Chelsea Set take over the catwalk for Gucci show

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The Independent Online

Neat, A-line mini-dresses, Mod suede coats trimmed with patent and flat shiny black pumps: the Chelsea Set of the 1960s was on the Gucci catwalk for spring/summer 2007. But that wasn't all.

Designer Frida Giannini, 34, now in her third season as chief designer at the label, also sent out frilly baby-dolls in Celia Birtwell style prints; hippie tunics with Indian embroideries; tiny black mini-dresses with metal plates at the bosom that suggested the aggressive sexuality of Azzedine Alaia's designs in the 1980s; and a finale of long paisley gowns that recalled the bohemian designs of, er, Matthew Williamson.

The all-important new Gucci bag, meanwhile, is a punky, crescent-shaped number with a curved metal strap inspired by the steering wheel of a vintage sports car. Giannini described this collection as "a kaleidoscope of luxurious looks created from a few simple elements". But the final effect was simply confused.

Is Gucci, a label that not too long ago was setting fashion's agenda, having an identity crisis? According to the brand's money men, it is in rude health. Robert Polet, the president and chief executive of Gucci Group, which also owns brands including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta, has set a target of $3bn (£1.6bn) in revenues for the leather goods house by 2011. Last year Gucci revenues hit a record $2.2bn, so it is well on its way. And Giannini's accessories - in particular her best-selling "Flora" bags - are the products that have boosted the brand's coffers.

But Giannini's clothing collections have seemed less confident. Her first collection focussed on girlie, floral-printed tea dresses that divested the brand of any hint of the aggressive sexuality that its former designer Tom Ford made synonymous with Gucci in the late 1990s.

Veering in the opposite direction for her second collection shown last February, Giannini showed 1970s disco-diva dresses. Last night's show, held at the ballroom of the Hotel Diana, felt like an uncomfortable compromise between the two modes of dressing - winsome and wanton - that doesn't yet provide a convincing new direction for a brand that is recovering from a period of transition.

What Gucci has retained, and what consumers clearly still tap into, is an alluring heritage, in particular proved by the continued success of its monogrammed leather goods. Last night the brand celebrated its 85th anniversary with a party where a giant Gucci logo fashioned from leaves welcomed guests.

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