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VENICE — “Who is more iconic than Madonna? Nobody,” says Gucci creative director Frida Giannini. “From her early days in the business, she is one of the most powerful and iconic women ever — and her fans’ enthusiasm is proof enough.”


This story first appeared in the September 7, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It’s not surprising, then, that the designer asked the artist to present the first Gucci for Women Award in Cinema, a cocktail and dinner event held Saturday during the Venice Film Festival at the Hotel Cipriani, where the rustic, red brick walls of converted, expansive barns contrasted with exquisite, white Murano chandeliers and Gucci’s sleek black tables and mirrored fixtures.


During her brief speech, Madonna, wearing a one-of-a-kind Forties-inspired black Gucci gown, said it was “surreal” to be in Venice with a movie she directed, “W.E.,” and to present the inaugural award. “I was in Venice for the first time at the beginning of my career, singing ‘Like a Virgin’ on a gondola trying desperately to convince everyone that I was,” she said to laughter. “At one point, I forgot to duck [hitting a bridge], and maybe I haven’t recovered yet.” Later, after she bestowed the award to actress Jessica Chastain for her performance in “The Tree of Life,” Madonna told WWD that she was relieved after the screening of “W.E.” the previous night, and “pleased that the audience was very welcoming and attentive to the movie,” which revolves around Wallis Simpson and Edward, Prince of Wales.


She said she “loved the idea of bringing attention to women in films. It’s not true that there aren’t that many women, but they go unknown.” As for her own role model, she said she is a huge fan of “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow. “I was so happy she won the Oscar, so cool….” Also, she denied press rumors that she’s mulling the idea of buying a Palladian villa outside Venice. “It’s not true, every time I go somewhere, they say that, but enough houses….”


Salma Hayek, wearing a smoky gray, organza Gucci Premiere gown embellished with crystals and hand cut petals of feathers, said she was shooting “Savages,” directed by Oliver Stone. Hayek’s beauty line, Nuance, made its debut last spring and her husband François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci parent company PPR, said proudly that she had “been working on it for eight years.” And he added, “She tested it on me.” Pinault said he was leaving for a trip to Asia, which includes several charity-related projects. “There has to be [that component]. What’s the point otherwise?” he said.


Later in the evening, Hayek was surprised with an iced birthday cake with a single candle. Other guests included Abbie Cornish, who plays a contemporary Wallis intrigued by the original Wallis in “W.E.”; Evan Rachel Wood, who was premiering two films here: George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” and “Mildred Pierce,” and James Franco, who said he was prepping to play Oz, filming in Detroit, in the prequel to the “Wizard of Oz,” due out in spring 2013.

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