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Gucci was at both ends of greater New York on Thursday, feting a new partnership with Mary J. Blige’s charity in nearby Yonkers, N.Y., while preparing to open its Gucci-Icon Temporary pop-up store in SoHo.

Creative director Frida Giannini, Blige and branding impresario Steve Stoute gathered in Yonkers to open the new Mary J. Blige Center for Women, a partnership between The Foundation For the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN) — the charity that Blige and Stoute cofounded in 2007 — and Westchester Jewish Community Services (WCJS).

This story first appeared in the October 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The center has three central goals: to educate, empower and encourage women, noted Blige.

“As a child, I never saw a confident woman — I only saw women being abused,” said the singer, who grew up in Yonkers. “There was so much pain growing up — it would have been in vain if I didn’t put myself out there. That’s why I am here; that’s why FFAWN exists. I want every girl and woman who walks through this door to know that she is loved — no matter who is telling her she isn’t loved.”

Blige emphasized domestic abuse and low self-esteem know no socioeconomic boundaries. “I’m not just talking about helping women in the poverty-stricken areas — I am also talking about the broken homes of the wealthy where the child is watching mom and dad arguing, and she grows up being abused by some man, as well,” she said.

“Mary is an inspiration for us all,” said Giannini, who is also a board member of the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights. “She is a woman who really talks from her heart and from her own experiences, and she is a living example for all women in the world. And at the same time, Gucci is a very powerful brand that can communicate in a very strong way. I thought that, together, we could make something very impressive. I think it’s important to show that fashion isn’t just about clothes and accessories — it’s about being involved with initiatives like this one and social responsibility.”

Giannini has designed a limited edition, stainless-steel women’s Twirl watch, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit FFAWN. The watch, which retails for $1,895, is available at Gucci stores, and select department stores.

The charity had its roots in a conversation Blige and Stoute had at the 2007 Grammys, noted Stoute. “I asked her, ‘In your highest of highs, what are you most passionate about?’ And she said, ‘Giving back and helping women. I’ve had support systems that have come into my life and helped me become who I am, and I want to be able to provide that foundation to as many women as I can.’”

Next, Stoute and Blige plan to expand FFAWN workshop programming throughout the five boroughs of New York City, and in 2010 will implement scholarship programs which fund tuition for educational degrees and vocational training programs, as well as implement a grant program that supports women’s organizations. Eventually, Stoute and Blige hope to take FFAWN’s work global.

Meanwhile, Gucci’s pop-up store on Crosby Street in Manhattan will open to the public Saturday morning, yet the company is hoping to close the space even before its two-week run is over. The boutique, its white-washed walls covered in the signature Gucci evergreen and red stripes, will pack up as soon as its wares — which include the Gucci Ronson sneaker, a collaboration with celebrity DJ Mark Ronson — are sold out.

The pop-up is a first for the luxury brand, and it will stock sneakers, the house’s own limited edition range — consisting of 18 styles, 16 men’s and two women’s — and the limited edition styles designed in collaboration with Ronson. The DJ has designed a different sneaker to be available online and at each pop-up store. The concept will move to Miami in December, in conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach, and then, in 2010, to London and Tokyo.

The brainchild of Giannini, an avid music fan and collector of vinyl records, the pop-up features a vinyl of exclusive tracks by Ronson, including music by what Giannini calls a “pop-up band” called Chauffeur, to be offered with the purchase of a pair of Ronson’s shoes; Ronson also created a music mixing deck, called Gucci Beats, for the company’s new iPhone app. The cross-marketing doesn’t stop there: A white leather Gucci iPod and iPhone case will be sold in the store (retailing for $160).

As for the origins of the collaboration, Giannini called it a meeting of like minds. “Mark came to my men’s show last January,” she said. “At the time, we chatted about the idea of the flash sneaker store. I didn’t realize how much of a sneaker enthusiast he was until he started pulling out his own set of vintage sneakers from a bag he had with him.”

For New York, Ronson’s designs for Gucci skew preppy, with a marigold and navy boater-esque shoe available online and a more straightforward sneaker on sale at the store. Of the Gucci Ronson collection, which retails for between $500 and $600, there will be 50 pairs available for sale in the stores, and 100 online, per city.


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