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MILAN — First Tom, now Frida.
Frida Giannini is the sole designer of all aspects of the Gucci brand following the resignation of the company’s men’s wear design director, John Ray. WWD has learned that Gucci will announce today that Ray has stepped down for personal reasons.
Giannini will be responsible for men’s wear in addition to her current duties overseeing women’s ready-to-wear and accessories. Giannini assumed the role of women’s rtw designer in March after the resignation of Alessandra Facchinetti, who left the house following poor reviews.
Ray’s resignation dismantles the design trio appointed in March 2004 on the departure of Gucci creative director Tom Ford. It also brings into question the design team approach being considered by several fashion houses, including Chloé, where Phoebe Philo stepped down earlier this year in order to spend more time with her family. The Prada-owned Jil Sander had tried the design team tactic earlier, but gave that up last year with the appointment of Raf Simons, who will present his first women’s collection for the company in February.
While Giannini’s more mainstream sensuality for the Gucci woman has earned her mixed reviews, the industry has lauded the young designer for her determination and self-assuredness. Men’s wear accounts for roughly 5 percent of Gucci’s sales, while accessories, the brand’s engine, continues to move full throttle ahead with steady double-digit growth.
Co-workers describe Giannini as a “volcano of ideas, a hard worker and unafraid of challenges.”
After 10 years, the 32-year-old designer wooed Madonna back to Gucci, as evidenced by photos of the star clad in shrunken bomber jackets from cruise and the Treasure bag in patent leather. Drew Barrymore wore a green silk number from the spring line to the Golden Globes, while Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow and younger actresses such as Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton are fans.
For the first time, Gucci will hold two shows during Milan Fashion Week, both on Feb. 22, to accommodate the growing number of people who want to attend. Gucci also is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, but details are still under wraps.
At the time the Gucci trio was appointed, Serge Weinberg, PPR’s then-chief executive officer, defended the decision to go for a team rather than an individual designer. “I don’t think this debate between known designers and unknown designers is a valid one,” he said, adding that the four unknown talents “will bring something new to the world of fashion. We are convinced that they have the creativity and the design talent to become the stars of tomorrow.”
Others in the industry had a different viewpoint, however, including Ford. While praising the three designers who replaced him — all of whom he had hired — Ford questioned whether three personalities could give a brand a single vision. “The strategy is one that I don’t agree with at all,” he told WWD in an interview in March 2004. “The strategy of three different voices working at one brand, I don’t understand that. It’s really that there is a point of view. There is a vision today that is a summation of the last 10 years of my saying ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to that. There is a personality. There is a point of view and it is consistent. You can like it or not like it, but it is a point of view.”
According to a source close to Gucci, Ray is leaving on good terms and his decision stems from the fact that he was struggling to forge a new, post-Tom Ford identity for the company’s men’s wear. “That’s what the market wanted, but it just wasn’t coming,” said a source.
Resistant to the spotlight and press shy, the Scottish designer, who worked at Gucci for 10 years, seems more fit for a second-in-command position than being the number one. While Ray’s technical skills were never a problem, his inability to create a consistent image for his Gucci was.
From his first runway show in June 2004, Ray made it clear his Gucci would diverge from the in-your-face sex appeal that Ford so brazenly embraced. To that end, Ray showed embroidered tunics laden with metal beads and coins, sweeping silk caftans and voluminous silk shirts in butterfly prints. That collection, like the three that followed, garnered lukewarm reactions at best and collective befuddlement at worst.
In his final effort during Milan Fashion Week, Ray showed a brooding dark collection that seemed more Goth than Gucci. On their own, pieces like rugged motorcycle boots, slim tapered trousers, plunging mohair sweaters and cropped leather bombers stood strongly, yet as a collection, it lacked conviction.