Frida Giannini, Rebel With a Cause

Bandana Tewari speaks to Frida Giannini of Gucci at the LACMA Art + Film Gala about fashion’s ability to empower people and induce positive social change, courtesy of our friends at Vogue India.

(L) Celebrities at the LACMA Art + Film Gala; (R) Frida Giannini | Source: Vogue India

LOS ANGELES, United States — Last November, the biggest stars in Hollywood gathered at the annual LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Art + Film Gala to honour film director Martin Scorsese and British artist David Hockney. The gala co-hosted by Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, LACMA trustee and LA society doyenne Eva Chow and movie star Leonardo DiCaprio raised in the excess of $4.1 million, funds that will facilitate LACMA’s commitment to the art of filmmaking and film conservation.

The night before the gala, press were treated to the first screening of the recently restored Rebel Without a Cause, the tenth film to be restored as part of an on-going collaboration between Gucci and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, which aims to ensure iconic films are preserved for generations to come. Indeed, beyond the glitz and glamour, Gucci has been dedicating significant resources to positive artistic and social initiatives: from empowering women in cinema to championing women’s rights in education, justice and health through the company’s Chime for Change programme. The brand has also partnered with UNICEF.

It is inspiring to see how quickly fashion is shifting from being simply ‘fashion conscious’ to believing in and, more importantly, investing in ‘fashion conscience.’ In fact, the far-reaching power and influence of brands like Gucci mean that fashion has not only become mainstream, but also a near-perfect cultural tool to engage with the world community in matters of the heart.

How did this happen? I sat down with Gucci creative director Frida Giannini to find out.

Bandana Tewari: Fashion and film. What brought about this collaboration for you?

Frida Giannini: What I am doing at Gucci and with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation is talking about and preserving heritage, whether it’s in fashion or film. While we are restoring incredible milestones in the story of cinema at Gucci, we are working with pieces from the archives, retelling a story and maintaining the legacy of the brand. It’s working with its DNA but also making innovations. Last night at the screening of Rebel Without a Cause, we were surprised at the number of young people who came for the film. And we were all shocked that a film that was made in 1955 felt modern even today. Sentiments of teenage angst, love and betrayal were as real then as they are now. So, preservation is good as it connects one generation to the next.

BT: So do you think film is becoming a big way of expressing what Gucci stands for? We’ve seen art and fashion coming together again and again.

FG: From the time cinema was born, fashion has looked to films for inspiration and vice versa. But, more importantly, films and fashion have a common line of aesthetic. Gucci simply creates a connection between communities that we think are in love with each other. Whether it’s the creative director of a brand or director of photography for a film, both are looking for a kind of atmosphere, for a story. When I start a new collection or a new fashion show, I need to write a screenplay in a way, you know, I need to write a story. And then I build around the story with clothes, bags and shoes. Both require a narrative.

BT: Do you feel the fashion consumer has changed over time? Today people don’t just buy fashion, they want to know what they are buying into— ideologically and philosophically. ‘What does the brand stand for?’ seems to be top of mind.

FG: Yes, of course! To me, Gucci is not just a brand of clothes and accessories; it’s a lifestyle, and I think consumers are really interested in this. Not just the lifestyle of clothes and products but what it stands for ‘behind the scenes’. Every time we do an event or online initiative, especially a philanthropic one — like what we do with UNICEF or Chime for Change — our followers shoot up. They are not necessarily customers but certainly people who are interested in what we stand for. To have people engaged enough to ask “What is behind that project?’ or “What is behind, or goes into the making of the Disco bag?” is stimulating for me as a designer.

BT: What delights me is how involved you are with empowering women. Whether it’s at the Tribeca Film Festival or Venice Film Festival, it seems it’s important to you that you have a strong female voice. What motivated this?

FG: Well, first of all, I am a woman. I am one of the few women in this industry, and I think having a voice makes a difference. Personally, I feel it is very important that a brand like Gucci, which has such a strong voice around the world, sends out equally strong messages to the world. We are always looking at ways and means to engage with the world. The question that fuels all these activities is always “What can we do? What more can we do?” to create attention, to create awareness.

BT: Is this the reason you got involved with Chime for Change?

FG: I decided to do this concert, this new version of Live Aid, but fully dedicated to women. I grew up with Live Aid, so I have very strong memories of that event, and it was huge. I asked myself, “Why can’t we repeat something like this, but focus on the topic of female empowerment?” And the involvement of women like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez was crucial because I needed some of their knowledge and know-how. After all, these women are personally invested in philanthropy; they all have their own foundations. Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez don’t need a concert from us. Nor does Salma Hayek-Pinault need the publicity. They participated because it meant something to them. They believe in change. And I think it is something that is really current today because, not only in India, not only in Pakistan, not only in Afghanistan but also in Italy, every day a woman is dying, a woman is raped. We have a lot to do.

BT: Fashion and female empowerment?

FG: Of course! Fashion is not always about clothes, bags and shoes. To me, fashion today is a great, great tool of communication.

BT: Now that you’re a mother to a little girl, how have your perceptions changed?

FG: She has brought an incredible energy to my life — I never feel tired, I never feel nervous. Her smile in the morning gives me the power and fuel for the day. I feel all these initiatives are done to ensure a better world for my daughter and her generation.

BT: Talking about strong women, your spring/summer 2014 collection had strong yet slouchy and sexy written all over it. What was playing on your mind?

FG: It’s a summer collection, so I began thinking about colours, about lightness. I really wanted to take a risk, to move in a different direction. When you have to produce a collection every three months, you have to invent something different. I was intrigued with the idea of mixing two worlds of Gucci — sports and craft. So there were all these athletic details that came together with the craftsmanship — precious fabrics, big patterns from 1920s Erté. I loved the idea of a loose, relaxed attitude in a sporty collection, yet with bold, bright colours. And, of course, lamé, which I think is again part of our story, part of our Studio 54 heritage, in a way.

BT: How do you keep yourself creatively excited, constantly?

FG: I keep in touch with the younger lot. I have people in my office who are 20 years old, brimming with fresh ideas. This allows me to innovate and re-think my creative process. And, of course, nothing beats travelling the world. It’s the best way to see reality.

A version of this article first appeared in Vogue India.