THE people organising press coverage for Dawn Mello, executive vice-president and creative director of Gucci, had a couple of requests. ''Could you give us a list of the questions you'll ask Ms Mello?'' said a local PR person. ''Also we'd prefer you focused on the restructuring of Gucci and not mention the um, problems of the past.'' Bulls confronted with red flags react in amazingly similar fashion to journalists who cop this sort of thing. There was more. ''No photographs at the interview,'' the PR said sternly. ''The next day would be better.'' The object of this excessive solicitude was dumbfounded. ''No pictures? How ridiculous!'' said the perfectly willing Ms Mello. Within minutes arrangements had been. Some happy snaps at the official reopening of the Gucci boutique in the Landmark later in the day would be just fine. She is tall - just a shade under 5ft 10in - slender and moves in that oddly feline way you associate with catwalks. ''I used to be a model,'' Dawn Mello confessed. ''Who for? Nobody very important. Anyway that was a long time ago.'' In October 1989 the leggy Bostonian who had risen to the top of one of America's top fashion stores, created a sensation when she joined Gucci, the scandal-soaked Italian house whose ruling family was once described by a member as resembling ''life with the Borgias''. Undeterred, Mello had resigned as president of Bergdorf Goodman and traded Manhattan for Milan. Why? ''I'd wanted to live in Italy ever since I left school - and I wanted to work with Maurizio. ''If you were to meet him you would understand why. He's the most inspiring person and really wanted to restore Gucci to its former glory. I was very flattered when he asked me.'' Maurizio Gucci, the 42-year-old grandson of founder Guccio Gucci, became president of the company in May 1989, sharing it 50-50 with Investcorp, a Bahrain-based outfit which had bought out his battle-scarred Uncle Aldo and other warring relatives. The only child of Rodolfo Gucci, who gave up a promising movie career to join the family firm, Maurizio fled Italy in the early 80s after he was charged with fraud - he had forged his deceased father's name in order to gain control, the family testified - but later had his conviction overturned and returned victorious. It was the final chapter in a bitter feud embroiling two generations whose vicious intrigues had descended to soap opera and it left a big question: could even the fiercely determined Maurizio redeem the House of Gucci? Enter Dawn Mello. At Bergdorf Goodman, this mild-mannered superwoman had reshaped the once-stodgy store into a dynamic fashion leader whose coups were soon legend. ''We held the first fashion show Giorgio Armani ever did outside Milan,'' she recalled. ''We also did shows for Fendi, Montana and Gaultier, discovered Azzedine Alaia and gave boutiques to people like Donna Karan and Geoffrey Beene.'' Her task at Gucci was infinitely more formidable. What that fine leather craftsman Guccio had launched so proudly in 1922, had descended into a bloated mess whose numerous products - 20,000 when Maurizio took over - had become synonymous with tacky. Today, product lines stand at a manageable 5,000, Gucci boutiques worldwide - all given a single co-ordinated style - have been reduced to 180 and the label is rapidly making inroads on upmarket women's fashion. Any reservations about the creative boss's formula dissolved early this month when Gucci presented its Autumn-Winter 93-94 ready-to-wear collection in Milan along with giants such as Armani and Versace. ''An example of cool, controlled fashion with no gewgaws or glitter, but plenty of luxury,'' a warmly approving Bernadine Morris wrote in the New York Times. From Britain came more praise. ''For the woman who has to work for a living, Gucci offered some sumptuous, smart alternatives to power dressing,'' said the Independent, referring to the house as a ''mighty Italian name''. Dawn Mello makes her role in all this very clear. ''I'm a conceptualist, not a designer. I leave that to a team which reports to me. ''It's headed by an American, Tom Ford and is very international. We have designers from Italy, Japan, Britain and Switzerland. ''The entire company has changed. There's been a tremendous upgrade in quality and attention to design, while upholding Gucci's traditional aspects. Essentially, we are a leather goods firm. ''In the beginning, we took some products which we felt had been downgraded off the market. The idea was to refine them and reintroduce them in a proper way.'' A stunning success has been the saddle-shaped Bamboo Bag, with its signature handle. First introduced in 1957 in black calf, it's now available in everything from lizard to wild boar and a mini version for evening comes in brilliantly-hued satins. ''We've added a lot of colour to Gucci,'' Mello said. ''Essentially, it was a brown company and when we went into colour in a big way, it caused quite a lot of controversy. ''The fun of it is in giving lines new materials and often changing the scale. ''When Gucci started, few women were working outside the home. Now we do briefcases and tote bags for them.'' With her Latin name - ''Portuguese in origin, not Italian'' and passion for things Italian, Mello fits in well in Milan. ''It's a working city and in that sense it's a lot like New York, though behind those walls you'll often find the most beautiful homes and gardens.'' Behind Dawn Mello lies a major influence. ''My father. He was was an inventor of sorts. Also a vegetarian and an environmentalist - a man way ahead of his time.'' With celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty stepping into Gucci loafers and fashion leaders like Donna Karan singing Mello's praises, the famous interlocked Gs once again stand for real currency in the fashion world. They still have a way to go in Hongkong though. As the bubbly was being downed at the Landmark, a street vendor was plying his wares a stone's throw away. Piled high on the cart were fake Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags - but not a single Gucci.