A maitre d’ who became one of the world’s most famous Italian fashion designers. No, not the stuff of fairytales but the life story of Guccio Gucci.
Son of a Florentine craftsman, he was born in 1881 in Florence. While still a young boy he moved to Paris and then London, quickly working his way up to the position of Maitre d’Hotel at the Savoy. And there, in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, Guccio observed and absorbed everything – culture, ideas, elements of style and sophistication which he would later blend and refashion into wonderrful, original designs. His inspiration even came from the luxurious luggage that his rich clients brought with them.
After returning to Italy in 1920, Guccio opened the first Gucci shop in Florence with capital of only 30.000 lira. His first success came through his leather craftsmanship and his collection of accessories for riders. His business grew steadily as an increasingly sophisticated clientele of local horse-riding nobility patronized the Gucci firm. His dream of blending the classic and luxurious styling of the international aristocracy with the quality of traditional Tuscany craftsmanship was becoming a reality.
Like many other Italian designers in the days of Fascism, Gucci had a big problem: shortage of supplies. Having no other choice but to use low cost materials, Guccio Gucci began experimenting with jute, linen and hemp. This in turn led him to the creation of the original bamboo handle for his bamboo bag. The Japanese material had to be softened and shaped to reach the classic U- shape, which was inspired by saddles. Attached to the bag with four hooks, the bamboo handle soon became one of the iconic items of the company, and a recent restyle has led to the ‘new bamboo’.
The horse-riding world inspired another classic Gucci symbol: the snaffle bit. This detail first made its appearance on Gucci’s leather handbags then featured on other items including the newly launched men’s Gucci moccasins in 1953.
Red Carpet Appeal
With big stars like Clark Gable, John Wayne and Fred Astaire wearing them, the shoes became so famous that a pair was placed in the permanent collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1980, marking a turning point in the history of fashion. In the late Sixties a women’s version was made further adding to the appeal of the Gucci brand which was now seen as the hallmark of luxury and comfort.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis gave her name to the Jackie O, a handbag she carried on many important occasions. Thanks to its mix of elegance and practicality, its rounded shape and its unmistakable catch, the Gucci Jackie O Bag became a must-have in the celebrity wardrobe.
In 1966, as a tribute to Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, Gucci and the artist Accornero created a unique foulard with a new multicolor floral pattern. Gucci began using the flora icon in bags, clothes and even jewelry and it’s still a best seller today.
In the Sixties, the Gucci ‘GG’ logo became increasingly important as people began to associate it with the fashion house. Since then the famous double G has been revamped, recrafted and redesigned many times as have other materials now indelibly connected with the Gucci name. Diamante is the diamond pattern first created in the Thirties by being woven into hemp on luggage and then extended to every kind of material and then there is the Web, its red and green stripes reminiscent of the equestrian world. Perhaps it is a happy accident that the now internationally famous ‘GG’ logo also plays on the child’s name for horses – ‘gee gee’ – in English!
A Family Affair
Founder Guccio Gucci died in 1953 leaving the company to his sons Aldo, Ugo, Vasco and Rodolfo, who were already working with him. The brothers began creating products destined to become “classics” and also opened new shops in Florence, Rome, Milan, New York, London, Palm Beach, Paris, Beverly Hills and Tokyo. Within a short time, Gucci became one of the first Italian names to be instantly recognizable worldwide. Its production increased and the biggest factory yet was opened on the outskirts of Florence. Then problems within the family resulted in Rodolfo’s son Maurizio Gucci becoming President of the Group in 1989.
Maurizio Gucci decided to concentrate on the original family tradition of beautifully crafted artisan products. On the advice of Dawn Mello, brought in from Bergdorf Goodman, they cut back from 20,000 items to 5000, focussing on the most popular lines and cut down on the number of distributors.
His cousins had already left the company and in 1993 Maurizio Gucci also stepped down and sold his shares to Investcorp, an Arab multinational. Various financial maneuverings ensued, and after the publicly owned company withstood a takeover by LVMH it remained in the hands of Pinault. The contracts of CEO Domenico del Sole and uber-designer Tom Ford were not renewed and they stepped down on April 1, 2004. They were succeeded by Patrizio di Marco, President and Manager Director of the Gucci Group, with Frida Giannini as the Creative Director.
More Than Fashion
Under their guidance the Gucci Group has reached a record revenue of 4.2 billion Euros and is probably the most recognised Italian fashion house in the world. Gucci’s current collections include not only shoes, bags and luggage, but also men’s and women’s ready-to-wear lines, children’s collections, accessories, jewelry, watches and eyewear. Gucci has almost 300 stores worldwide under its direct control. The Gucci Group also encompasses other famous brands such as Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Gucci isn’t only synonymous with fashion. In 2005 they began a partnership with UNICEF that led to Gucci creating a special collection for the United Children’s Fund with a percentage of its sales going directly to the Fund. There is also an annual Gucci campaign to benefit UNICEF, supporting various initiatives from education to healthcare for orphans and children affected by AIDS. Gucci is also concerned with environmental problems, so much so that the group decided to adopt eco- friendly materials and techniques of production.
Aldo Gucci once laughed when a writer told him that one day Gucci would hold fashion shows – today Gucci stands at the very pinnacle of the fashion world.
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50100 Florence, Italy
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Web: Gucci Italian Fashion and Leather Goods Label