Gucci’s History Is Just As Wild As Some of Its Designs
There are few fashion houses as instantly recognizable as Gucci. From Alessandro Michele’s fluid, maximalist designs to the scandalously sexy campaigns from Tom Ford’s tenure at the brand, there simply hasn’t been a time in recent memory where Gucci wasn’t the pinnacle of excessive glamour. But it hasn’t always been that way. Before big names such as Harry Styles and Dakota Johnson were red carpet superfans, the luxury Italian brand had a far humbler upbringing.
If you’ve ever been curious about the history of Gucci, now is your chance to catch up. We’re breaking down the brand’s story for you, ahead, along with a few lesser-known facts about the iconic fashion house.
Who Founded Gucci?
Guccio Gucci founded the famous fashion house in Florence, Italy in 1921. According to reporting by Rebag, before starting his namesake label, Gucci worked as a porter at the Savoy Hotel in London. Inspired by ritzy hotel guests, he returned home to work for a luggage company, Franzi, and took up leather craftsmanship before launching his own business. At first, Gucci primarily sold leather goods and focused on travel items, but eventually branched out into equestrian equipment as word of the brand reached the ears — and wallets — of British aristocrats.
How Did the Brand Expand?
Eventually, Gucci's sons, Aldo, Vasco, and Rodolfo, began working for the company, and its reputation continued to grow. But, according to Women's Wear Daily, in 1935, they hit a snag. There was a League of Nations embargo against Italy. and with leather in short supply, the brand was forced to use different materials. A specially woven canapa, or hemp, was created, and Gucci's now-famous interlocking diamond symbol was printed on top.
What Happened After World War II?
As WWD notes, once leather production began picking up following the end of World War II, Aldo Gucci created the brand’s first pigskin bag. The material became the fashion house's signature, and Gucci’s first bamboo-handled bag — which is in the shape of a saddle! — is thought to have been created around the same time. By 1951, Gucci had embraced its famous green-red-green stripe detail.
The '50s were also a great time for the expansion of Gucci's stores. While there were already locations in Florence and Rome, Rodolfo Gucci opened another one in Milan in 1951 before expanding to the U.S. two years later. Shortly before Guccio Gucci's death in 1953, a Gucci store opened at The Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City as a tribute to his time as a porter. The founder passed away just 15 days later at the age of 71.
What Influence Did Celebrities Have On Gucci's Designs?
In the years following Gucci's death, the brand continued to see success thanks to his sons. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor were photographed carrying bamboo-handled bags, and the Horsebit loafer — with its iconic double ring and bar — was released in 1953.
In 1961, after Jacqueline Kennedy was spotted carrying a Gucci bag, the fashion house renamed it 'The Jackie.' Around the same time, it created a logo (initially used to fasten bags) that is still used today: the famous double-G.
Grace Kelly had an influence on Gucci's designs as well. When she purchased a bamboo-handled bag in 1966, Rodolfo Gucci gifted her a floral scarf made especially for her. The pattern was a commissioned illustration by famed artist Vittorio Accornero and later named the ‘Flora’ print.
More stores — in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and another location in New York City, which sold clothing — popped up in the '70s, and Gucci even entered the beauty space in 1975, with their debut fragrance, Gucci No. 1.
What Happened to the Gucci Family in the '80s?
Gucci held its first ready-to-wear fashion show in 1981. The collection focused heavily on the ‘Flora’ pattern and took place at the Sala Bianca, Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy.
For the next few decades, Gucci underwent several major changes, as well as some drama. Guccio's grandchildren were working at the company by the early '80s, and the family was feuding about who would be in control. Eventually, Rodolfo's son, Maurizio, took over, pushing his cousins and uncle Aldo out of the company.
In 1989, a holdings company, Investcorp, acquired nearly half of Gucci. Bergdorf Goodman's President, Dawn Mello, and its head of Accessories, Richard Lambertson, were then brought in to give the brand a much-needed boost.
When Did Tom Ford Take Over at Gucci?
The real change occurred in 1990, when a wildly talented young designer named Tom Ford entered the picture. Initially, he oversaw Gucci's ready-to-wear collection, but became the fashion house's Creative Director in 1994. During that time, Maurizio Gucci sold the rest of his shares to Investcorp. He was murdered a few years later in 1995.
To this day, Ford is considered to be the designer who truly revitalized Gucci, incorporating hypersexual designs and campaign imagery. His Fall 1995 collection and sleek, minimalist '90s designs were a massive commercial success, and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna were all photographed wearing his pieces on the red carpet.
In 1999, the iconic ‘Jackie’ bag was relaunched with a few updates, quickly becoming the new must-have item that year.
How Did Gucci Become Part of Kering?
In the late '90s, LVMH slowly started purchasing shares of the company, despite pushback from Gucci's then-CEO Domenico De Sole. However, before the company took over completely, investor François Pinault, of Pinault Printemps Redoute (or PPR), strategically became the major stakeholder. PPR would later be renamed Kering in 2013, and Gucci remains a part of the conglomerate today.
In 2004, Ford and CEO Domenico De Sole left the company over contract disputes with PPR, but not before Ford brought Fendi's former handbag designer, Frida Giannini, into the mix, hoping to bolster Gucci’s accessories department. John Ray took over menswear after Ford’s departure, while Alessandra Facchinetti handled womenswear. Giannini was later promoted to Creative Director of accessories.
How Did Gucci Change After Tom Ford?
The years following Tom Ford’s departure showed significant change for the company. As noted by Business of Fashion, in 2006, Giannini was named Creative Director, and her relaunch of the ‘Flora’ pattern — instead of focusing on the double-G logo — proved massively successful.
In 2008, Gucci aired its first-ever TV campaign for the Gucci by Gucci scent, which was directed by David Lynch. Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme, Giannini’s first men’s scent, launched with campaign star James Franco that same year. The now-iconic Flora by Gucci fragrance was launched in 2009.
When Did Alessandro Michele Join Gucci?
In late 2014, it was abruptly announced that Giannini and CEO Patrizio Di Marco would both be leaving the company. Alessandro Michele, who had already devoted 12 years to the brand, was then announced as the new Creative Director. The appointment of the relatively unknown accessories designer came as a shock to many within the industry. In his first move as Creative Director, Michele helped design an entirely new menswear collection in less than a week, according to The New York Times. His first womenswear collection debuted a month later on the Milan runway, and was an instant success. Marco Bizzarri was also brought in as the new president and CEO of Gucci following Di Marco’s exit.
What's Happening Now?
In the years after his appointment, Michele turned the luxury house into the printed, sequined, oversized-glasses-loving vision that we know today. In 2017, the company announced its plans to go entirely fur-free and has promised to reduce its environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions, by 2025. In 2019, Gucci relaunched its makeup line, Gucci Beauty, and introduced it first unisex fragrance, Mémoire d’Une Odeur. Most recently, Michele announced in May 2020 that Gucci is embracing seasonless fashion and leaving the structure of Fashion Week behind. It will also be cutting down on its shows, going from five to just two per year.