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MILAN — Gucci Group’s new fab four are set for their coming-out party.
Pinault-Printemps-Redoute is expected to announce today that Alessandra Facchinetti, Frida Giannini and John Ray will succeed Tom Ford at the design helm of Gucci, heading women’s ready-to-wear, accessories and men’s wear, respectively. Also, Stefano Pilati will be named the new designer at Yves Saint Laurent.
This story first appeared in the March 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD was the first to report the names of the new designers on March 4.
The prospect of replacing an international design star with four unknown members of Ford’s design staff has prompted a divisive debate in the fashion world that is bound to rage on for seasons to come. More immediately, it unleashed a round of mudslinging between Ford and PPR chief executive Serge Weinberg.
In an interview in these columns March 5, Ford said that “a fashion brand has to have a single, focused point of view.” Meanwhile, Weinberg has insisted the brand is more important than the personality behind it.
That said, it is understood that PPR does not plan to keep its hidden talents under wraps, but groom them as tomorrow’s design stars and brand ambassadors. Here, WWD takes a look at the four people who will chart the future of two of the biggest names in international fashion.
Almost everyone had filed out of Tom Ford’s farewell show for Yves Saint Laurent Sunday night at the Musee Rodin here when a gleaming black Range Rover made a slow advance across the black carpet guests had tread upon only minutes before.
Behind the wheel, wearing a tweed newsboy cap, smoking a cigarette and smiling contentedly, was Stefano Pilati, a discreet and dashing 38-year-old who is about to be thrust into the international fashion spotlight.
Today, Gucci Group will announce that Pilati is Ford’s successor at YSL, ending months of speculation and beginning a new chapter in a storied, and lately struggling, fashion house.
Pilati may not have been first choice for the YSL brand. As reported, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, which controls Gucci Group, had initially pursued negotiations with another inside candidate, Alexander McQueen. Gucci Group owns 51 percent of McQueen’s fashion house. At that point, Pilati, one of the group’s chief unsung talents, had been tipped to take over the Gucci reins. At the time, he was even rumored to be searching for an apartment in Milan.
But when McQueen declined the YSL job to concentrate on his signature collection, Pilati was destined to remain in Paris. Pilati joined YSL in March 2000 as women’s design director, ultimately taking on responsibilities for all product categories. Before that, he had a five-year career at Prada Group, where he worked the Miu Miu collections for men and women. Before that, the Milan-born Pilati was a designer at Giorgio Armani.
It is believed Pilati’s experience working for large brands and supervising product development teams for sundry product categories made him a leading internal candidate to succeed Ford, either at Gucci or YSL.
Indeed, in the WWD interview, Ford said that had he stayed at Gucci Group and replaced Domenico De Sole as chief executive, a plan that had been approved by the board, he would have chosen Pilati as his successor at YSL. In a very public display of their personal relationship and mutual respect, Ford and Pilati shared a long embrace at the after-party for his Gucci farewell in Milan last month.
Sources familiar with Pilati’s abilities describe him as being extremely cultured and possessing a very refined taste — even if his creative expression at YSL was often hampered by Ford, who is known for his iron-fisted creative control.
Pilati certainly fits the mold of a star-in-waiting. Tall and handsome — with a personal style variously described as dandy and elegant — he has a penchant for velvet blazers, white trousers and small corsages. A bit of a fashion chameleon, he currently sports a neat beard and short curly hair.
A discreet character in the media-obsessed fashion scene, Pilati obeys Gucci Group’s strict policy that only Ford and De Sole are official spokesmen for the group. At Ford’s YSL finale Sunday, he declined to be photographed backstage, and he has declined all comment on his future role within the Italian fashion conglomerate.
A YSL spokesman declined all comment Wednesday.
Pilati is said to have an apartment in Paris near the Bristol Hotel, which he shares with his pet and sidekick, a white boxer, and often spends weekends in London.
Despite his relatively low profile, he is a popular figure with industry insiders. He’s remained friends with many of his former Prada co-workers, including Fabio Zambernardi, design director for Prada and Miu Miu, with whom he attended Ford’s farewell show for Gucci during Milan Fashion Week last month.
Pilati will become the third designer at the house since Yves Saint Laurent passed the reins for rtw to Alber Elbaz in 1998. Elbaz was fired after three seasons and replaced by Ford in the wake of Gucci Group’s acquisition of the brand in 1999. Saint Laurent announced his retirement in January 2000 and shuttered his couture house later that year after an illustrious 40-year run.
The market will be looking for signs of improvement at YSL when Gucci Group reports its full-year sales earnings on April 1. Heavy investments to create a retail network for YSL, and marketing and other expenses have meant heavy losses for the French brand.
During the third quarter ended Oct. 31, sales at YSL advanced 13.6 percent to $53.4 million, or 43.1 million euros, but operating losses widened to $25.6 million, or 20.7 million euros, compared with operating losses of $22.4 million, or 18.1 million euros, in the same period last year, as reported.
— Miles Socha
Gucci’s new head of women’s wear, Alessandra Facchinetti, is no stranger to the limelight.
The daughter of Roby Facchinetti, the keyboard player for I Pooh, Italy’s famous rock band formed in 1966, she has lived and breathed music her entire life. In 1972, the year Facchinetti was born, her father named an album after her. The family’s artistic vein continues with Facchinetti’s 24-year-old brother, a hip-hop singer called DJ Francesco, whose song, “Capitan Uncino,” became last summer’s top-of-the-pops success.
In her case, Facchinetti is already well known among fashion insiders after stints at Prada, then Miu Miu and, since the year 2001, at Gucci. Facchinetti, 32, is a graduate of Milan’s Istituto Marangoni fashion school and joined Prada as an assistant in 1995.
She quickly caught Miuccia Prada’s eye and climbed the design ladder, eventually being named fashion coordinator for women’s and men’s at Miu Miu. She took over there when Stefano Pilati, who will replace Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent, left to become women’s design director at the French house.
It wasn’t long before Facchinetti also jumped to Gucci to become design director for women’s wear, replacing Christopher Bailey, then Ford’s top assistant who left to become creative director at Burberry.
But Facchinetti’s departure set off a legal battle with Prada chief executive Patrizio Bertelli. When the designer quit her post at Miu Miu in June 2001, she ran smack into a non-compete clause that restricted her from working at another fashion house for six months. According to sources, Facchinetti — whose monthly paycheck at Miu Miu was in the $10,000 range at current exchange — didn’t wait the stipulated time period, jumping to Gucci at the end of September. Bertelli sued, and the court ruled against her. To make sure she respected the verdict, Prada unleashed investigators, who apparently found Facchinetti lugging boxes from her apartment to the Gucci offices. The current state of the lawsuit remains unclear.
As for her experience at Gucci, people close to the designer say she works well with a team.
“She’s very good, the ideal person to head a team because she’s focused, knows how to construct a collection and has a great eye for detail,” one source said. “She is also very dedicated and a hard worker.”
Added another one: “Alessandra is reserved, gentle, serene and polite. She’s a real lady and is good at handling a team. She’s also extremely organized and matches rigor with creativity, an uncharacteristic trait in the fashion world. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t need to scream or raise her voice to be respected.”
The source added that “she will be good at heading Gucci’s women’s wear team because she didn’t come out of the blue: She has valuable and enviable experience.”
Facchinetti is said to have movie-star appeal, with a style variously described as sophisticated, modern and chic. Although a true Gucci girl — lacquered and flawless — her tastes are said to be more feminine than those of Ford muse Carine Roitfeld, the editor in chief of French Vogue.
“If she weren’t a designer, she would certainly be a muse,” said one source. “She’s gorgeous, tall, thin, with model looks and she dresses amazingly.”
And, despite PPR ceo Serge Weinberg’s dictum that it will now be a team approach at Gucci Group rather than a star system, this source added: “She definitely has star potential.”
— Alessandra Ilari
Colleagues and former bosses describe John Ray, Gucci new head of men’s wear, as a designer with a soft edge.
“He has a really tender, beautiful sense of fashion and he just does it right,” said Katharine Hamnett. “I got him right out of the Royal College of Art — he was my men’s wear assistant for a few years — and then Tom had to go and pinch him,” she said, referring to Gucci creative director Tom Ford.
A former colleague at Gucci described Ray as a “true team player” and very charming, warm and relaxed. Ray, who is in his mid-30s, was until the appointment expected today senior designer for men’s wear at Gucci. But don’t expect any sharp changes in direction — Ray, who is based at Gucci’s studios in London, has worked at the Italian company since the beginning of the Ford-De Sole era.
“He’s a real Gucci veteran, and honed his style there,” a source said.
“He is just an adorable person. He makes you feel wonderful when you’re working together,” said Hamnett.
— Samantha Conti
Frida Giannini likes her space.
The designer for accessories at Gucci, Giannini, 31, graduated from the Accademia di Costume e Moda in Rome. After brief stints at small, family-run accessories companies, she joined Fendi, where she stayed for six years.
Sources close to Giannini said she worked well with Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini and had the opportunity to design at least 500 variations on the Baguette bag. At Fendi, Giannini witnessed the takeover of the house by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada (which subsequently sold its stake to LVMH), which a source said she found energizing.
“She’s tough. She has a strong character and is very determined. Apparently, she left Fendi because she wasn’t given enough space to express herself, a condition that she found at Gucci,” said one source.
Giannini is tall, skinny and has a fair complexion, said a source. During her Fendi days, she dressed down with jeans and blouses. “She’s not an obvious fashionista,” said one source, recalling her look at Fendi.
When Gucci lured Giannini to head up its accessories division, she was especially excited to have more space and autonomy, a condition guaranteed by Tom Ford, said one source. Giannini shuttles back and forth from Rome to Florence and heads up to Milan to dip into the archives and for company meetings.