Gucci (Est. 1921) In 2016, Forbes Magazine declared that Gucci was Number 44 on its list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands. It is therefore surprising that it was not that long ago – only a generation; in the early 1990s- – that Gucci underwent what is now seen as the weakest time in its long history.
The company, popular and well-known for accessories that include jewelry, watches, wearing apparel, and other lifestyle items from handbags to shoes, plus children’s clothing, small leather goods, and opulent, artistic, and glamorous fragrances prospered through the 1970s. In the 1980s the brand was marked by internal family strife and disputes that brought Gucci to the brink of disaster.
The Fashion House of Gucci history began with its founder Guccio Gucci (1881 – 1953) who was an Italian businessman and fashion designer. Guccio was the son of a Florentine craftsman and while, still a young boy, moved to Paris and then to London, quickly becoming Maitre d’Hotel at the Savoy. There, in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, Guccio observed and absorbed culture, ideas, style and sophistication.
Inspired by elegant upper-class guests and the luggage they carried many manufactured by companies such as H.J. Cave & Sons, he returned to Florence and began making travel bags and accessories. He founded the House of Gucci in Florence in 1921 as a small family-owned leather saddlery shop and began selling leather bags to 1920’s horse owners.
Florence was known for producing both high-quality materials and skilled artisans. Guccio’s shop sold fine leather goods with classic styling. Although he organized his workrooms using industrial production methods, he maintained traditional aspects of fabrication. At first, Gucci employed skilled workers in basic Florentine leather crafts who were attentive to finishing. As the business grew and expanded, production included machine stitching to support construction.
As a young man, Guccio rapidly built a reputation for quality, hiring the best craftsmen he could find to work in his business. In 1938, Gucci expanded to Rome.
His one-man business soon evolved into a family company when his sons Aldo (1905-1990), Vasco (1907–1975), and Rodolfo (1912–1983) joined the firm. Gucci and his wife, Aida Calvelli, had six children. Keeping with tradition, the sons held prominent roles in the company.
In the 1930s, the equestrian-inspired collection of bags, trunks, gloves, shoes and belts met with great success, due to the many sophisticated travelers flocking to Florence. It was during this time that the diamond pattern of the Diamante collection was developed.
In the 1940s, Gucci began experimenting with atypical luxury materials including hemp, linen and jute. One of the innovations to emerge at this time was burnishing cane, a technique used to create the handle of the Bamboo bag, whose curvy side was inspired by the shape of a saddle.
During World War II, the company’s handbags were made of cotton canvas rather than leather due to material shortages. The canvas, however, was distinguished by a signature ‘double-G’ symbol combined with prominent red and green bands. After the war, the Gucci crest, which showed a shield and armored
knight surrounded by a ribbon inscribed with the family name, became synonymous with the city of Florence.
In 1953, despite Guccio’s objections, Aldo and Rodolfo opened the first overseas Gucci shop in New York. That year was also marked Guccio’s death which ended the firm’s initial era.
Gucci’s famous “GG” logo is the abbreviation of Guccio Gucci. It was first used in the early sixties, with a pattern in both single and double Gs that served as squared-off fastenings for bags. There is no doubt that the GG pattern is the most recognizable design for Gucci. Embossed into leather, stamped onto suede, printed on silks, woven into jacquards, patch-worked together in luxurious crocodile and lizard, the design is seen on many Gucci products.
The two interlocking G’s was invented by eldest son, Aldo Gucci, in 1933. Before long, the GG pattern developed into a diamond-shaped configuration woven into the best-selling cotton canvas luggage. From then on, GG pattern products became the favorite of movie stars and A-List celebrities like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Onassis.
Later, as Ugo, Vasco and Rodolfo joined the firm, Gucci expanded with handbags, luggage and gloves. By the end of the 1930s, the House of Gucci had begun selling ties and scarves by Aldo Gucci. In the early 1940s, Gucci opened stores throughout Italy. The legendary silk scarves and ties became integral parts of the firm’s offerings.
When Guccio Gucci died in 1953, early signs of the family strife to follow was evident as the brothers argued over the division of property. After long court trials, fifty percent of the company shares went to Aldo, who headed the firm. But disputes continued as family members made claims against each other and precipitated lawsuits from all sides.
Even as the legal issues continued, the firm grew and prospered. The late 1960s marked the explosion of the “Status Symbol” and Gucci, along with fellow Florentine designer, Pucci, were among the first Italian names recognized worldwide. Production increased and the biggest Gucci factory was opened on the outskirts of Florence.
It was during this time that purses with a shoulder strap and a snaffle-bit decoration were introduced. In 1964 Gucci’s lush butterfly pattern was custom-created for silk foulards, followed by equally luxuriant floral patterns. The original Gucci loafer – introduced in the early 1930s – was updated by a distinctive snaffle-bit ornament in 1966 and the Rolls-Royce luggage set was introduced in 1970. Watches, jewelry, ties, and eyewear were then added to the company’s product lines.
Gucci’s philosophy is “Forever now,” and the brand celebrates the creativity of the past as an inspiration for the future.”
Its jewelry line consists of rings, bracelets, earrings, cufflinks, necklaces, and pendants in 18k yellow, white and rose gold, with and without diamonds. Some of the pieces are embellished with colored stones. Sterling silver is also used to craft the Gucci fashion jewelry line. The fine jewelry line offers a range of engagement rings and wedding bands. All Gucci jewelry is developed and handcrafted by skilled goldsmiths and manufactured in Italy.
The House of Gucci became interested in the creation of watches only in 1997 when it acquired Severin Montes, a Swiss watch factory. Gucci’s watches offer stylish design combined with practicality. The
intention is to show refined taste and a sense of style that also indicates solvency and high status since not everyone can afford a Gucci watch.
Male and female lines of Gucci watches are made of stainless steel with high quality gold and are platinum-plated and employ both sapphire and other crystals. Straps are mainly steel, high-quality leather and rubber. Movements of the watches include quartz, mechanical, manual, and mechanic.
Gucci annually produces more than two hundred different types of watches. The first collection of watches had a long rectangle of stainless steel with dial numbers missing. The leather strap on the round watch as well as the gold and diamond variations came later.
Gucci watches made their original impact with a wristwatch that was key to its ultimate success in the watch industry. Men’s watches are part of the Pantheon Collection. On a black leather strap, Gucci watches with sapphire crystals and the numbers on the dial are covered with a special compound to glow in the dark.
The eye-catching and unique design of ladies’ watches is easily identifiable. Highlights of women’s watch designs include the Gucci LED Wrist Watch that is produced in the form of a bracelet. LED technology allows the creation of watches with a ‘sliding door’ display. The sliding cover that hides the LED display easily turns the watch into an elegant bracelet with only a flick of the wrist.
Despite growing and continued popularity with the public, even in Gucci’s fledgling years the family was notorious for ferocious infighting. Disputes regarding inheritances, stock holdings, and day-to-day operations of its stores often divided the family and led to alliances.
As Gucci expanded overseas, board meetings about the company’s future often ended with tempers flaring and luggage and purses flying. Despite these distractions, Gucci targeted the Far East for further expansion in the late 1960s, opening stores in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Gucci remained one of the premier luxury goods establishments in the world until the late 1970s, when a series of disastrous business decisions and family quarrels brought the company to the verge of bankruptcy.
At the time, brothers Aldo and Rodolfo controlled equal fifty percent shares of the company, though Aldo felt that his brother contributed less to the company that he and his sons did.
In 1979, Aldo developed the Gucci Accessories Collection, or GAC, intended to bolster sales for the Gucci Parfums sector which his sons controlled. Aldo relegated control of Parfums to his son Roberto in an attempt to weaken Rodolfo’s control of the company’s overall operations. Though the Gucci Accessories Collection was well received, it proved a destabilizing force. Within a few years, the Parfums division began outselling the Accessories division.
The newly-founded wholesaling business had brought the once-exclusive brand to over a thousand stores in the United States with the GAC line. While looking good on paper, it deteriorated the brand’s standing with fashionable customers.
It didn’t take long before counterfeiters ravaged the company’s exclusivity by flooding the market with cheap knockoffs that further tarnished the Gucci name. Meanwhile, infighting was taking its toll on the
company’s Italian operation: Rodolfo and Aldo squabbled over the Parfums division of which Rodolfo controlled a meager 20% stake.
By the mid-1980s, when Aldo was convicted of tax evasion in the United States by the testimony of one of his sons, gossip magazine headlines generated as much publicity for the firm as its designs.
In 1983 Rudolfo died of cancer and his son, Maurizio, inherited his father’s share and took over running the business. Maurizio allied with Aldo’s son Paolo to gain control of the Board of Directors and consequently established the Gucci Licensing division in the Netherlands for tax purposes. Following this decision, the rest of the family left the company and, for the first time in years, one man was at the helm of Gucci. Maurizio sought to bury the fighting that had torn the company and his family apart and turned to outside talent for Gucci’s future.
Maurizio dismissed his uncle Aldo who eventually served a prison term for tax evasion. Despite these moves, Maurizio proved an unsuccessful president. He was compelled to sell the family-owned company to Investcorp, a Bahrain-based company, in 1988. Maurizio disposed of his remaining stock in 1993. During the 90’s, there was a lot of bad feeling between Maurizio and Investcorp that resulted in even more litigation.
Tragically, Maurizio was murdered in Milan in 1995, and his former wife, Patrizia Reggiani, was convicted of hiring his killers. Meanwhile, new investors promoted the American-educated Domenico De Sole from the position of family attorney to president of Gucci America in 1994 and chief executive in 1995.
As early as 1989, Maurizio had persuaded Dawn Mello, who revived New York’s Bergdorf Goodman in the 1970s and had become a star in the retail business, to join the newly-formed Gucci Group as creative director.
The last addition to the creative team, which already included designers from Geoffrey Beene and Calvin Klein, was young designer, Tom Ford. Raised in Texas and New Mexico, he had an interest in fashion since his early teens but only decided to pursue a career as a designer after dropping out of Parsons School of Design in 1986 as an architecture major. Dawn Mello hired Ford in 1990 at the urging of his partner, writer and editor Richard Buckley.
Dawn Mello returned to her job at Bergdorf Goodman less than a year after Maurizio’s 1993 departure and the position of creative director went to Tom Ford, who was then only 32. Ford had worked for years under the uninspiring direction of Maurizio and Mellow and wanted to take the company’s image in a new direction.
De Sole, who had been elevated to CEO, realized that if Gucci was to become a profitable company, it would require a new image, and so he agreed to pursue Ford’s vision. Ford had long been an avid follower of two of America’s top designers, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Klein, much like Ford, was a superstar designer and the archetype of his own brand of stylish, suave, and modern apparel. His provocative advertisements made his brand synonymous with eternal youth and the mystery of adolescent sexuality.
In 1995, Tom Ford’s Jet Set collection with velvet hipsters and satin body shirts in jewel colors was the sexiest of the season. His achievements turned the company around. Tom Ford’s approach proved so successful that it transformed Gucci into one of the most profitable Italian design houses.
From its start, like most fashion houses, Gucci used print advertising to promote its goods, but the controversial advertisements did not begin until Tom Ford and subsequently Frida Giannini took over the business. In the early 1920s print ads were not nearly as popular in the fashion industry as they are today. After Frida Giannini became the creative director for the business, sales reached an all-time high, in part due to the advertisements drawing growing attention to the brand name.
In early 2003 Gucci produced a highly popular advertisement which pictured a super model with her pants pulled down and her pubic hair shaved into a “G”. The Advertising Standards Authority (United Kingdom) received countless complaints. One came from the director of MediaWatchUK demanding that the ad be banned due to the belief it was “harmful to society”. Many believed that the outcry regarding the ad just fed the idea that Gucci was successfully using sex to sell their products. Although this was a point of contention between Gucci and the Advertising Standards Authority, scholars contend that Gucci continued to walk a thin line between offensive and acceptable advertisements.
Despite the fact that Gucci’s “Pubic Enemy” ad was banned worldwide almost overnight, the brand continues to publish controversial ads. For example, to promote their Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Gucci used a short film and images referencing a cult film about drug addiction. The advertisement depicted women dealing with drugs and prostitution. The film that inspired the Gucci ad was based on a 14-year-old heroin addict and sex workers’ true story.
A scene in the Gucci campaign takes place in a subway/railway station connected with prostitution and the drug trade. In the film, the main character and her boyfriend sell their bodies at a place called the Bahnhof Zoo.
The ad received a lot of backlash primarily because one of the young models was unhealthily thin according to the Advertising Standards Authority. While the ad was shocking to some, it was a prime example how fashion houses promote themselves: the main priority is to break through and draw the consumer’s attention regardless of what is deemed appropriate in society’s eyes.
Before Mello returned to her post as president of the American retailer Bergdorf Goodman, she initiated the return of Gucci’s headquarters from Milan’s business center back to Florence, where its craft traditions began. There she and Ford reduced the number of Gucci products from twenty thousand to five thousand.
There were seventy-six Gucci stores around the world in 1997, along with numerous licensing agreements. Ford was instrumental in the decision making process with De Sole when the Gucci Group acquired Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, Bottega Veneta, Boucheron, Sergio Rossi, and obtained, part-ownership with Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and Balenciaga.
By 2001 Ford and Domenico De Sole shared the responsibility for major business decisions, while Ford concurrently directed design at Yves Saint Laurent as well as at Gucci.
The French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, however, gained ownership of 60 percent of the Gucci Group’s stock in 2003. Women’s Wear Daily soon announced the departure of both De Sole and Tom Ford from the Gucci Group when their contracts expired in April 2004.
The last spring collection under the direction of Ford and De Sole was a critical and commercial success. Amid widespread speculation in the fashion press about Ford’s heir, the company announced in March
2004 that he would be replaced by a team of younger designers promoted from the ranks of the company’s staff.
In 2005, Frida Giannini became the creative director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories. By 2006, she had also become the creative director for men’s ready-to-wear and the entire Gucci label.
In 2014, Giannini and CEO Patrizio di Marco left the Gucci firm. Marco Bizzarri was then appointed CEO of the brand.
During its nearly one hundred year history, Gucci’s timeless designs have been worn by the world’s movers and shakers including First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, filmdom’s Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Sellers, and literature’s Samuel Beckett. The iconic Flora silk scarf, created by illustrator Vittorio Accornero was initiated by a personal request from Princess Grace of Monaco.
Literally every major celebrity has worn a Gucci piece at least once. Sophia Loren, Rock Hudson, the Duchess of Windsor, Sidney Poitier, Andrey Hepburn, Kim Novak, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Gwenyth Paltrow, Elizabeth Hurley, and Charlize Theron are among them.
The original moccasin with Horsebit hardware became part of the permanent collection at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
In January 2015, Gucci’s new CEO Marco Bizzarri appointed Alessandro Michele as the House’s new Creative Director with total creative responsibility for all Gucci collections and its brand image. Alessandro’s first collection in his new role was for women’s ready-to-wear for autumn/winter 2015-16.
Its most recent and unconventional aesthetic combines historical and contemporary references, from Renaissance architecture to punk rock, and from the Chinese heavenly landscapes featured on 18th-century tapestries and screens to the latest in digital technology. The result is a highly distinctive contemporary-romantic collection of clothing and accessories that are dream-like and inspiring.
The House of Gucci remains an international icon with global appeal. Gucci jewelry for men and women, an extension of the brand’s clothing and leather goods collection, includes rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and cufflinks. The line is still synonymous with quality Italian craftsmanship and fashion.