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With or without Ford, Gucci knows sex sells

Sex still sells. As Gucci last night showed its first womenswear collection since its star designer Tom Ford exited earlier this year, this was the message. The new creative force behind Gucci is Alessandra Facchinetti, who had previously worked closely with Ford as the head of his womenswear design studio. It is hardly surprising, then, that she can reproduce all his trademark looks exactly.

Opening her first solo show were the clinging pencil skirts, curvy jackets and skin-tight satin trousers that had become Ford's calling card. Jerry Hall and 1970s psychedelia were Facchinetti's stated inspiration. That was a decade Ford loved, too.

The new Gucci handbags still looked flashy and the heels were as high as ever. Almost every model carried a large, vintage-style bag cut from exotic alligator skins. But unlike her predecessor, Facchinetti does not oversee design of the profitable accessories ranges. Following Ford's departure in a boardroom coup, Gucci Group executives divided up his design duties. Scotsman John Ray now designs Gucci menswear and Frida Giannini accessories. Next week in Paris, Stefano Pilati will make his debut for Yves Saint Laurent, which Ford also designed.

Facchinetti's Gucci show yesterday suggested that she is more than capable of giving Ford's sexy silhouette her own slant. Romantic shades of sand, pale pink and warm browns were a touch more feminine than Ford's more brash palette. Tasselled fringes wound around cocktail dresses and crochet knits were used to create a sleek yet soft black halter dress.

The celebrities and vamps who love to wear Gucci need not worry. Facchinetti's Gucci remains just as va-va-voom as Ford would have had it. But she also introduced some sophisticated methods of construction, such as wrapping the body in layers of raw-edged silk. The beaded black and emerald green red-carpet frocks, closing the show in haze of golden glitter, were also deftly handled.

"I always felt in sync with Tom's design choices. Obviously, I am a different person and will impart my own vision of style for the Gucci woman," said the 32-year-old designer.

Audience reactions to the show last night were only cautiously positive. This can be attributed to a genuine sadness at Ford's absence. If Facchinetti's Gucci is a success then it will all be thanks to Ford's decade of careful brand-building. If on the other hand, it fails, the fault will be laid squarely at the door of the executives who let him go.