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August 6, 2013

Behind Chime for Change with Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini

With her Chime for Change initiative, Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini is not only sounding a clarion call to empower women around the world but also making philanthropy fashionable every season.


Photo Credit: Pari Dukovic

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Singing in the shower is a pleasure best kept to yourself—unless you're Frida Giannini. About a year ago, Gucci's creative director found herself humming the '80s anthem "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by the musicians collectively known as Band Aid, who had come together to raise money for famine relief. Dripping wet, Giannini came up with an idea.

"I was Generation Live Aid—I was almost 13 when the concert [in 1985] happened," recalls Giannini, who's just landed in London from her home base of Rome. "I'll never forget Bono, Sting, George Michael, all onstage singing that song, joining forces for Africa. So I thought, Gucci has to do something like that. And we have to do it for women." A few hours from now, Twickenham Stadium, the world's largest rugby arena, will play host to a pantheon of glittering pop divas like Beyoncé, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Florence Welch, and Mary J. Blige who are headlining the Sound of Change Live concert.

Starting Chime for Change, the umbrella organization connecting nonprofit groups dedicated to revolutionizing women's education, justice, and health, is just Giannini's latest pursuit. She already oversees the design of more than 10 annual women's, men's, and children's collections; the creation of fragrances, each promoted by advertising campaigns she produces; and the development of retail concepts. She travels the world to christen new stores, which now number 432. She also, by the way, has just welcomed her first child, the now 6-month-old Greta, with partner and Gucci CEO and President Patrizio di Marco, a relationship she'd kept secret for two years before going public in 2011.

"I'm still on maternity leave technically," says Giannini, 40. "The flight to London was Greta's first flight, and I was so nervous. I've traveled the world but never with a baby stroller." She then confesses to being thrown by a telephone call that came moments ago. "I'd been practicing my speech in the mirror, and now I hear I won't be going first but last—introducing Beyoncé! Can you believe it? Public speaking is painful for me. I prefer behind the scenes."

Cool, blonde, and wearing a black tunic and loose pants from the resort collection, in a chintzy, Aubusson-carpeted hotel room at The Dorchester, Giannini looks like a rock diva who has wandered onto the set of a Puccini opera. As if anticipating any notion of a disconnect between the subject of helping disadvantaged women and chitchat about exotic-skin bags for fall, Giannini swiftly shuts down the misperception. "The exploitation of women is not a rich vs. poor problem. Every day a woman is killed or raped by someone she knows, even in wealthy, First World countries. Chime for Change is about changing laws and changing lives." And changing sobering worldwide statistics—like 800 women die each day during pregnancy and in childbirth, or 60 percent of children not in school are girls, or two-thirds of illiterate adults are female. If there was a revelatory moment for Giannini when she knew she would devote herself to women's causes, it came on a 2009 trip to Malawi for UNICEF. "I was in a maternity ward where there had never been an incubator," she recalls. "I met a 15-year-old whose baby had just been born prematurely. While I was there, the baby died. And you don't forget that." Charity is a priority for the house, which has introduced a host of philanthropic initiatives that include supporting UNICEF (the 2008 Tattoo Heart bags with ads featuring Rihanna, the launch of the children's collection in 2011); helping to save the Amazon rain forest (a line of eco-friendly handbags earlier this year); and building a children's medical center in Urumqi, China. "A brand like Gucci," Giannini says simply, "needs to set an example." (Integrity starts at home: The company insists on gender parity in hiring, so women make up half of the staff.)

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