My Trip

Frida Giannini, Gucci’s Creative Director, Visits Shanghai (PHOTOS)

Gucci’s creative director, Frida Giannini, documented her trip to the Venice Film Festival for The Daily Beast last year. Now, she travels to Shanghai to stage the house’s first-ever fashion show there—and to celebrate its new campaign, starring Chinese superstar Li Bing Bing. From bargaining for jewels in the French Concession to rubbing elbows with Hilary Swank, she keeps a diary of her journey exclusively for The Daily Beast.

Courtesy of Andrew Juhl

Wednesday, April 18: Pudong Skyline, Rockbund and The French Concession

I first traveled to Shanghai three years ago when Gucci opened its Golden Eagle boutique here. From that moment on, this city of 23 million people has fascinated me. As a designer, the contrasts one sees in just a single block provoke, transport, and ultimately inspire. From the sci-fi Pudong Skyline to the gracious French Concession (one of the few historic areas saved from demolition) to the Shanghainese people—this city offers a perspective you could never find in the West.

We’re here for a major fashion event, but before fittings, meetings, and interviews get underway, I’m taking a day to explore Shanghai.

First stop, the Rockbund Museum, a new space in what is sure to become a vibrant new area of the city. Located on the northern part of the Bund, the cluster of one-time colonial buildings are currently being restored and converted by a team of international architects, including David Chipperfield. We take in an exhibit by Michael Lin, an artist known for his giant creation of traditional Hakka (Southern China) floral paintings.

We hit the Dongtai Road Antiques Market where, I have to say, I do a pretty good job of bargaining. It’s an art form here and they expect you to haggle. From there we get in the car—driving in this city is heart-racing activity in itself—and head to the Tianzi Fang enclave in the French Concession. Largely hidden from the main thoroughfare, this former residential area dating to the 1930s is now home to local artists, designers, and many cafes. In fact you can get lost in its labyrinthine alleyways. There’s really only one thing I’m looking for—jade for my mother. And I find a beautiful piece, an antique butterfly brooch, inside the store of local jewelry designer Pu Shi. It’s part of her private collection, but she parts with it anyway. I know my mother will love it.

Thursday, April 19 & Friday, April 20: Li Bing Bing, Final Fittings, and Interviews

For the first time, we created an exclusive accessory advertising campaign for China, starring the beautiful Li Bing Bing. We’ve been dressing the award-winning actress for quite some time and she even came to the opening of the Gucci Museo in Florence last year.

To celebrate the campaign, shot by Sølve Sundsbø in London, we hold an intimate champagne brunch inside the historic Wai Tan Yuan, a colonial building on the grounds of the Peninsula hotel, which was also the former seat of the British Consulate. As soon as Li walks in, she’s stormed by local paparazzi. Lapo Elkann, in Beijing the other night for the launch of the 500 by Gucci cabriolet, is on hand too, along with a mix of international and local press and Shanghainese society.

Li looks gorgeous in the campaign. During the shoot, her hair was straight and pulled back, but at the last minute I decided I wanted something sleeker. As we’re talking about the shoot, she tells me that she really liked her hair in the end, and says that she thought she looked “both tough and sexy.”

Following the brunch, I check in on my team, which has been working on fittings for tonight’s runway show and then head back to the hotel where I will do a series of interviews for international titles from Barcelona to Beijing.

Saturday, April 21: Runway Redux, Hilary Swank and A Terrace With a View

The main event is finally here. Putting together a runway show in your home country is an undertaking; staging one in Shanghai for more than 500 guests is something entirely else. We wanted to give our guests a true Italian experience and recreated the Gucci show space, down to the plush burgundy rug and hanging bouquet of mini gardenias and orchids used in Milan for the Fall/Winter 2012-2013. For the first time ever, we’re showing men’s and women’s on the runway together and I’m looking forward to seeing both collections side by side. For the show, we’ve flown in Gucci girls, like Karmen Pedaru and Nadja Bender, but have also cast top Chinese models, including Fei Fei and Bonnie Chen. Before the lights go down, our special guest, Hilary Swank, slips into the front row, next to Bryan Ferry, Lapo and Li. There’s an energy in the air and it carries over to post-show party, just behind the runway tent in the RockBund.

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We’ve taken over three floors of a former bank in the RockBund to create the first ever Gucci Club—a 360-degree experience that melds Italian heritage with the vibrancy of Shanghai. We’ve brought over our historic archives, including the Gucci Premiere dress Hilary Swank wore to the 2011 Oscars Ceremony, and erected a video installation of our Florentine Museo. But that’s the just the beginning. Bryan Ferry takes the stage and the party gets underway. I’m up near the front, dancing with everyone. Bryan is clearly enjoying himself because he decides to play an additional three songs. Following the performance we retreat to the sixth floor, to cool off on the terrace, taking in the wildly other skyline, dark and calm under the nighttime mist, before heading back down to the second floor to dance to Belgian MCs, 2manydjs. It’s going to be a late night—but a memorable one indeed.