Overcast skies and a steady drizzle have the hotel staff apologizing to the international journalists who have come to Rome for the launch of Flora by Gucci, set to debut in stores in April. But it would take more than a few heavy clouds to dim the allure of the Eternal City — or to slow down Frida Giannini, Gucci’s creative director.

Wearing little makeup, except for dramatic black false eye­lashes, the tall and slim blond dynamo exudes modern Italian cool in her all-black outfit (tunic, leggings, long scarf and knee-high leather boots), which includes a black-diamond ring on her pinky finger. With a view of the lush Borghese Gardens behind her, the Roman-born Giannini settles into a black leather chair, glances at the rain-lashed windows and says that she doesn’t even recognize her beloved city under the deluge. Since joining Gucci in 2002 as handbag design director and being appointed creative director in 2005, Giannini has proven to the naysayers that there is life after Tom Ford — and, in addition to the strong fashion collections, new fragrance launches have boosted the company’s fortunes.

On the heels of Giannini’s first fragrance launch, Gucci by Gucci, comes Flora by Gucci, described as its more carefree younger sister. The scent was inspired by Giannini’s favourite archival print, Flora, which was originally used to create a silk scarf for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1966. This floral-themed fragrance is built around heart notes of rose and osmanthus (a Chinese flower), with a citrus/peony top note and a sandal­wood/patchouli base.

It’s a light-hearted, easy-to-wear scent that promises to be another block­buster for the brand. The accompanying ad campaign features Australian model Abbey Lee Kershaw in a diaph­anous black-and-white Flora-print chiffon gown. Standing in a cornfield, she is surrounded by 40,000

silk flowers.

“I love the optimism of Italians. We live life day-to-day, and we know how to enjoy life,” says Giannini. She admits that the biggest personal sacrifice she has had to make in order to do the job is cut down on night-clubbing. “I try to have a balance between this job and my private life, and I’m lucky because my husband can travel with me. I love to party, to go out, but I can’t do it as much now. I used to be able to party until 4 a.m. and then wake up and go to work at 7:30. Now, even when I want to sleep in, I still get up early!”

Giannini attributes her success to being the right designer for Gucci at the right time. “Tom designed in the ’90s, and I’m designing now. He’s a man; I’m a woman. The times are different. I put my soul, my experience as a woman, into the job,” she says. She joined Gucci when she was only 30 years old and admits that she built her confidence step-by-step: “I had no direction at the beginning. I was really unsure of myself.” Women embraced her designs, and, with each commercial success, her vision for the brand grew. “Fashion critics criticize; that is their job,” says Giannini. “My job is to design.” She says that she receives no shortage of advice (“My mother gives me advice all the time!”) and gains strength from the women in her family who have always worked, including her grandmother, who owned a ready-to-wear boutique in Rome. “Part of the world still wants women to live in the Middle Ages, and we have to fight fanaticism, but many more women today have the freedom to choose, to have careers, to create,” says one of the world’s chicest ambassadors for
la dolce vita.