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Giannini Move Seen as a Positive

Francois-Henri Pinault, who becomes chief executive officer of Gucci Group parent PPR on March 21, confirmed that Frida Giannini will become Gucci's rtw designer.

PARIS — “It’s the best thing that could happen at Gucci,” François-Henri Pinault declared Tuesday morning, confirming an exclusive WWD report that Frida Giannini will take over as the brand’s new ready-to-wear designer.

Giannini succeeds Alessandra Facchinetti, who was ousted from the company after a rocky one-year stint heading the rtw department in Gucci’s post-Tom Ford era. As reported, Giannini will continue as the brand’s designer of accessories, sales of which have soared since she took over last year.

Pinault, who officially becomes chief executive officer of Gucci Group parent PPR on March 21, likened Giannini to Ford in that her abilities stretch from design and merchandising to marketing and image.

“She is definitely capable of all that,” Pinault said in an interview. “After a year of this organization with three designers, it became obvious that Frida has a vision for the brand overall for women, and not only for accessories.”

Giannini’s promotion was prompted partly by an attempt by rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to lure her back to Fendi, where she had cut her teeth as a designer of handbags and clothing. But asked about the attempted poaching by LVMH, Pinault brushed it off, saying: “The fact that she’s headhunted, that’s a good sign.”

Giannini, 32, could not be reached for comment. However, in a statement, she said she looks forward to “moving Gucci forward in ready-to-wear and maintaining the brand at the forefront of fashion.”

Retailers, some still finishing up their fall-winter buys here, applauded the change.

“I’m not surprised only because their accessories designer has been doing such a wonderful job,” said Jim Gold, Bergdorf Goodman’s chairman and chief executive. “The business has been so strong, it makes sense that they would expand her area of responsibility.”

Gold described Bergdorf’s Gucci apparel business as “stable” but with strong growth potential.

Ron Frasch, chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, agreed, saying Gucci’s accessories, handbag and shoe businesses have blossomed and developed “incredibly” under Giannini’s direction.

“The quality of the design and the commerciality of the products has been stupendous,” he said. “I think that’s what the ready-to-wear needs, and if she can do this, I think it would be a great thing for the house.”

While expressing surprise at the choice, given Giannini’s limited experience with rtw, Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said she would reserve judgment on the appointment.

As for Facchinetti’s designs, Kaner said they were much in the vein of Tom Ford: “We liked some of it. It was a little difficult to wear, but so were some of Tom’s things.”

To be sure, Gucci has been dogged by skepticism about its team approach since March 2004, when it announced that a trio of then-unknown Ford underlings, including John Ray for men’s wear, would succeed him at the helm.

Last December, when new Gucci Group ceo Robert Polet presented his strategic plan, Morgan Stanley analyst Claire Kent questioned, for example, who would make the final decision at, say, the photo shoot for an advertising campaign.

While calling Facchinetti a true “Gucci girl,” Pinault said Giannini was more successful in injecting her own personality and point of view within the Gucci brand codes. Giannini also became much “more mature” over the past year and demonstrated “charisma” and formidable leadership within the design teams, he added.

Majed Al-Sabah, owner of the Kuwait-based Villa Moda luxury chain, also endorsed Giannini’s appointment since roughly 85 percent of his Gucci business comes from accessories, which have strong momentum at retail.

“What Frida did with the accessories is amazing,” Al-Sabah said. “If it was the other way around [and Giannini was exiting] it would be more disturbing. But I have full confidence in the brand and the new management.”

According to sources, employees within Gucci greeted the change with optimism as they believe in Giannini’s talent and vision. “It’s an unusual choice, but a good designer can do any product as long as he or she has the support of a good design team,” said one source.

In a research note, luxury analyst Antoine Belge at HSBC in Paris said the picture at Gucci is becoming more complex in light of many other management changes within PPR.