Behind the Scenes: The Gucci Story
GUCCI HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED, AND MOST PATRONIZED, LUXURY LABELS IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY; THE GUCCI STORY TOOK A SHARP TURN TOWARDS SCANDAL AFTER YEARS OF THE FAMILY BRAND’S HUMBLE INNOCENCE. SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 1921 FLORENCE AS A SMALL LEATHER GOODS SHOP, THE BRAND HAS DEVELOPED AN ARCHIVE OF TRADEMARK PIECES. EACH PIECE IS INVARIABLY AFFIXED WITH THE ICONIC INTERLOCKING GG, A SYMBOL OF LUXURY, EXCEPTIONAL CRAFTSMANSHIP, AND GUCCIO GUCCI’S, THE COMPANY’S FOUNDER, SUCCESS EX NIHILO. IMPECCABLE ARTISTRY AND INGENIOUS DESIGN MEET IN EVERY GARMENT AND ACCESSORY, SOMETHING WHICH HAS BEEN REMARKABLY MAINTAINED AND ADAPTED THROUGH CONTROVERSY, SEX, AND SCANDAL; AFFAIRS APT FOR ONLY THE MOST LAVISH ELITE.
words by: Kendall Cornish
Article Originally Appeared in Love Happens Volume 2, 2018
From its heritage to its celebrity, from Guccio Gucci himself to the brand’s latest Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, the Gucci legacy has emerged from feats of financial greed, controversy, and even murder, reigning still today as the most iconic Italian fashion label in history.
Guccio Gucci’s humble beginnings reflect the values and strength of character omnipresent in the world of Italian craftsmanship. Young Guccio left his home in Florence for a new life in London, becoming a lift attendant in the famed Savoy Hotel, where he observed guest’s luxe clothing and accessories. Upon returning to Florence, Guccio married his wife Aida, had his four sons and future heirs, Ugo, Aldo, Vasco, and Rodolfo, and began his own brand of luxury luggage and leather goods.
Guccio’s ingenuity kept the brand alive through World War II shortages of leather and other materials. With the use of canvas, jute, and bamboo as replacements, some of the most iconic Gucci accessories were born. Guccio’s equestrian clientele inspired the horse-bit leather loafers and the ubiquitous green and red striped vintage web of the early fifties, two of the trademarks Gucci is still known for. Guccio’s brand soon became the primary source for quality equestrian wares and luxury accessories. Every fashion icon from Jackie O to Grace Kelly was seen sporting the interlocking GG label.
Guccio’s eldest sons, Rodolfo and Aldo, confidently took the reigns of their father’s small Florentine luggage shop in 1953. After years of working in the factory, Ugo cutting skins for leather and Vasco working on design, the two other brothers elected to sell their shares of the company. When Rodolfo opted to leave his position as designer to pursue his passion for Italian cinema and become an actor, it was Aldo who transformed his father’s modest brand into a world-wide sensation. His attention to the jet set of the fifties and sixties steered the brand towards rapid globalization, influencing more and more of the American glitterati to advertise the double-G during their travels. Gucci graduated from small family shop to worldwide label and became the modern symbol of luxury and style. But while the brand was booming, the Gucci household grew tense with the prospect of an epic inheritance.
“The Gucci woman seduces with her dangerous femininity. She is steely yet sexy — de ning her discipline with femme fatale vices.” — Frida Giannini
The fashion dynasty began its infamous dissension with the Gucci brand’s third generation. Rodolfo’s son Maurizio and Aldo’s son Paolo each had deep desires for the Gucci empire’s fortune and power and became increasingly deceitful in their measures to gain control. Rodolfo, sensing his quiet son’s hidden hunger for power, made a film for Maurizio. The documentary pictured the inner workings of the Gucci head offices in Milan and was meant to remind Maurizio of the brand’s humble roots and family-first approach. But Rodolfo’s efforts made little difference in Maurizio’s attitude, and Maurizio married the avaricious Patrizia against his family’s wishes. Patrizia’s iron will achieved her the Gucci name and all its fabulous trappings, but it wasn’t long before her gilded world of opulence and grandeur came crashing down.
GUCCIO’S EQUESTRIAN CLIENTELE INSPIRED THE HORSE-BIT LEATHER LOAFERS AND THE UBIQUITOUS GREEN AND RED STRIPED VINTAGE WEB OF THE EARLY FIFTIES, TWO OF THE TRADEMARKS GUCCI IS STILL KNOWN FOR.
When Rodolfo died in 1983 and Maurizio inherited his father’s fifty percent share of the Gucci company, the already staggering family loyalty was sent into turmoil. Maurizio’s behavior shifted dramatically and he was no longer the kind, quiet man Patrizia had married. He forged documents with his father’s name in order to gain unbarred access to his fifty percent and fled to Switzerland when the authorities caught wind of his misdeeds. His hunger for power had pulled the last string in his unraveling marriage, leading an abandoned Patrizia to turn on her husband and condemn his crimes on international television. The couple divorced in 1991, but Patrizia’s insidious resentment towards her ex-husband only seemed to grow over the next few years.
The Gucci family has gone down in history as quite the litigious clan, but the infamy of the Gucci name is only part of the label’s sensational history. In 1994, an acquitted Maurizio cleaned the Gucci house of all kin, replacing his family with talented new outsiders. One of these outsiders was Tom Ford, appointed the company’s new Creative Director. Ford’s momentous collections, featuring plunging necklines and infatuating sex appeal, allowed sales to soar at a 90% increase from 1994 to 1995. Gucci became synonymous with sensuality and, during Ford’s incumbency, had some of the most celebrated, provocative collections in fashion history. The brand was on its way to overcoming its litigious infamy and was rising once again to its iconic former glory.
On a clear March morning in 1995, just outside of Gucci’s Milan offices, Maurizio was murdered. Tragically shot four times in cold blood, he died in the arms of his doorman. It would take the two years following the murder for an anonymous tip to lead investigators to the estranged Patrizia. Her denials of guilt only got her so far and in 1997 she was convicted of arranging the murder of her former husband.
Paolo Gucci only outlived his cousin by seven months. After years in and out of court cases with his father, Aldo, brief stints in prison, and a threatening venture to begin his own Gucci label, Paolo passed away divorced, bankrupt, and $90 million in debt. The family’s reign over their eponymous label perished in 1995 along with the last of the Gucci heirs.
Despite the company no longer being led by the strong-willed and successful Gucci men, the brand prevailed. In 2004, Ford was replaced with accessories designer Frida Giannini at the hands of some professional differences between Ford and the Gucci board. While unpopular with the critics, Giannini’s tamer approach led Gucci toward unprecedented commercial success. Her garments appealed to the woman who dressed for herself rather than others. However, after her ten-year tenure, the novelty of her tailored silhouettes left something to be desired and Giannini’s time with Gucci came to an end. In 2015, Gucci’s most current Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, lead the brand into yet another transformation by storm.
The designs of the House of Gucci still remain as desirable as ever. Michele’s theatrical pieces and retro sensibilities evoke historical references in the modern dialogue of fashion. As his term has progressed, Michele’s work has grown increasingly metaphoric and analogous with his spiritual nature. The surreal fall 2018 collection struck chords with its viewers; severed heads and third eyes responded to an omnipresent quest for identity. Michele’s lack of any emphasis on heteronormativity has resuscitated the Gucci name, having faded during the latter end of Giannini’s term, to fit the tastes of today’s complex social climate.
The House of Gucci not only continues to make legendary fashion pieces and influence the world of design, but it uses its platform for social and political change. Before donating $500,000 U.S. dollars to a Washington gun-control march, Gucci began a partnership with Harlem designer and tailor Dapper Dan. Gucci’s influence, activism, and renown is unwavering and continues to triumph through tragedy, transformation, and the complexities of the modern age.
To read more of Love Happens’ second volume, explore here!
Image 1: Gucci Logo Background – Gucci Museo Florence, Photos by Mathieu Lebreton (daaamn.com) via Flickr (materialiste.com) / Desaturated from originals and layered in composition by Sofia Silva; Store logo from Gucci Madrid, Photo by David Adam Kess / Wikimedia Commons; Milan, Italy – 20th Sep, 2017 – Milan Woman’s Fashion Week Spring Summer 2018, Gucci Fashion Show, Photo by Independent Photo Agency / Alamy Live News / Alamy Stock Photo; ©Alpha Press 079965 05/12/2016 Alessandro Michele and Jared Leto The Fashion Awards 2016 Royal Albert Hall London / Alamy Stock Photo; Gucci Embellished Leather Biker Jacket / Net-a-Porter.com; Gucci Wall Mural, Milan – Artwork by Ignasi Monreal; Gucci Bamboo Handles, Photo by Visala Wong – Photographer, Content Creator and Branding Designer (@VforVisala, @VisalaTakesPhotos, VizionCreation.com)
Image 2: : Gucci Fall/Winter 2013 Collection by Frida Giannini at Gucci Museo Florence, Photo by Mathieu Lebreton (daaamn.com) via Flickr (materialiste.com) / Original layered in composition by Sofia Silva with Store logo from Gucci Madrid, Photo by David Adam Kess / Wikimedia Commons / Original layered in composition by Sofia Silva
Image 3: By Sofia Silva
Image 4: Gucci Fall/Winter 2013 Collection by Frida Giannini and Bulletin Board at Gucci Museo Florence, Photos by Mathieu Lebreton (daaamn.com) via Flickr (materialiste.com) / Originals layered in composition by Sofia Silva; 1960s Gucci Interlocking-G Logo, Author Tsange / Wikimedia Commons
Image 5: Images of Gucci Museo Florence – Belts, Floral Mannequin, Gucci Logo Print and Gucci Bag with Red & Green Stripe, Photos by Mathieu Lebreton (daaamn.com) via Flickr (materialiste.com) / Desaturated and cropped from originals and layered in composition by Sofia Silva; Guccio Gucci c. 1940, Photo via Wikimedia Commons; 1960s Gucci Interlocking-G Logo, Author Tsange / Wikimedia Commons; Tom Ford in London 2012, Photo by Piero Cruciatti / Alamy Stock Photo; Maurizio Gucci, © Supplied By Globe Photos, Inc/Globe Photos / ZUMAPRESS.com / Alamy Stock Photo; Aldo Gucci. ca. late 1970s. Courtesy: CSU Archives/Everett Collection / Alamy Stock Photo; Gucci’s Frida Giannini, Aurora Photos / Alamy Stock Photo; Gucci Tree of Life Scarf; ©Alpha Press 079965 05/12/2016 Alessandro Michele and Jared Leto The Fashion Awards 2016 Royal Albert Hall London / Alamy Stock Photo; GG Bees Silk Neck Bow, www.gucci.com