Happy 96th birthday, Gucci. How does one summarise an (almost) 100-year-old legacy in not-so-many words?
The founder of Gucci, Guccio Gucci, was born in Florence in 1881. As his father’s straw-hat company was made bankrupt, Gucci travelled to London in 1897 to work in the Savoy Hotel. There, he was inspired, to create the traveling kit, of trunks, bags, vanity cases, saddles and boots to come for the globetrotting set of deep pocketed industrialists, theatre stars, and British aristocracy. That was a mission he set out to do when he moved back to Italy at the age of 39.
In 1921, Gucci opened his humble Florentine Bottega to produce the finest Tuscan leather goods for the new elite. His very original clients were of local nobility, horsemen who appreciated the Tuscan artisanal craft of riding accessories. From these early customers of the equestrian world, the very first icons of the Florentine firm were born: the horsebit and stirrup motifs, and the classic green red green web from a saddle girth.
Years on from 1935, under difficult circumstances of post war rationing of materials, Gucci earned the reputation for innovative self-sufficiency with his experimentation with atypical luxury materials in his products. He introduced hemp (a diamond cross pattern now known as “diamante”), linen, jute, and most recognizably, in 1947, the bamboo, that we have come to associate with the brand.
The brand started to flourish, with store openings in Rome and Milan. After his passing at 72, Gucci’s children continued to contribute to the brand’s success as jet setters and Hollywood stars flocked to Rome during the Dolce Vita era.
Real life paparazzi boosted Gucci’s global reputation as the go-to label of the new acting and social elite. The Gucci Via Condotti store became the place to shop and to be seen. The likes of Sophia Lauren, Claudia Cardinale, Elke Sommer, Audrey Hepburn, Clark Gable, Ursula Andress, Tony Curtis all shopped in the Rome store. The paparazzi would camp outside the store just to capture the arrivals of the glitzy new nomenclature.
The opening of Gucci’s first New York store in 1953 was also the year that the Gucci loafer was created with its horsebit detail. A decade on in 1963, this famous shoe, for its exemplary creativity and fashion design, became part of the permanent collection on display at The Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Through the years, Gucci continued to carve more icons into its history, with the creation of unique products inspired by its clients, such as the Jackie O bag in 1961, the Flora scarf designed for the Princess Grace of Monaco in 1966, the famed double G logo in 1961, and the Gucci crest featuring the knight with a suitcase.
Another notable milestone in the history of the brand was the debut of Gucci’s ready-to-wear collection (inspired by the Flora print) at the Florentine fashion shows in 1981.
Unfortunately, by 1982, due to in-fighting among the Gucci cousins, the family had to gradually withdraw from the company, receding half the ownership to an investment fund. In 1993, the remaining final shares were eventually sold to InvestCorp, ending the family’s involvement in the brand.
In 1990, Tom Ford had joined Gucci to oversee the women’s ready-to-wear collection, and was made Creative Director in 1994. He was instrumental in the come back of the brand, when Ford recaptured the jet-set glamour of the brand, having won back the favour of celebrities, royals, and prominent socialites.
Ford’s monumental departure from Gucci in 2004 saw his creative portfolio left to three Creative Directors: Alessandra Facchinetti (for Women’s ready to wear), John Ray (for Men’s ready to wear), and Frida Giannini (for leather goods). By 2005, all three portfolios have fallen upon the shoulders of Giannini, who had joined Gucci’s accessories department as part of Ford’s team in 2002.
A decade on, in January 2015, the creative reins of Gucci were handed to Alessandro Michele. Notably, Michele first joined Ford in 2002, based in the brand’s London Design office, and served as Design Director for the leather goods department before his 2015 appointment to Creative Director of Gucci. His very successful new vision for Gucci was revealed at the Men’s F/W 2015/16 runway show.
All eyes ahead as this resilient storied centurial brand navigates its next journey of cool.