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f is for frida

Creative Director of Gucci in conversation with i-D Founder Terry Jones in The Inside/Outside Issue, 2009.

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How did you become involved in fashion?
Fashion has been a real passion since I was a child. I always loved drawing princesses and horses, then when I was a teenager I fell in love with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan and used to copy how she dressed; the lace gloves, the leggings, everything! From that point I understood how design, clothes and music could work together and soon after I had a talk with my parents about studying fashion. There was a strong discussion in my house as my parents wanted me to go to university to study something more academic because my father is an architect and my mother is a teacher. But I said ‘NO’! I wanted to do fashion. Then everything went so quickly. I enrolled at the Academy in Rome and I started to work for Fendi when I was 22-23 years old; I was very young. From that moment I never stopped. If I have a few seconds in my life to stop and look back, I think, ‘Oh my God!’

Were you ever tempted to follow your father and go into architecture?
Architecture is my second passion in life. I was involved in the concept of the new Gucci flagship stores in New York, Rome and London. I really wanted to put part of my second passion in my job and I think architecture is always very inspiring. Actually, I was enrolled at the Academy doing architecture for 6 months, but after six months I spoke to my father and told him, ‘In my next life!’

What gigs do you remember going to when you were younger?
I saw Michael Jackson, the Police, Bob Dylan and Madonna on tour in Italy during the early 90s. Of course when I was 14, 15 my parents couldn’t find me and they waited outside the stadium for me.

Were you a rebellious teenager?
Once, I dyed my hair completely black – a blue black, which was a very dark moment also in my life. My mother was totally shocked. She took me under the shower and she tried to scrub out the colour, which caused me a lot of pain!

Were you a Goth?
Maybe that was the moment of Depeche Mode. I still think they are great.

You recently collaborated with Chris Cunningham on the ‘Flora’ perfume advertising, is it the dark side that you are attracted to?
Yes, but you know, the work we did finally with Chris was not so dark. I took the dark side of Chris to create this magic effect of wind and flowers moving, this sort of butterfly girl.

How did the collaboration come about?
We worked with David Lynch on the first fragrance, which was an incredible experience. He has a dark side too! (Laughs) So, I thought that Chris Cunningham in a way was a younger version of David, of his vision, of his magic.

Why did you choose Abbey Lee as the face of ‘Flora’?
I chose Abbey because she’s so naive in a way. She modelled for the first time in my show one year ago, I really like her because she has a really new face and she’s a hippy – she comes from a hippy family. I thought she was the perfect one.

Do you identify with a hippy lifestyle?
My parents were hippies in the 70s, so in my mind I thought of how they used to dress and what I wore as a child. I always liked this hippy side and I think Gucci has a hippy side to uncover.

You are a keen equestrian, how often do you go horse riding?
I used to do dressage competitions when I was younger. Now I try to ride every time I have the opportunity.

You recently moved your team back to Rome, why did you do this?
Some of the team were in Milan, some were in London, some were with me in Florence and it was a logistical nightmare to manage. Florence is a beautiful place and so inspiring but after a while, you miss nightlife and art exhibitions. We travel a lot and the airport at Florence is very small, so it was a nightmare to find a connection flight, so for all these reasons we decided to move.

What are your favourite films?
I like historical movies like Elizabeth and Marie Antoinette...

Where do you holiday?
I never choose to travel because when I travel, I travel for work. Basically, in summer time I am not travelling as I prefer to stay in my house and do things like horse riding, cooking, sleeping and reading books! I take so many flights during the year that in August, when the rest of the world is moving, I prefer to not move.

Do you have a dream destination?
Mexico. I’ve never been there but everyone says that it’s so beautiful to see and to visit so I’m curious. Unfortunately August is not the best time to go to Mexico for the weather. You were appointed the Creative Director at Gucci at such a young age.

Did it feel surprising to you?
Gucci had to convince me a little bit at the beginning. Of course, I was thrilled when they proposed it to me, it was like a dream, but I was scared a little bit, as Gucci is such a big brand. From that moment my life has changed a lot. I had to learn to delegate, because at the beginning I was kind of crazy, I wanted to see every single piece! I’m still doing that, but in a more relaxed way.

What are your working relationships like with your team?
I don’t want to say that we are a big family, but I have to say that it’s true. I spend a lot of time with my team. Every single day I sit with them, we have conversations, I invite them to my house at the weekend, to the beach, for dinner so you create a real relationship. Basically we are living together, I spend more time with them than I do my best friends.

Would you say that you are ambitious?
Well, more than ambitious. I have always been a perfectionist and a control freak, but I never thought in my life that I would be the Creative Director of a brand like Gucci. Never, never, never in my life did I think this would happen; I was so surprised, I’m still surprised!