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ROME — Gucci creative director Frida Giannini said she was in a holiday mood — as in “Roman Holiday.”
Organizing the 70th anniversary celebration of Gucci’s store here wasn’t quite a vacation. But Rome is where Giannini grew up and Villa Aurelia, on the city’s Janiculum Hill, which the designer chose for Gucci’s cruise fashion show, dinner and party on Tuesday night, is where she had her wedding reception three years ago.
We did not want to sacrifice Rome for New York,” Giannini said before the show. The designer felt the opening of Gucci’s Fifth Avenue boutique in February took some attention from the restoration and reopening of the historic store in Rome, which was also unveiled that month. So Giannini thought the summer period would fit well with an event in Rome.
It’s such an outdoorsy city,” added the designer, who decided to hold an encore of the 2009 cruise show, presented in New York last month, for the occasion. In homage to the city, Giannini designed five additional flowing dresses exclusively for the show that will be available only at the Rome store. The designer revisited Gucci’s iconic flora motif with shells and other marine patterns. “We wanted to give the right relevance to this location,” she said.
Robert Polet, chief executive officer of Gucci Group, was in a celebratory mood as he entered the lush park surrounding the 17th-century villa. “I have great memories of [Giannini’s] wedding, too,” Polet said, as he went to greet the designer’s family.
Mark Lee, ceo of Gucci, said Rome was “key” to the brand’s business and one of the label’s top five stores, along with Milan, Florence, Hong Kong and New York. “The store crystallizes [Giannini’s] work, how she modernizes the brand in a luxurious and fashion-forward way, while deeply respecting its iconic roots,” he said. Lee and Giannini acknowledged the importance of the Rome store in the expansion of the brand outside Italy. It is on the luxury shopping street Via Condotti, near the Spanish Steps, which were reproduced in a black-and-white backdrop for the fashion show. The unit was Gucci’s second store after Florence, and opened in September 1938.
“It began our globalization and the love affair between Cinecittà, Hollywood movie stars and the Americans enjoying the Dolce Vita here,” Lee said.
Indeed, many of Italy’s top actors flocked to Villa Aurelia, from Maria Grazia Cucinotta to Francesca Neri, marking the connection with the local film industry, in addition to socialites such as the Brivio Sforzas, the Viscontis and Arrivabenes and the Elkann clan.
“Frida has a vision, she makes things simple, which is an asset in this complicated world,” said Fiat heir Lapo Elkann. “She is good for Gucci, which is owned by the French, but whose DNA is Italian.” Claire Danes, the face of Gucci’s jewelry ad campaign, and her boyfriend Hugh Dancy, also turned out.
Retailer Rosi Biffi complimented Giannini’s “very contemporary and easy style. Just look at what she does with the evening gowns, she is young and designs for young customers.”
In a wink to such friends and clientele, Giannini personally chose the soundtrack for the evening, from Donna Summer to Mina, and invited the British band Goldfrapp to perform after the dinner in the villa’s park, with about 300 seated guests. Roughly three times as many later turned up for the concert. The fashion show was Webcast live on Gucci’s site.
Lee said cruise was “one of Gucci’s biggest collections,” in terms of business. Although Lee indicated the company is in a blackout period since its second-quarter figures are due to be reported on July 24, he said he remained “confident and optimistic” about the brand’s performance.
“We can’t control external factors — and the dollar exchange is a heavy thing to manage — but we can control internal execution,” Lee said. “Creativity, quality, service and presentation are becoming increasingly more important and we do the very best we can without allowing macro factors to change our strategy.”
Along these lines, Lee said Gucci continues its retail expansion around the world, with London’s Sloane Street to reopen next year and a first store in Seattle expected to open by yearend. While investing in established markets such as Europe and the U.S., Gucci is also venturing into new ones. Boutiques in Budapest, Hungary, and São Paulo, Brazil, will open in September and November, respectively. “A middle class is finally emerging in Brazil,” Lee said of that market’s vast potential. “The country is politically stable and is rich in natural resources.”
Gucci counts 20 boutiques in China and plans to open four more by the end of the year. Lee said Gucci sold out its Olympics-themed products and is “working out contingency plans to restock stores” as quickly as possible in that market.
As for the fast-growing Russian market, Lee said customers there are opting for “expensive furs and leathers,” and are helping to balance the shrinking number of Japanese and American tourists in Europe. “The 1.57 euro/dollar exchange rate is dramatic,” he said.