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MILAN — Born from a creative challenge, La Pelle Guccissima is intended to boost Gucci’s underexploited leather segment and pump its accessories business.

The new project, which will hit the Gucci stores in August, comprises bags, footwear, small leather goods, luggage and watches, as well as printed silk, velvet and cashmere scarves, imprinted with the double-G logo or the horse bit motif.

“We worked on this line for over a year with the intention of giving leather — which is our heritage — a new focus, energy and momentum,” Mark Lee, Gucci’s president and managing director, told WWD in an interview. “We felt that aspect was missing and that our leathers weren’t immediately recognizable, since Gucci is very much associated with the logoed canvas.”

A special advertising campaign that begins at the end of June will support the new line.

Frida Giannini, creative director for accessories and women’s ready-to-wear, is upbeat about her latest undertaking and Gucci’s support of it. “From a creative standpoint, I was ready to shift the focus from the canvas-logo combination,” she said. “I find that leather is very rich and luxurious, especially if it says Gucci all over it, and it targets a wider clientele.”

Sales projections for the line were not available.

La Pelle Guccissima’s specialty — hard to counterfeit — is that artisans use handmade presses to hot-print the classic double-G logo and the horse bit onto the hides.

“The imprinting is the same, but depending on which way you turn the hide, the effect is embossed or in relief,” Giannini said. “We all agreed that the double-G logo worked better embossed while the bit, which is bigger and more detailed, looked better in relief.”

Stressing that it takes one worker a full day to treat a hide, Giannini mapped out the process: Once the raw materials are selected — in terms of quality and resistance to heat — they are waxed, hot-printed and finally hand-sponged to remove any wax remnants.

The designer admitted that she pushed herself and the artisans working in Gucci’s Tuscan factory to nail down the labor-intensive technicalities. “At first I was frustrated because the hides weren’t responding they way they should have,” she said. “We really had to sit in the factory for days, trying, trying and re-trying.”

This story first appeared in the May 17, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Luxurious, with a slight retro feeling counterbalanced by clean shapes and modern colors, La Pelle Guccissima “has one foot in the past and one in the future,” Lee said.

That’s because Giannini, who never tires of mining Gucci’s past, has a knack for melding yesterday with tomorrow. “Modernity is the consequence of how you apply a retro idea in terms of shapes and product categories,” she noted.

All the footwear and the bags, which include sacs, hobo bags, shoppers and Treasure, a new Fifties-inspired rigid style with locket, are lined with a multicolor horse bit-printed cotton. The three key materials are calfskin, velvet and patent leather, at times partnered with lizard or crocodile. They are served up in anything from bitter chocolate brown, midnight blue, cream and lavender. On the footwear front, there are boots, pumps and loafers.

Prices for leather, patent and velvet bags start at $700 and jump to $5,700 for patent and crocodile versions. The entry price for luggage is an $850 beauty case, while the most expensive is the $3,100 leather trolle. A women’s loafer or velvet ballerinas costs $350, with patent leather boots $1,400.

Accessories fanatics will immediately pen La Pelle Guccissima in their wish list. The line was conceived to last.

“It’s not one more accessory, but a whole new project that will stay around for many years,” Lee said. “We will add seasonal new styles and colors, but in terms of quality we’re trading up just as many of our competitors are trading down.”

In sync with the line’s back-to-the-future mood is the ad campaign shot by Craig McDean.

The concept is a modern-day revival of the celebrity-filled paparazzi shots stored in Gucci’s archives. “Many of the shots were taken on the streets with the VIPs carrying numerous bags,” Lee said.

In a similar form, this campaign zeroes in on a male and female model walking down the street toting different kinds of bags. “Though product-driven, the images are fast, modern, strong and sexy,” Lee noted.

He said Gucci has made a significant investment, which he declined to disclose, behind this product launch. The company has also increased its overall communications spending in 2005, with ads in new titles that include Vitals Women, Elle Accessories and Lucky in the U.S and El Mundo and Fuera de Serie in Spain.

“As part of a larger strategy, we’re animating the season with twice the number of ad pages, diversified for the months: August through October with apparel and accessories from the fashion show and November and December dedicated to flash, cruise and jewelry,” Lee said.

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