremendous job in building the brand's image," Giannini says months later, following her charming and pretty spring collection in September. "But I drilled [the notion of change] into my assistants' heads because I wanted to clean the slate—to change the work method and the product by introducing color and prints after many seasons of black, brown and navy."
Giannini, 32, presents an unperturbed exterior, but has proved herself to be a maverick multitasker. In addition to the women's collection, she has overseen Gucci's thriving accessories business—men's and women's bags, luggage, small leather goods, belts, footwear, eyewear and fine jewelry—since Ford's departure in April 2004. She's used to changes and challenges: When she was at Fendi, Giannini lived through the tug of war between squabbling parents Prada and LVMH. And the tranquility she hoped to find at Gucci was shattered with the turbulent exit of Ford and Domenico De Sole.
Immediately afterward, Giannini became part of a creative triumvirate with Alessandra Facchinetti, in charge of women's wear, and John Ray, heading men's. When Facchinetti, who stuck close to Ford's aesthetic, resigned only days after her second show, the torch passed to Giannini.
"Of the three, I was the most ‘virgin' when it came to working with Tom, because he was very focused on Yves Saint Laurent" during her tenure, she says.
The inspiration for her first collection came from a snapshot of her grandmother and great-aunts in postwar Rome. "It struck me to see these ladies dressed to the nines in a bombed-out city with scarce food," she says. "They exuded a desire to start a new life. I wanted to lose some of the drama and aggressiveness that was so Gucci these past years."
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"