By  on March 8, 2005

NEW YORK — The trio is about to become a duo.WWD has learned that Gucci’s Frida Giannini has been named the brand’s creative director for women’s ready-to-wear. She replaces Alessandra Facchinetti, who has resigned as Gucci’s women’s wear designer only two weeks after her second show in the post-Tom Ford era. Giannini, whose appointment is expected to be announced today, will continue to be in charge of the company’s accessories for women and men.The appointment of Giannini results from the fact that, under her creative control, Gucci’s accessories have been performing extremely well, both editorially and at retail, accounting for roughly 80 percent of sales. Equally important, however, may have been the fact the designer was offered a senior post at one of Gucci’s major competitors, spurring the management to counteroffer.According to sources, it was Fendi, part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, that tried to lure Giannini, who is no stranger to the Rome-based luxury goods house. Not only did she cut her teeth as an accessories designer there, but she also designed a small portion of its apparel. Giannini’s appointment also is the first major move at the brand since Mark Lee took over as its chief executive officer last fall. Lee, a longtime Gucci Group executive, previously headed the Yves Saint Laurent brand. He replaced Giacomo Santucci at Gucci last October.The change at Gucci also comes two weeks before François-Henri Pinault, head of Artemis, is set to succeed Serge Weinberg as ceo of Gucci Group parent PPR. It was Weinberg who spearheaded the design team approach at Gucci, with the appointments of Facchinetti at Gucci women’s rtw, Giannini at accessories, John Ray at Gucci men’s wear and Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent. Weinberg argued at the time: “We feel very comfortable with the decisions we have made. We are proud of their appointments and we are sure they will receive the critical acclaim that their talent deserves.”Ray will stay on as men’s wear director at Gucci and he and Giannini will report to Lee.“Frida has performed extremely well in all the categories she oversees with sales up significantly and with great editorial coverage,” said a source.The first solo project for the 32-year-old designer was the Flora cruise collection. She culled a Sixties floral print designed for Grace Kelly from Gucci’s archives, which she revisited to craft an au courant collection of bags, beribboned sandals, scarves and limited-edition watches. The project was an instant success in Gucci stores worldwide. “I wanted to treat an iconic Gucci theme in a fun and ironic way. It’s meant to be an immediately visible alternative to the Gucci logo fabric,” Giannini told WWD last fall. According to associates, Giannini is talented, determined, farsighted and ambitious. A people person, Giannini has created a positive work environment with her co-workers and assistants. The brunette designer also is channeling the company’s resources to develop the other brand categories that fall under her wing, namely fine jewelry, eyewear, watches, luggage, fragrances and the home collections.   A source said Giannini’s appointment had little to do with the lukewarm reviews Facchinetti garnered after her fall show, which were more negative in the U.S. than elsewhere. In reviewing Facchinetti’s sophomore effort, WWD wrote: “It has only been a year since Ford’s swan song, a year of stunning change for Gucci and Facchinetti. No one could have expected Ford-like impact from her out of the gate. And, apparently, her first collection achieved its goal, as Gucci sales are reportedly strong. At some point, however — probably sooner rather than later — the coattail effect will fade.” It added: “The Facchinetti jury is still out.”Giannini’s accessories have been another story, however. Their success has enabled the Gucci brand to continue to fly high even after the departures of Ford and Domenico De Sole, Gucci’s ceo. Even without women’s apparel, Giannini already oversees 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.Gucci’s sales increased 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004, but were up 16 percent in November and December. For the three months through Oct. 31, Gucci sales totaled 376.1 million euros, or $475 million, while they hit 332.8 million euros, or $428 million, in November and December alone.According to PPR, leather goods sales at Gucci increased 24 percent in the period, while footwear was up more than 30 percent.Looking ahead, Giannini will be operating under even more pressure as she takes control of the entire women’s wear side of Gucci. Robert Polet, the new ceo of Gucci Group, is putting a renewed focus on the cash cow Gucci brand, which generates about 60 percent of group revenues and 141 percent of operating profits, in effect funding money-losing businesses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.Polet aims to double the revenues of the Gucci brand in seven years, which would take them to more than $4 billion. He plans to accomplish this by opening more stores in the fast-growing Asian region, marching into emerging markets such as India and China, building up its wholesale business, leveraging underdeveloped categories such as fine jewelry and increasing its communication spend by about 20 percent.

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