Unbeknownst to many, a lot of today’s luxury brands actually focused more function than fashion during their early stages. Some were borne out of uniform makers like Burberry and Hugo Boss, while others focused on travelling items like Louis Vuitton. Such is the case for Gucci, one of the biggest Italian brands today. Long before it became the best-selling fashion label, it used to be a saddlery shop where upper-class equestrians would buy their gear. It was a far cry from what is now one of the hottest brands today, but the journey to this point was anything but easy. It all started with one man: Guccio Gucci.
The Founder And His Legacy
Guccio Gucci was born on March 26, 1881, in Florence, Italy. He was the son of a Tuscan leather craftsman, from whom he inherited his passion for leather goods. Before starting his career in this field, however, he briefly worked in London as a lift attendant at the Savoy Hotel in 1897. He eventually went back to Tuscany in 1902 and worked under Franzi, a leather manufacturer. Around this time, he had married Aida Calvelli and bore sons Aldo, Vasco, and Rodolfo. Now with a family to look after, he decided to open up his own leather goods shop – the first Gucci store – on Via Vigna Nuova (later to Via del Parione), Florence in 1921.
They initially opened as a saddlery shop, selling products like horse straps and equestrian attire and accessories. It wouldn’t be long before they ventured into luggage, and their craftsmanship caught the attention of rich clientele, especially the British aristocracy. Still, the equestrian theme was there, and their now-iconic color scheme of green-red-green stripes was actually inspired by horse saddle straps.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
In 1935, Gucci faced their first challenge, navigating around the embargo put against Italy by the League of Nations as a result of the country’s aggression towards Ethiopia. With the scarcity of leather imported from other countries, Gucci eventually found alternative materials to make their products with, which includes a specially-woven canapa from Naples. It was then when they started printing their products with their famous monogram, and a series of suitcases were made out of them. The products received universal acclaim, giving birth to the modern-day Gucci luggage.
In 1938, they opened their first retail store in Rome, on Via Condotti. However, the Second World War would then halt operations and manufacturing, and it’s only in 1947 when they resumed their business. This time, Gucci’s eldest son Aldo, introduced pigskin, which eventually became one of their house’s signature materials. They also introduced the bamboo-handled bag, inspired by the shape of a horse saddle, and is one of their best-selling signature items to this day.
Gucci Empire and The Takeover
At the start of the 1950’s the company has expanded tenfold, beginning with their first store in Milan on Via Montenapoleone that opened in 1951. They also opened their first store overseas in the United States of America, in the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1953. By this time, their green-red-green stripes have become part of their signature branding. That same year, Guccio Gucci passed away at age 72, leaving behind his sons to take over the family empire. As a tribute, they created the new a current logo for the brand – double G’s – for Guccio Gucci.
By the 1960’s, a lot of influential people in fashion had been seen with Gucci signatures. In fact, when Jacqueline Kennedy, then-first lady of the United States, was seen with a Gucci bag in 1961, the company renamed that product “Jackie” after her and it became a commercial success. It was also around this time that they opened new stores in both London and Palm Beach, Florida. Going into the decade, they also started making ready-to-wear clothing, alongside opening their first store in Paris in 1963. In 1966, the Flora scarf, designed by Vittorio Accornero, was made exclusively for Princess Grace of Monaco upon the request of Rodolfo Gucci. Other celebrities who have also been spotted wearing Gucci are Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Sellers.
From the 1970’s to the 1990’s, the company continued to expand, opening stores in various parts of the world, most famously in Tokyo in 1972 and Hong Kong in 1974. In 1981, the label began holding ready-to-wear fashion shows during the Florentine fashion shows at Sala Bianca. Their first few collections heavily featured the floral print from the famous Grace Kelly scarf. At the end of the 1980’s, 50% of the company’s shares were bought by Investcorp, an Anglo-Arabian holding company. In 1993, Maurizio Gucci, son of Rodolfo, sold his shares to Investcorp, letting go of the last parcel of the leadership of the Gucci family on the brand.
In 1994, American fashion designer Tom Ford is hired to be the label’s new creative director. With his glamorous and erotic style, Gucci became one of the most popular brands in the 1990’s. He pushed the brand to the forefront of fashion, and himself as one of the first celebrity fashion designers in the industry. In 1997, he brought forth a series of white jersey evening gowns with cut-outs, a look that defined his bombastic tenure and the glamour of Gucci during that time.
Ford eventually exited the brand in 2004, after disagreements concerning his contract with the brands’ parent company, Pinault Printemps Redoute. He was replaced by Alessandra Facchinetti, who worked as creative director until 2005 when in-house accessories designer Frida Giannini replaced her as the designer for the brand’s ready-to-wear. She stayed at the helm for ten years, before exiting the brand herself in 2015, alongside her husband Patrizio di Marco, who stood as president and CEO of the company since 2009. Similarly, she was replaced by another accessories designer, Alessandro Michele.
Michele’s look for the brand is far from those of his predecessors, but have amassed equal critical and commercial acclaim as well. He introduced layering and vintage style as the new aesthetic of Gucci, reaching a wider and younger audience in the process. With such eclectic style, Michele was able to put Gucci back on the fashion map and is currently one of the best-selling brands.