MILAN — Frida Giannini’s initial panic as Gucci’s new accessories director didn’t last very long — an adrenaline rush that sparked her creativity and organizational skills quickly replaced it.

“I feel like the standard-bearer of a new fashion model because a creative director for accessories is something innovative. It’s so energizing,” Giannini said in an exclusive interview with WWD, the first she’s given since she was named to her post in March.

Thankful for the opportunity that came her way, Giannini is aware of the weight she’s carrying as the post-Tom Ford leader at Gucci’s largest and most lucrative product category. Dressed in a formal pinstriped blazer, tempered by a white tank top and jeans and, surprise, no wicked stilettos but brown riding boots, Giannini exudes a cool, calm and collected aura.

Once she digested the promotion, the 31-year-old designer wasted no time and dove right into the product categories she inherited — fine jewelry, watches, eyewear and gifts — besides the ones she already handled: footwear, bags, luggage, hats and home. Now totally under Giannini’s wing are vast and versatile collections that each season include 350 styles of bags; 100 luggage units; 600 pieces of small leather goods; 400 pairs of women’s shoes, and 200 designs for men.

“The toughest part was familiarizing myself with the new sectors and figuring out their strong and weak points. I was fine with bags and footwear because, thanks to Tom, especially after he became creative director for Gucci Group, including Yves Saint Laurent, I was quite autonomous,” said Giannini, who joined Gucci in July 2002.

Giannini so far is proving up to the challenge, introducing everything from the Flora cruise collection to a diamond horse-bit ring and an $8,800 logoed barbecue set. Wholesale unit sales for accessories within the 2005 cruise collection grew more than 20 percent compared with last year.

Gucci’s 2003 sales were 1.52 billion euros, or $1.87 billion at current exchange. Broken down into categories, 49 percent of sales came from leather goods, 12 percent from shoes, 14 percent ready-to-wear, 11 percent watches, 7 percent jewelry and the remaining 4 percent included gift items, home, eyewear and fragrance.

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