Frida Giannini, in a dress like a disco ball, its mirrored beads refracting wineglasses and palm trees and famous people of all persuasions, wanted to dance. It was mid-May at the Hôtel du Cap, where Gucci and Vanity Fair were throwing a party to celebrate the second night of the Cannes film festival. Yachts twinkled in the distance. Inside, where soft lights gave everything a rosé glow, Harvey Weinstein was deep in conversation with producer Ryan Kavanaugh, while Naomi Campbell, with her rich and Russian boyfriend Vladimir Doronin, was inviting everyone to her 40th-birthday party. (In her enthusiasm, she snuffed out a cigarette on another partygoer’s forearm.)
Earlier in the day, Giannini, the creative director of Gucci, had lunched with Jennifer Lopez. “Are you going to dance with me tonight?” Lopez had asked.
“Ah, I would love to,” Giannini had replied. “Something like,” she recalled later, breaking into a hum, “‘I’m still Jenny from block.’”
But now, a problema: The DJ was playing “Ring My Bell.” The Gucci crew had already endured “Mack the Knife” and “Build Me Up Buttercup.” This would not do. Giannini, clutching a smudged glass of white wine, withdrew to an outdoor sofa with Bianca Brandolini d’Adda and her beau, Lapo Elkann (the Fiat heir). While they whispered and lit one another’s cigarettes, a Gucci factotum went to have a word about the soundtrack, and another set off to wrangle Lopez, whom Giannini had outfitted in a short, asymmetrical, dove gray cocktail dress with a feathered pouf attached to the right shoulder. Soon, Lopez and her husband, Marc Anthony, were escorted to greet Giannini. The group traded pleasantries, but the music was still not cooperating. After a few tentative shimmies, the disco summit fizzled and Lopez and Anthony swept out.
“Jennifer and Marc said, ‘Let’s go freak, Frida!’” Giannini recalled later. “It was going to be very difficult to be freak with that music!”
A self-described “ponytail girl,” with a taste for motorcycle boots, Marlboros and old vinyl—upon becoming engaged, she got a turntable instead of a diamond—Giannini is more partial to David Bowie or Depeche Mode than to Anita Ward. (Her other favorite bands are Pet Shop Boys, MGMT, Roxy Music and Friendly Fires.) If she were a piece of clothing, she would be a bomber jacket: tough and tanned. In fact, she began her career at Fendi, spending three seasons in ready-to-wear before moving to leather goods, where she helped to birth the seminal handbag of the seminal-handbag era, the Baguette. (If Giannini “cannot claim its maternity,” as she has said, she was at least a midwife to one of the world’s most lucrative pocketbooks.) In 2002 Gucci appointed Giannini to head its handbag department; within two years she had become the creative director for all accessories. The next few years were tumultuous for Gucci. Tom Ford, who had resuscitated the house, turning a moribund, dilute brand—in 1989 the company almost produced a Gucci-series Lincoln Town Car—into an $8.9 billion juggernaut, resigned in 2004. Giannini survived the doomed interregnum of Alessandra Facchinetti, emerging in 2006 as head of the entire label. If industry gossip is to be believed, the transition took place amid court intrigue worthy of a papal conclave. Giannini’s team retains a conspiratorial air. Her aides refer to themselves as “collaborators”; visitors to the company’s design headquarters, in Rome, are known as “externals.”