Since it’s founding by Guccio Gucci in a small Florence shop in 1921, the Gucci company has built a catalog of genuinely iconic trademarks—the interlocking GG logo; the bamboo-handled handbag; the bar-and-bit belt buckle; the omnipresent penny loafer; the shiny velvet pantsuit, to name a few—all of which have helped the brand penetrate mainstream culture like no other Italian label in history. When Guccio Gucci started out, it’s quite certain that he never dreamed that the small family-run luggage company would one day grow to one carrying such cultural significance.
How Gucci Was Founded
Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci in the early 1920s. As an immigrant in Paris and then London, Guccio made a living working in luxurious hotels and was impressed with the affluent luggage he saw the guests carrying. Inspired particularly by the elevated lifestyle he witnessed in the Savoy Hotel in London, on his return to Italy he decided to merge this refined style of living with the exclusive skills of his native craftsmen. Specifically he utilised the skills of local Tuscan artisans. He began by selling leather bags to horsemen in the 1920s and graduated into luxury luggage with the emergence of horseless carriages and non-equine transport.
Together with his sons, Gucci expanded his company to include stores in Milan and Rome as well as additional shops in Florence, selling his finely crafted leather accessories as well as silks and knitwear featuring his signature logo. Within a few years the label was enjoying growing success, the cosmopolitan international elite holidaying in Florence converged on Gucci’s bottega on a quest for his equestrian inspired Gucci shoes, bags, trunks, gloves and belts.
Created in the mid 1930s the Gucci Diamante pattern was first woven onto hemp and used on luggage. What started as an innovative solution to pre-war leather shortages became the Florentine atelier’s first iconic print and the design’s criss-cross pattern was a precursor to the famous GG logo. Although utilised throughout the fifties, the Diamante canvas fell largely into disuse until it was re-discovered by Giannini in the Gucci archives and used on a limited edition collection of classic Gucci handbags, shoes and leather goods.
Early Gucci History: Pre-World War II
is born in Florence.
He finds work in the Savoy Hotel, London.
1902: He returns to Florence and joins the leather manufacturer Franzi.
1905 to 1912: Sons Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo are born to Guccio and his wife, Aida.
1921: Guccio opens his first stores in Florence on Via Vigna Nuova and then Via del Parione.
1935 to 1936: As a result of a League of Nations embargo against Italy, Gucci finds alternatives to imported leather and other materials. It develops a specially woven canapa, or hemp, from Naples, printed with the first signature print — a series of small, interconnecting diamonds in dark brown on a tan background. Gucci’s first successful suitcases are made from it.
1938: The Rome store opens on Via Condotti.
The Company During The War Years
Faced with scant foreign supplies during the years of Italy’s fascist dictatorship, Gucci continued to experiment with unusual materials such as hemp, linen and jute. One of his best known creations was the adding of a patina to a cane to create the handle of the new Bamboo Bag, whose curvy shape was inspired by the contours of a saddle. Over time the bamboo handle evolved from its origins as a solution to shortages and became a signature motif of many incarnations of Gucci bags. Bamboo inspired patterns have also featured on a variety of products from headscarves to watchstraps; it has even been skilfully carved into a pair of golden stiletto heels.
Many of Gucci’s local Italian clients were horse-riding aristocrats and their call for riding gear led Gucci to develop its unique Horsebit signature logo in the early 1950s. It was first used on ample saddle stitched leather Gucci handbags, since then it has been enlarged, minimalised, luxuriously embossed and branded into leather and velvet, turned into repeat patterns printed onto silk and transformed into components of Gucci jewellery. The Horsebit later played a vital role in the marketing of one of fashion’s most iconic shoes, the Gucci loafer.
During the 1950s Gucci again took equestrian inspiration for the creation of its trademark green and red Web stripe, derived from the traditional colours of saddle girth strap. Throughout the brand’s history the Web stripe has appeared on an array of products. In modern collections the Web’s stripes have been morphed into various colours, materials and sizes.
The Company Continues After Guccio’s Death
With Gucci’s death in 1953 his sons Aldo, Vasco, Ugo and Rodolfo took over the family business. The brothers took the successful luggage business to new heights, opening stores round the world and making the Gucci name synonymous with celebrity and chic. Gucci products quickly became internationally renowned for their enduring style and were valued by movie icons and elite figures in the era of the Jet Set.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis sported the Gucci shoulder bag, which later became known as the Jackie O. Created in the late 1950s, the Jackie O bag was given its name after being photographed numerous times on the arm if its namesake while she was working as a consulting editor at Doubleday. Elizabeth Taylor, Samuel Beckett and Peter Sellers carried the slouchy unisex Hobo Bag.
After a personal request from the Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, the now famous Gucci scarf print Flora was created. Flora was immensely popular amongst European women, who held it in such regard that they passed this loyalty onto their daughters. One was Princess Caroline of Monaco who adopted her mothers scarf print into her daily wardrobe.
By the early 1960s Gucci had adopted the celebrated double interlocking G logo, creating yet another trademark insignia for the company. Single or double Gs were squared off and used as fastenings for bags; these were developed and produced at Gucci’s own forge at its historic workshop on Via delle Caldaie in Florence. The double Gs were soon transferred onto the internationally recognised cotton canvas luggage.
The GG monogram solidified the company’s fame and the Gucci name was carried around the globe in the much-photographed company of movie stars, aristocrats and socialites. The GG logo became a status symbol and hallmark of high glamour, luxury and desirability. Over time the squared off G logo has been endlessly re-worked, merged into a circle, inverted, abstracted and even controversially shaved into a model’s pubic hair.
Throughout the 1960s Gucci continued its global expansion opening Gucci shops in London, the USA and the lucrative emerging market of the Far East. Following the enlargement of their luggage business, the company developed the first RTW Gucci collection, heavily featuring the double G logo.
The brand was now becoming known not just for its exceptional Italian quality and craftsmanship, but also for its innovative and audacious clothing line. The Gucci insignia were constantly re-invented through new shapes, colours and techniques, the GG logo was burnt through suede and leather, again being inspired by equestrian branding. The company used ever more opulent materials, the finest leathers and suede and exotic animal skins such as baby crocodile.
Post World War II Gucci History
1947 to 1948: Production of leather goods resumes after World War II. Aldo Gucci introduces the pigskin, which becomes a signature house material. The first bamboo-handled bag, inspired by the shape of a saddle, is thought to be produced in this period.
1948: Maurizio Gucci is born to Rodolfo and his wife, Alessandra.
1951: Rodolfo opens the first Milan store, on Via Montenapoleone. Around this time, the green-red-green web becomes a hallmark of the company.
1953: Gucci becomes a pioneer of Italian design in the U.S. when Aldo opens the first American store in the Savoy Plaza Hotel on East 58th Street in New York.
Guccio Gucci dies at age 72, 15 days after the New York store opens.
The Gucci loafer with metal horsebit is created.
1955: The house’s crest becomes a registered trademark.
1960: The New York store moves to a Fifth Avenue address next to the St. Regis Hotel at 55th Street.
1961: Stores open in London and Palm Beach.
The bag that Jacqueline Kennedy is seen with is renamed the Jackie. Around this time, the GG logo is applied to canvas and used for bags, small leather goods, luggage and the first pieces of clothing.
1963: The first Paris store opens.
1966: The Flora scarf print is designed for Princess Grace of Monaco.
1968: Gucci opens in Beverly Hills.
1972: A store opens in Tokyo.
Maurizio Gucci, son of Rodolfo, goes to work with his uncle Aldo in New York, until 1982.
Around this time, the brand is hitting its fashion stride. A store dedicated to clothing opens at 699 Fifth Avenue in New York, while 689 Fifth Avenue focuses on shoes, bags, luggage and accessories.
1974: A flagship opens in Hong Kong.
1975: The first fragrance launches.
Following enormous success in the 1970s, Gucci, like many luxury labels such as Burberry, suffered a proletarian drift due to over branding and licensing of products. By the time Gucci’s creative director Dawn Mello hired a then unknown Tom Ford in 1990 ‘no one would dream of wearing Gucci’. Ford imbued the luxury brand with a sense of adventure and sensuality that reverberated throughout the fashion world and inspired a new breed of celebrity to buy Gucci.
The Hiring Of Tom Ford
Raised in Texas and New Mexico, Ford moved to New York to study architecture at Parsons School of Design. During his time in New York, he became a regular at the legendary nightclub Studio 54. The club’s famous disco-era mystique would become a major influence on his designs. Before completing his course at Parsons, Ford spent a year and a half in Paris where he worked as an intern at the Chloé press office, this work triggered his love of fashion. He spent his final year at Parsons studying fashion but nevertheless graduated with a degree in architecture.
By the time Ford was promoted to Gucci creative director he was being lauded as the man who was putting glamour back in fashion with his Halston style velvet hipster trousers, slim satin shirts, and super slick and shiny metallic patent boots. The stiletto Gucci shoe and the slinky cut out jersey Gucci dress with metallurgic hardware details became instant signatures of Ford’s glitzy, glamorous vision. Ford combined an intelligent commercial sensibility with a modern feel for fashion. He became known for bringing a hedonistic sense of sex into nineties fashions previously dominated by starkly austere minimalism.
“I think his stuff will hold its own better than any other label in the contemporary resale market”, said Clair Watson, the director of couture at Doyle New York, the Upper East Side auction house. “The early years of this century are all about sex in the abstract, and Tom Ford mastered the ‘about to have sex’ look at Gucci and the mussed, smudged, post-sex look at Yves Saint Laurent. And there was Ford himself: in his tailored jeans and jackets, charcoal stubble, and stiff white shirt unbuttoned to there, sipping a martini as he took a bow. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?”
The French holding company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the company’s owner since 1999, took managerial control in 2004, to Ford’s extreme chagrin—and he departed, leaving the label with a very big pair of alligator loafers to fill. Ford had taken the company from virtual bankruptcy in 1994 to a value of $4.3 billion at the end of the decade, and the brand’s identity had never been stronger. Enter the relatively unassuming Frida Giannini, an accessories designer: She had been part of the Gucci design stable for nearly three years when she was awarded the top spot.
“I would be stupid and arrogant to say that I didn’t feel Tom’s weight,” Giannini said in 2006, reflecting on her debut collection. But by introducing lighter colors and more prints, and toning down the aggressively sexual overtones—which were beginning to look a bit dated in the less hedonistic light of the new millennium—she has won both critical accolades and a new crop of Gucci devotees.
When Frida Giannini took over the creative directorial role she explored Gucci’s rich heritage and its luxurious craftsmanship legacy, fusing past and present, history and modernity into her designs. Iconic house signature pieces such as Flora, La Pelle Guccissima, the Jackie O and the Bamboo Gucci bag were re-vamped for the new millennium. Giannini has given the signature Gucci Horsebit a new lease of life, adapting Gucci prints from the late 1960s, super magnifying them or enlarging to a huge scale to use on sinuous dresses or travel totes.
Modern Gucci History
1981: Ready-to-wear parades for the first time at the Florentine fashion shows at the Sala Bianca, playing heavily on the Flora print.
1982: Gucci gets the legal SpA designation; leadership eventually passes to Rodolfo Gucci.
1985: The iconic loafer is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and becomes part of the permanent collection.
1989: The Anglo-Arabian holding company Investcorp purchases 50 percent of Gucci shares. The fund lures Dawn Mello, then president of Bergdorf Goodman, to revitalize the brand. She brings Richard Lambertson, head of Bergdorf’s accessories department, to be design director.
1990: American designer Tom Ford is hired to oversee women’s rtw.
1993: Maurizio Gucci transfers his shares to Investcorp, ending the family’s involvement in the firm.
1994: Tom Ford is appointed creative director. His first collection, for fall 1995, focuses on jet-set glamour and is a critical and commercial success, putting the label back at the forefront of fashion.
1995: Domenico De Sole, previously chief executive officer of Gucci America Inc., is appointed Gucci Group’s ceo. He immediately begins reining in licenses, franchises and secondary lines to reverse a decade that saw overexposure of the brand and cheapening of its image.
Maurizio Gucci is gunned down by a hit man commissioned by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani.
1996 to 1997: Ford’s collection of white cutout jersey dresses fastened with abstract horse-bit belts sets the sleek, sexy, modern style of the house’s look in the Nineties and establishes it as a brand dedicated to evening glamour — and consequently attracts hordes of Hollywood actors and actress.
1999 to 2000: The Jackie bag relaunches in many colors and variations, triggering a huge and sustained response. It opens the era of the Gucci “It” bag.
The company weathers a hostile takeover bid by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief executive Bernard Arnault. It is ultimately saved when white knight François Pinault of strategic investment firm PPR (known as Pinault Printemps Redoute at the time) starts amassing a portfolio of luxury brands.
2002: Frida Giannini, previously handbag designer for Fendi, joins the label’s accessories department, contributing bold reinventions of house signatures as part of Ford’s design team.
2004: Ford and De Sole leave the company when they and parent PPR fail to come to terms over a new contract. John Ray takes over men’s design; Alessandra Facchinetti takes women’s, and Giannini becomes creative director of accessories.
Robert Polet, the head of Unilever’s $7.8 billion frozen-food division, trades ice cream and fish sticks for handbags and stilettos as the new ceo of Gucci Group.
Mark Lee, ceo of PPR-owned Yves Saint Laurent, is named Gucci brand chief.
2005: Giannini is appointed creative director of women’s rtw following her successful relaunch of the Flora print as a bag collection. A year later, she adds the role of creative director for men’s wear.
2006: The company signs a long-term licensing agreement with P&G for the production and worldwide distribution of its fragrances.
The Ginza flagship opens in Tokyo, and the Landmark Hong Kong flagship opens.
2007: The first TV ad campaign runs. It is for the Gucci by Gucci fragrance and is directed by David Lynch.
2008: Gucci opens the New York global flagship in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The company celebrates with an event co-hosted by Giannini and Madonna — “A Night to Benefit Raising Malawi and UNICEF.”
The renovated Rome flagship is reopened. During the celebration for the 70th anniversary of its Roman store, the 2009 cruise collection show is live-streamed on the Web site.
Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme, the first men’s scent created by Giannini, makes its debut with actor James Franco starring in the ad campaign. The house also renews its eyewear licensing deal with Safilo until 2018.
2009: Patrizio di Marco, head of group-owned Bottega Veneta, joins Gucci as president and ceo, succeeding Mark Lee.
Flora by Gucci, Giannini’s second women’s scent, launches and the iconic Jackie bag is given a modern interpretation and dubbed the New Jackie Bag.
Gucci opens its first pop-up shop in New York, selling an exclusive footwear line designed by Mark Ronson. Similar temporary stores will later open in Miami, London and Tokyo.
The label enters the Indian retail market via a joint venture with the holding company of local entrepreneurs Reena and Ashok Wadhwa, taking a controlling 51 percent stake in the new firm.
2010: A sporty, contemporized version of the Bamboo bag, the New Bamboo; the new Gucci 1973 line of bags, and the Gucci by Gucci Sport Pour Homme fragrance and Gucci Guilty women’s scent all launch.
The Singapore Paragon store reopens, and the city-state celebrates Giannini with a special orchid, the Paravanda Frida.
A joint venture in leather goods: GPA, or Gucci Pelletteria Annalisa, is formed. Gucci takes a 51 percent stake while the other 49 percent is held by Jacopo Focardi, owner of Pelletteria Annalisa, near Florence.
The company unveils its renovated digital flagship and launches Gucci Playground, the first iPad app dedicated to children’s wear.
2011: The company prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary.