When thinking of the pioneers of fashion, one would often reminisce the visionary work of Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, and Ralph Lauren, amongst many others. Despite their highly individualized styles and fascinating backstories, there is one unifying factor which bonds each storied designer – they are all men. As such, today we honor one of the many remarkable women who have shaped and propelled fashion into the prodigious industry it has become.
Frida Giannini – Gucci 2002 to 2015
In many ways, Frida Giannini was the quintessential modern Gucci woman. Impeccably groomed, slim, with long honey-blonde hair, sharply parted at the center, Frida represented the epitome of a sexy yet understated sophisticated style that favored fitted black dresses, elegant trousers and silk tops, paired with an iconic pair of Gucci strappy-sandals.
Born in Rome on 7th January 1972, to an architect father and art history professor, Frida Giannini’s story starts from humble beginnings. As a middle-class Italian girl, Frida Giannini was part of a pivotal generation, and took great interest in the alluring romance of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the glamour and gender fluidity of David Bowie, the nostalgia which dominated Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Reflecting her earliest inspirations throughout her decade-long tenure as Head of Gucci, Frida Giannini was often seen at the forefront of celebrating brand heritage, in spite of an increasingly digitized climate.
Starting her career, as a fresh grad from Rome’s Academy of Costume and Fashion, at the Italian Fashion house, Fendi, in 1997, Frida Giannini worked on producing ready-to-wear collections for three seasons before receiving the promotion which allowed her to further explore the design of leather goods. It was in fact during her time at Fendi, that the Maison released a Baguette handbag so desirable and wildly successful, that even the French multinational corporation and conglomerate, LVMH, couldn’t resist cashing in on.
Hand-picked by the esteemed Tom Ford in 2002, Giannini furthered her career at Gucci at the young age of 24, working as Head of design for handbags and accessories until 2004. Upon Ford’s abrupt departure, the young designer was then promoted to Head of accessories, alongside Alessandra Facchinetti who oversaw women’s wear, and John Ray who took the reins of menswear. It wasn’t until 2005 that the up-and-coming visionary received her much-deserved opportunity as Head of both mens-and-womenswear, store design, advertising and communication, and ultimately full creative control of the Gucci brand.
As the face of an already well-established Maison, Frida Giannini remained sensitive to the brand’s long-standing clientele, thus prioritizing all customer bases in each and every collection. What started off as a subtle tweak to Tom Ford’s signature glam rock aesthetic which showcased ‘90s metallic accessories, platform shoes with an identical “car paint” high-shine finish, glitzy gold and purple oversized fur ensembles, and sequin-covered fabrics, quickly turned to streetwear collections offset by delicate party dresses, tropical-print shirts, and sharply tailored androgynous suits.
Through distancing herself from Ford’s overly sexed-up ‘70s disco-fever designs, Giannini was able to establish a distinct style of her own, which then became a trademark that represented her leadership of the brand. In the words of Vogue (2009), “Frida Giannini is from a different generation than Milan’s other female designers, and she sees fashion from a more pragmatic standpoint. Gucci now is a clearly segmented, businesslike collection with no pretense of being anything other than hip, immediately understandable clothes for a young global audience.”
Of her innumerable successes and historic career achievements, Frida Giannini most notably oversaw the opening of the Gucci Museum – a dedicated space intended to showcase not only the Maison’s most iconic archival pieces, but also the works of budding contemporary artists, and a series of breakaway collections from 2012 –, revamped the Bamboo handbag, modernized the psychedelic 1970s Gucci stripe, coined Gucci’s signature “Frida” narrow silhouette and slim-cut trousers, and strategically redesigned each Gucci boutique to facilitate natural light, whilst incorporating warm wood, alongside amber glass fixtures and fittings.
The designer is also accredited for contributing to the evolution of the Gucci it-bag by reworking classics from the label’s archives into new, fresh designs, alongside resurrecting the iconic Flora print, first commissioned by Rodolfo Gucci for Grace Kelly in 1966, by producing a range of vibrantly colorful yet nostalgic canvas bags which debuted in stores as part of the Maison’s 2005 Cruise collection.
Citing Studio 54’s finest, Anjelica Huston, as one of her biggest influences, Frida Giannini also named Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine as her muse during the Maison’s 90th anniversary. Designing a variety of outfits which Welch wore throughout her tours, the Head of Gucci is lionised for her riot of unexpected colour and texture which included, a collection of aquamarine, scarlet, citrine, burgundy, and violet joined velvet blazers, fur-collared coats, and feather-trimmed fedoras, effortlessly tied together with a traditional Gucci black pencil skirt.
Despite her accomplishments, the former creative director has since ceased her career in fashion, redirecting her energy into projects that are dear to her. As a board member of the United Kingdom’s Save the Children Fund, and long-standing supporter of UNICEF, the Roman designer continually made social issues a focus for both the brands she represents and for herself. Beyond transforming Gucci into a Maison of modernity, heritage, status, and hip-youthfulness, Frida Giannini will forever be remembered for her role in establishing Chime for Change, a global campaign which till this day, supports women’s and girls’ education, health services and justice.