Gucci: A Brief History

Gucci: A Brief History

Arguably fashion’s most renowned Italian label, Gucci’s history begins in Florence.

Guccio Gucci was born on the 26th of March, 1881. A son of a humble Italian leather craftsman in the manufacturing region, Guccio was expected to follow in his father’s vocation. Little is known about Guccio’s childhood.

In search of work as a teenager,  Guccio Gucci travelled to several cities. He left his native Florence for France before he eventually deciding to settle in London in 1897, pursuing a job at the prestigious Savoy Hotel.




Guccio became a porter at the Savoy in the heart of London. During his time there, he was exposed to the lifestyle of affluent patrons of the establishment. The observant young man studied the luggage, attire and behaviour of the guests, quickly becoming enamoured with their tasteful luggage and penchant for equestrian sports.

Around this time, Gucci met Aida Calvelli and wed in 1901. The couple had six children together; five sons and a daughter. Ugo Calvelli Gucci was adopted, a son of Aida’s previous relationship.






In the wake of the destruction caused by the First World War, Guccio moved back home to Florence where he found work with a luggage brand called Franzi.

In 1921, Guccio opened House of Gucci; a rather obscure equestrian and luggage shop. Over the subsequent twelve years, business grew at a steady pace. In 1933, Gucci’s oldest son Aldo joined the business . With an eye for design and marketing, Aldo was quick to criticize Gucci’s branding — The company had been operating under the family crest until that point. Working to design a marketable logo, Aldo conceived of the interlocking double “G” monogram that has become so famous today.




With time, he was able to carve a name for himself in his industry and his popularity soared. His budding label was synonymous with quality. English aristocrats caught wind of the House’s accessories and became some of his top clients.

In 1935, after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the League of Nations sanctioned Italy by placing a trade embargo on them. This led to a terrible scarcity raw materials and Gucci was forced to improvise.

He experimented with various textiles and used different types of fabrics in his product composition like jute, linen, wood, wicker and raffia.

This move led to ingenious creations like the company’s first signature print: tiny linked diamonds in brown intricately woven into a fabric of tan hemp — now referred to as Diamante canvas. This canvas was used in the creation of the first comprehensive Gucci luggage collection.




In 1938, Guccio officially hired his three sons to help him manage the growing House, especially focusing on expanding to other Italian centres — Rome and Milan.

Also born of this period of scarcity was the iconic Bamboo Bag in 1947. Gucci artisans found that Japanese bamboo could be crafted and into elegant bag handles. Though a proprietary process, the bamboo was treated, heated, bent and polished to form the instantly recognizable bag handles.



In 1951 Rudolfo Gucci opened the first Milan location on Via Montenapoleone. Contemporaneous with this opening was the introduction of the signature red and green striped web on the bags and accessories of the House.

Guccio Gucci passed away in 1953, some days after the company opened its first boutique in New York. In spite of their father’s death, Guccio’s sons were more than capable of taking the helm and continued to manage the House with relatively little disruption. In fact, during the same year, Aldo created the classic Horsebit Loafer, which remains a staple item in the House’s permanent collection.



Over the next few years, the Gucci brothers launched their expansion into America successfully, where the brand was welcomed with open arms and eager wallets. The then exotic Italian label began its rise into the cultural zeitgeist. The House added retail locations across America and Europe, most notably in Paris and Beverly Hills. Jackie Kennedy and Sammy Davis Jr. were often pictured sporting Gucci. The half-moon handbag favoured by Jackie Kennedy came to be nicknamed the “Jackie Bag”; now a fixture of Gucci’s permanent collection.



Having successfully expanded into the West, the 70’s marked Gucci’s foray into the East. In 1972 the House opened a storefront in Tokyo. In 1974, Gucci cut the ribbon at its Hong Kong flagship location. The House had now proven its popularity on a global scale. The product line, however, was small relative to the demand for the brand. In 1975, Gucci offered its first fragrance.

Despite their success in business, there was a growing resentment between the Gucci brothers about how the company should be run. These familial disputes, however, did not prevent the company from debuting their Flora-printed ready-to-wear collection in 1981.

Rodolfo Gucci’s death in 1983 shook the family and business to its core. His son Maurizio took over his father’s role at the company. Maurizio went on to fire Aldo, the last tie to the original Florentine storefront. This brash decision did not bode well for continuance of the House’s operations. By 1988, Maurizio had driven the once prosperous brand into financial ruin — selling a controlling stake in the company to a Bahraini holding company; Investcorp.

It became critical to revive the floundering brand as Investcorp became impatient with increasingly poor financials. Dawn Mello’s appointment as executive vice president and creative director heralded a new dawn for the company. Her appointment came with a lot of promise due to her track record as fashion director and president of Bergdorf Goodman.

She joined the company in 1989 together with her core team. Among them were design director Richard Lambertson, Menswear designer Neil Barret and women’s ready to wear designer Tom Ford.



It was during Mello’s tenure that Gucci brought back the first Gucci loafer with several colours. Unfortunately, the other designs from Mello did not go down well with the customers and she had to go back to her former job in 1994. That same year Dominico De Sole, CEO of Gucci America, named a young Tom Ford creative director of Gucci, entrusting him with the brand’s turnaround.


"There wasn't much money for advertising," continues De Sole, "so we decided to sink what we had into fashion, which is a highly publicized business. Somehow we had to send out the message that a new Gucci was being born. We had to make the brand fly!”


In a climax of turmoil for the House, Maurizio Gucci was murdered in 1995, taking with him the last of the founding family’s control of the business.

Tom Ford is credited with reversing the fortunes of Gucci through the introduction of bold, flashy designs and hyper-sexualized advertising.

The 90’s brought a revival of the brand, with Hollywood celebrities taking notice and perpetuating the novel re-emergence of Gucci.

With just a few tweaks, the elegant Jackie bag was reintroduced to the market in 1999 and in no time it became a must-have for fashion aficionados.




Despite protest from De Sole, Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH began quietly accumulating shares of Gucci towards the end of the 90s in a covert bid for a takeover.

Before the LVMH could amass more than 30%, François Pinault of PPR (Pinault Printemps Redoute) tactically purchased a controlling 42% stake. Through this newly formed conglomerate, Pinault would also purchase Yves Saint Laurent in its entirety. The public bidding war for control of Gucci and the frenzy to acquire rival brands caused quite a stir in the luxury fashion industry. In 2013, PPR changed its name to Kering and to date, Gucci is the crown jewel of the corporation.

In 2004, Domenico De Sole and Ford left Gucci due to contract disputes with Pinault Printemps Redoute. Before he left, Ford brought Frida Giannini, a former handbag designer for Fendi into the company with hopes that she would refresh the accessories department.

After Ford left, John Ray began overseeing menswear while womenswear was handled by Alessandra Facchinetti. Soon enough, Giannini became the creative director of accessories. 





The 2000’s proved to be a rather lacklustre decade for the House. Despite greater resources as a result of the merger, the brand underperformed, never returning to the Tom Ford era heights. This malaise continued until the appointment of a new creative director - Alessandro Michele.




Towards the end of 2014, there was a shocking announcement that CEO Patrizio Di Marco and Giannini would both leave the House.

Alessandro Michele, an accessory designer at Gucci, was promoted to the post of the new creative director in 2015 after being with the brand for 12 years. His creativity blossomed — producing a menswear collection in a single week. Four weeks later, his first women’s wear collection was launched on the Milan runway to much acclaim. Michele’s prolific introduction of whimsical fauna and flora-based designs rejuvenated the stale brand. His fantastical prints, tailoring, jewelry and bold eyewear gentrified Gucci’s image without straying from the House’s heritage.

Marco Bizzarri became the new CEO and president of Gucci after Di Marco’s exit in 2015.



Gucci’s recent revitalization has allowed the House to reinvent itself. Aside from the celebrated newfound eclecticism, the House has pledged to focus on sustainability. In 2017, Bizzarri disclosed that the House will become fur-free moving forward. Gucci has recently announced its carbon neutrality in global operations.

COVID-19 has prompted change in all aspects of life. The fashion world is no exception. With Michele at the wheel, the House is increasingly focusing on virtual shows,  tours and e-commerce to keep in touch with their global clientele during this time of isolation.




In May of 2020 Alessandro Michele disclosed that Gucci will opt for season-less fashion and would not observe Fashion week’s structure any longer. They’ll also plan to reduce their number of shows from five to two every year. Through Michele’s influence, Gucci has now grown to a leading global fashion brand. Rather than following trends, the House now sets them. Gucci now sets its sights on a younger demographic with bold, eclectic and androgynous fashion sold increasingly online.






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