Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Gucci.
This allotment is reprinted from Departures.
I t my aboriginal glimpse of Frida Giannini, Gucci’s artistic director, at the Venice International Blur Festival, area she’s accessory a screening of Madonna’s new film, W.E. Giannini is cutting a one-shouldered atramentous dress, her abysmal tan allegory with her altogether blown-out albino hair. She is not, however, the best blooming artisan at the Palazzo del Cinema, or the best anxiously coiffed. That annual belongs to Valentino, who is two seats—and several worlds—away from Giannini, who cites amid her all-embracing muses both Jackie Kennedy and Iggy Pop. Keeping his aback to the Gucci contingent, Valentino spends the aing 15 annual whispering to his longtime partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. It’s fun to brainstorm what he ability be saying. Valentino dressed Jackie back she mourned JFK and, later, back she wed Aristotle Onassis. He knew and admired Jackie, admitting Gucci’s “Jackie” has two belted tassels and comes in alien skin.
The Jackie is a bag, but not aloof any bag. In Gucci lingo, it’s an “icon” and now has a abode of honor, forth with the horse bit, the bamboo handle and the double-G, at the company’s new architecture in Piazza della Signoria, in Florence. Tourists can airing from the Uffizi anon to Gucci Museo, area instead of advertent airy icons they can meditate on alluvial ones. The architecture aperture is allotment of the appearance house’s yearlong 90th-anniversary anniversary that kicked off with its “Forever Now” campaign. “Forever” is represented by black-and-white stills of Gucci artisans from the 1950s, while “Now” is about the latest collections, bidding in airbrushed photos of baking blondes clutching cachet bags. “Forever” is heritage; “Now” is what’s hot and new.
While one ability anticipate that acclimation such disparate worlds ability be tricky, like acceptable a wife and a abundant adolescent mistress, cipher does it bigger than Gucci. Today it is the second-largest affluence cast in the apple (Louis Vuitton holds the top spot), and in 2010 it had $3.61 billion in sales. Owned by the French amassed PPR, additionally home to Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen, Gucci has 345 food internationally, including 40 in acreage China. Gucci entered the China bazaar early, in 1994, and today it accounts for 21 percent of the company’s revenue. “What happened in Japan in ten to 15 years is accident in China at an absurd pace,” says Patrizio di Marco, Gucci’s admiral and CEO. “You accept nouveaux abundance that appetite to appearance their status, and the aboriginal footfall is to accept a canvas bag with the aboriginal ‘GG.’”
The cast angle for Guccio Gucci, the company’s founder, but the accustomed logo, which has adorned both accoutrements and bottoms—remember Tom Ford’s thong?—is all about active la dolce vita. That Gucci can still burn such awakening fantasies is a attestation to the brand’s alluring appeal. Once you’ve been absorbed into its red-and-green web, it’s adamantine to abide its temptations. Like James Franco, the face of Gucci Pour Homme, who is a blur director, screenwriter, author, artisan and professor, as able-bodied as an Academy Award–nominated amateur and a daytime soap star, Gucci is adamantine to categorize. It’s a little bit country, with its equestrian motifs, a little bit bedrock ’n’ roll—Giannini loves ’70s bedrock stars—and it’s a lot glamorous, in a flashy, look-at-me way.
Befitting a cast with assorted personalities, Gucci has consistently admiring a assorted clientele. Princess Grace of Monaco was a customer, as were Sophia Loren, John Wayne, Samuel Beckett, Ronald Reagan, Raisa Gorbachev and, of course, Jackie O, whose hobo-style bag has been adapted and renamed the New Jackie. The hip-hop army has been a fan back the ’80s. “On any accustomed day in the Gucci abundance on Fifth Avenue, you can see Donald Trump or Jay-Z types, forth with bourgeois advance bankers,” says Jim Moore, the artistic administrator of GQ. “Gucci is its own lifestyle.”
And I’m not abiding I accord in it. Alike admitting I’ve been active in a double-G apple for several months now, I am not a double-G girl. Alike worse, my bedmate isn’t a double-G guy, which commonly wouldn’t be an issue, but we’ve been arrive to the Gucci Award for Women in Cinema dinner. (The award-winning went to actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain.) Gucci mentioned it was atramentous tie alone afterwards we’d accustomed in Venice. I’d abiding a brace of atramentous cottony pants and a chic blouse, which I’m acquisitive will be okay, but my bedmate didn’t backpack a tuxedo, because he doesn’t commonly biking with one. We’re at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection back we get the aboriginal of a abiding beck of e-mails from a Gucci PR woman. She needs my husband’s size. We’re central the Church of Santa Maria Della Salute back my corpuscle buzz rings. She wants to apperceive what I’m wearing. I acquaint her. Continued pause. “Do you accept jewelry?” she asks.
Ultimately I get to abrasion my own clothes, but Gucci sends my bedmate to the San Marco store, area he’s adapted into a atramentous suit. (It will afterwards be alternate and conceivably acclimated as a VIP accouterment for a approaching appearance emergency.) My husband, whose adulation for clothes begins and ends on a ski slope, is aback beguiled with his new suit. “I feel like James Bond,” he says. Clearly Gucci’s got him.
The aing morning I accommodated Giannini at the Cipriani Hotel, area a PR controlling sits in on the interview. A agenda recorder rests on the table, and it’s already running. Annihilation about Gucci is spontaneous. Everyone stays carefully on message, endlessly reciting the words “heritage,” “craftsmanship,” “artisan,” “legendary” and, yes, “iconic.”
Giannini, who is 39, is cutting a continued cottony dress in a ablaze burnt orange that evokes the films of Luchino Visconti at his best sumptuous. (Gucci donated money to advice restore the director’s ballsy drama Il Gattapardo.) She tells me that Gucci has two souls, one aloof and elegant, the added bedrock ’n’ roll. Today she’s channeling the former. Tastefully fabricated up, with basal jewelry, she has a appealing face, with aphotic eyes, admirable beefy bark and a rich, agreeable voice. Nathalie Massenet, the artist of Net-A-Porter, says Giannini is “the apotheosis of the avant-garde Gucci woman”—someone who creates clothes that fit her “glamorous, jet-setting, successful” life. Yet Giannini, like the cast she represents, has a added acceptable side. “She loves annihilation bigger than to go to her bank house, ride her horses and comedy with her dogs,” says Olivia Mariotti, a advice and cast adviser who has accepted the artisan back her canicule at Fendi. “She’s not a activity animal.”
Born and aloft in Rome, Giannini is the alone adolescent of an artist and an art history teacher. She credits her affectionate grandmother, who had a accouterment boutique, with alarming her adulation of fashion, and her uncle, a DJ, for introducing her to music. Afterwards belief appearance design, she was assassin by Fendi, area she formed on iterations of its accepted Baguette bag. In 2002, Tom Ford broke the then-29-year-old to architecture handbags at Gucci—not an bush job, accustomed that covering appurtenances annual for 80 percent of the company’s business. Two years later, back Ford larboard afterwards a arrangement altercation with PPR, which was afresh run by French administrator François Pinault and now by his son, François-Henri, she was eventually called his successor.
What was Giannini’s acknowledgment back she abstruse the news? “I was screaming,” she says—and then, because of ascent stress, she developed abdomen ailments and dermatitis and had agitation sleeping. It was not the easiest of transitions. A newlywed, she additionally faced the accountability of alive she’d be compared to the man who was afresh the better superstar in fashion. She lacked Ford’s charisma, ego and theatricality. She was shy and didn’t like speaking in public. Her arrangement had the earmarks of a disaster, except that retailers and barter admired her mix of rock-chic and archetypal luxe. “I anticipation she was able appropriate from the beginning,” says Ron Frasch, admiral of Saks Fifth Avenue. Critics, however, were cool, if not absolute hostile. In 2008, Robin Givhan, afresh of theWashington Post, penned a bane analysis in which she criticized Giannini for axis the cast “into aloof addition aggregation hawking handbags and shoes.” Gucci, Givhan wrote, “had absent its panache.”
Giannini admits it took time to acquisition her way. “I didn’t appetite to imitate Tom,” she explains, “but at the aforementioned time, I didn’t appetite to aish what he’d done, because Tom had redesigned Gucci in a ablaze way. But the advancing attractiveness wasn’t allotment of my DNA. I capital to move from attractiveness to sensuality. I was criticized at the beginning. I was a analyzer of myself as well. I didn’t apperceive what administration was appropriate for the company.”
After a aeon of balloon and error, Giannini begin it. “She has fabricated Gucci adolescent and spirited,” Moore says. “She loves music, and all of a abrupt in the men’s collections you had these air-conditioned rocker dudes. It was brilliant, because everybody’s alert to their iPods. She has accustomed Gucci commodity that was allotment of her affection and soul, yet she still maintained the akin of luxury.”
Today she’s blessed actuality the woman abaft the brand, clashing Ford, who was ultimately bigger than Gucci, which is why, in part, he’s no best there. (Ford beneath to animadversion for this article.) “After about ten years, it’s difficult to bisect myself from Gucci,” she says. “I adulation this company, and I accept such account for its history.”
The company’s history is riveting, abounding with jealousy, betrayal, murder—and lots of shoes and bags. The adventure begins in 1921, back Guccio, the aboriginal GG, opened a baby leather-goods boutique on the Via Vigna Nuova, in Florence. Afterwards against a covering curtailment during the war, he developed alloyed hemp printed with baby commutual amber diamonds. It became Gucci’s aboriginal signature. In 1953, Gucci and his son, Aldo, came to New York and busy amplitude in the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, which was afresh a popular Mad Men hangout. (The General Motors architecture took the hotel’s place.) With Don Draper’s aptitude for self-invention, Aldo spun a account that he hailed from an illustrious band of blue-blooded saddlemakers and began accumulation equestrian themes.
Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was appear in 1960, and Gucci, the aboriginal cachet characterization to appear out of Italy, became alike with the gluttonous apple of Rome’s café society. To access that world, Americans bare one thing: the Gucci loafer. Growing up in Oklahoma City, Jim Gold, the admiral of specialty retail for the Neiman Marcus Group, anticipation they were the “ultimate attribute of European cool.”
By the ’70s, Gucci had three boutiques on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, area its assuming salespeople becoming the ire of New York magazine, which dubbed Gucci “the rudest abundance in New York.” Equally acid was Gucci’s affirmation on shutting its doors amid 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. “It was mystifying,” says Frasch. “All I kept cerebration was, Don’t bodies boutique on their cafeteria hour?”
A decade later, Gucci accustomed its advise back Aldo created a band of cheaper products, like lighters and keychains, that blah the brand’s angel and encouraged counterfeiting. Meanwhile, Aldo’s son, Paolo, active him for tax evasion, and Aldo anguish up in a Florida prison. With Aldo out of the way, Paolo conspired to get rid of his cousin, Maurizio, who had acquired ascendancy of the company. Tired of ambidextrous with his artful relatives, Maurizio abiding with Andrea Morante—now CEO of Pomellato, the Italian adornment company, but at the time at Morgan Stanley—to acquisition an broker to buy out the blow of the family. Afterwards Bahrain-based Investcorp stepped in, Maurizio absorbed Bergdorf Goodman admiral Dawn Mello to Florence. “When I aboriginal heard, I thought, She’s activity where?” says Frasch. It was not a blessed marriage. Mello attempted to improve the brand, creating the Gucci angishore in a aggregation of pastels. “But whenever annihilation got too fashion-y,” says Richard Lambertson, the administrator of Tiffany’s Covering Collection, who was afresh Gucci’s architecture director, “Maurizio got actual upset.”
In a few abbreviate years, the aggregation absent $60 million, and Maurizio himself was abysmal in debt. “Investcorp absolutely freaked,” says Morante, who badly approved to acquisition a client but was told the cast was dead. Maurizio was affected to advertise his shares, and afterwards 72 years, Gucci was no best a family-run business.
Ford, who’d been originally assassin by Lambertson to architecture women’s ready-to-wear, became artistic director. From the moment in 1995 back archetypal Amber Valletta sauntered bottomward the aerodrome in a brace of dejected clover hip-huggers and an apart lime-green shirt, one activity was clear: the old Gucci was dead. As if that bare added clarification, a few weeks later, Maurizio was in actuality dead—the victim of a hit man assassin by his ex-wife and her aing friend, a Neapolitan psychic.
During Ford’s eight-year tenure, he angry Gucci into one of the best agitative appearance brands in the world. “Gucci had never been adult before,” says Mark Holgate, Vogue’s appearance account director. “That all afflicted beneath Tom. He accepted the ability of ’70s imagery. He attenuated the assured female of New York, back Studio 54 was a animal playground, with the abandon and the allure of Rome in the celebrity canicule of Gucci. He did it with such wit and appearance and alive winks. He was brilliant.”
In aloof four years, Ford and Domenico De Sole, who was Gucci Group’s administrator and CEO, added the company’s acquirement from $250 actor to $1 billion. “The cast became the turnaround adventure of the nineties,” says David B. Yoffie, a assistant at Harvard Business School, who discusses the aggregation in his classes. And then, in 2004, Ford and De Sole abdicate afterwards PPR, which had purchased Gucci three years earlier, banned to accommodated their demands. “Everybody was so in adulation with Tom,” says Morante. “But Pinault wasn’t in love. Pinault is a businessman.” Vogue editor in arch Anna Wintour speculated that Ford’s abrogation would be a “catastrophe.” But it wasn’t. “Gucci’s a adamantine cast to kill,” says Frasch. “Believe me, bodies accept tried.”
I’m benumbed in a atramentous BMW headed to Gucci headquarters, amid in a suburb of Florence. Thirty annual later, my driver, who is cutting the affectionate of super-chic glasses alone Italians can get abroad with, drops me off at an automated esplanade in Casellina. I could be on the moon, or in a Michelangelo Antonioni movie. Area is everybody? The capital building’s autogenous is ablaze white. There isn’t a atom of dust or clay anywhere, alike on the white floors.
Several artisans, all cutting beautifully apple-pie white lab coats, are cat-and-mouse to accost me. I accept entered Forever Land. Piled aerial on several continued tables are huge skins, all in the action of acute makeovers. Speaking through a translator, the branch administrator lifts the debris of a gigantic python, cogent me that Giannini, back she isn’t administering the artisans to acrylic the banknote gold or jade, brand them au naturel. Aing we move on to the crocodiles. Did I apperceive there were a cardinal of altered types? I did not and never absolutely cared, but crocodiles, back absolute a aces aristocratic blue, accept a agreeableness they don’t acquire in the wild.
I’m anesthetized on to an artisan who shows me how the reptile’s bark achieves its admirable gloss. He takes a baby allotment of dejected croc and, agilely borer a bottom pedal, polishes it with an agate-stone machine. Addition craftsman, application a simple blade, slices a allotment of lavender crocodile with the accomplishment and ability of a surgeon. It will eventually become a New Jackie, with a amount tag starting at $24,900. It can booty seven to 13 hours to accumulate aloof one bag, although alone the prototypes are fabricated in this workshop, with bounded subcontractors bearing the rest. All of Gucci’s covering goods, shoes and ready-to-wear items are still fabricated in Italy.
A few hours later, I’m in addition atramentous BMW on my way to the aperture of Mario Testino’s “Todo o Nada” (“All or Nothing”) exhibition in Rome. Gucci, which has enjoyed a continued accord with Testino—he attempt ads during Ford’s tenure—is a sponsor. If there’s annihilation that will accomplish you anticipate appearance minimalism is for the fainthearted, it’s continuing about with a agglomeration of acutely bistered Roman women in bound dresses, boundless heels and bags of gold jewelry. Why did I abrasion a apparent fleet suit? An angel of Katharine Hepburn as the damsel academy secretary in Summertime pops into my head. That’s the one area she goes to Venice, has an activity with handsome Rossano Brazzi, alone to acquisition out he’s married, and allotment to Akron, Ohio. Alone.
The aing day, as allotment of my research, I arch to the Gucci abundance on Via Condotti. Afterwards I stop at a adverse on the capital attic to adore a Jackie bag in dejected python, the bagman urges me to blooper it over my shoulder. It isn’t me. I’m not abiding the Jackie bag would accept been Jackie either, but this is the New Jackie and maybe it’s the New Me. I apprehend a blatant articulation whisper Buy the bag, buy the bag. It’s like actuality in the Garden of Eden, alone the serpent is a python and it’s talking like Jackie with an Italian accent. I arch upstairs, area the crowds accept attenuated out. I atom an affected suede anorak that’s been apparent bottomward 50 percent. It’s a admirable anemic gray that is so impractical, it could alone be beat in the Apple of Gucci. But I’ve begin my Rossano Brazzi. I try it on. It fits beautifully. But I’m not a Gucci girl. Or am I? I booty it off and acknowledgment it to the sales rack. Addition chump eyes it. I blooper it on again, active my duke up and bottomward the material. The covering is so bendable and animal that I feel about anemic at the knees. Now I’m Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Yes, I said, yes, I will. Yes.
Ten annual later, I’m walking bottomward Via Condotti with a huge double-G arcade bag. I was activity to the Vatican Museum, but I anticipate I’ll accept cafeteria first. I adjustment some pasta and a bottle of wine. I commonly don’t eat carbs and never alcohol during the day. But activity is short, Rome is beautiful, and if I don’t discharge red wine on my jacket, it should calmly aftermost Forever Now.
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