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Gucci moved into Tokyo’s storied sumo stadium Saturday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Japan business with a gala dinner benefitting the National Federation of UNESCO Associations.

The event, which featured performances by English singer Jessie J as well as a high-school choir from Tokyo, drew some of Gucci’s top customers as well Japanese celebrities such as former soccer star and fashion party fixture Hidetoshi Nakata and actress-singer Emi Takei. Other highlights of the evening included a video message from reigning sumo champ Hakuho Sho and a dinner menu drawing on the culinary traditions of both Japan and Italy featuring sea bream sashimi and ravioli with black truffles.

This story first appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The following day, Gucci creative director Frida Giannini and chief executive Patrizio di Marco traveled to Sendai, one of the areas hit hardest by the 2011 tsunami. In 2012, Gucci and UNESCO created a scholarship program to support students in the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and Giannini and di Marco visited with students taking part in the program.

Making her first trip to Japan in five years, Giannini said she had enjoyed reacquainting herself with the country and its culture, engaging in some people watching, vintage shopping and bookstore browsing around the city. Among her observations, she said the city seems more “open” than her previous visits, including her first trip to Japan 12 years ago.

“Japanese women, for example, that before were a bit more conservative…are all more relaxed in the way they dress; they risk more than they did a few years ago,” she said during an interview at the Park Hyatt Saturday afternoon. “We see this also a bit in our sales in this market. Before, there was a bit of resistance on anything that was too fashion-y. Instead now it seems, based on what I have been able to observe at least by touring around, there is a desire to be a bit more trendy in a matter of speaking.”

Like it has for countless other designers, Japan has served as an inspiration source for Giannini’s creative work. During her 2009 trip to Japan, she met with a 103-year-old kimono artisan and Kabuki costumer and took numerous pictures of various obis — the belts that hold kimonos together. Those photos served as the starting point for a patchwork jacket she did for her Seventies-influenced spring collection.

Having heard that Japanese people often express distaste for Western designers appropriating Japanese motifs, she said she was a little nervous to discuss this print with local editors but their reactions pleasantly surprised her.

“There was this enthusiasm every time I took out this Japanese print so this was a surprise for me,” said the designer, clad in a ruffled leather shirt and slim pants. “Probably they saw that this was a reinterpretation in a casual style.”

Similarly, the fruits of this trip might appear in future collections.

“Every trip is an experience, so it’s good to steal with your eyes…seeing the people that walk down the street for me is always the best experience in Tokyo,” she said. “There is really a studied approach to their look that for me is absolutely fascinating.”

Elsewhere, Giannini said she picked up a couple of vintage Gucci bags in Tokyo — including a small flap bag and a sack style — to add to the company’s archive.

“So many things were made over the years that there are still items circulating that are not in the archive,” she said. “So when I find them, I always buy them.”

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