NEW YORK — In Act Two of the post-Tom Ford era, it seems the Gucci Girl is turning down her dosage of high-voltage sexuality, and perhaps not taking herself quite so seriously.

“To be sure, she’s a confident woman who works hard for her success, but at the same time, she cares for her dogs in the park,” explained designer Frida Giannini, upgraded in March from accessories director to creative director of accessories and women’s ready-to-wear after the abrupt departure of Alessandra Facchinetti. Giannini is here this week to present Gucci’s cruise collection, her first ready-to-wear for the house. She will show the collection of about 28 looks this afternoon at the Gagosian Gallery.

After Giannini’s promotion, a shift in sensibility seemed inevitable. After all, her very well-received Flora accessories collection, based on a scarf designed for Grace Kelly in 1966, was a softer, more feminine take on the house’s iconography than those designed by Ford. In fact, her tactic of delving into the archives for elements to manipulate forms a large part of the cruise collection, which is rife with takes on iconic motifs. The horsebit shows up in prints large and small on both clothes — a charming silk blouse, a breezy gown — and handbags. The classic men’s loafer gets a chunky high-heel and goes glam in gold crocodile or sporty in white leather. And bicolor webbed ribbon is everywhere: the waistband of a quirky Flora-derived insect-print swimsuit, or woven with chains for trim on coats and jeans.

“When I started to work on this collection, I thought immediately of a real cruise,” said Giannini, 32. “I imagined a summer trip on a boat in the Mediterranean.”

Her line covers a range of yacht-worthy looks, from a navy satin peacoat worn with sharply pressed white silk capri pants to bohemian dresses in mixes of prints, lace and macrame inspired by those her grandmother once stocked at her now-closed store near Rome, which are perfect for eager vacationers en route to Positano. And while pieces such as a short halter dress done up in white iridescent sequins are undeniably sexy, there is also a new sense of calm, and at times even sweetness. “It’s never so aggressive,” said Giannini simply.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Still, she knows that while a strong resort collection makes for a powerful start, the more high-drama test will come when she stages her first major runway presentation, for spring. While Giannini expects overt iconography to play a major role, she’s yet to determine the specifics.

“To be honest, I am still working on that idea, so I don’t know exactly how,” she said. “But to me, the iconic elements of the company are very, very important.”

As for the presentation itself, while the look of Facchinetti’s show mirrored Ford’s high-drama approach, Giannini sees the need to put clear distance between her own approach and his. Though her debut will still take place at Milan’s Hotel Diana Majestic, “I would like to change [the look],” she said. “Probably the light will be one of the most important elements — definitely less dramatic, less dark.”

Ironically, however, though Giannini is stressing the lightness of her approach, she has already felt the dark side of the rumor mill. It came via an uncredited report published Friday that had the Gucci brass displeased with Giannini’s performance and questioned her future at the house, this despite the fact that she had yet to show a single outfit and that Gucci president Mark Lee accompanied her to New York. Company executives seemed plenty irritated by the rumor, dismissed by Lee with a terse, “Absolutely not true.”

Giannini herself seems to have taken it in stride. She comes across as calm and confident, focused not only on her new professional role but also on personal matters. She’s to be married in July, and will return home this week to perfect her dress. And of course, she is working on more fully forming her version of the Gucci Girl.

“I would like to imagine a woman who can play with her life,” said Giannini, “but always sophisticated and rich because obviously we are still Gucci.”

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