When Guccio Gucci opened his first store on Via Vigna Nuova in Florence, Italy, in 1921, little would he have imagined that his surname would become synonymous with sex appeal, hip-hoppers, and gender-fluid dressing, and amass 46 million followers on a 21st century social media platform called Instagram.
Add to that, screenplay-worthy family feuds, a near-bankruptcy, reversals of fortune, and a dramatic murder — the latter having provided the story for Ridley Scott’s upcoming House of Gucci.
The movie, featuring stars like Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, focuses on the 1995 murder of Maurizio Gucci, grandson of the founder, who was shot dead on the stairs to his office — on the orders of his ex-wife.
From migrant worker to luxury brand founder
Born on March 26, 1881, to a leather goods maker, Guccio Gucci left his native Italy in his teens, and among other jobs, worked as a bellboy at The Savoy Hotel in London in the late 1890s. It was the exquisite luggage of the hotel’s well-heeled guests that first sparked his imagination.
Years later, back in his native Florence, Gucci opened his first leather goods store, producing luxury travel goods for Italy’s wealthy upper class, as well as equestrian gear influenced by conversations about polo and horse racing he’d overheard at The Savoy Hotel.
During WWII, when a League of Nations embargo against Italy caused a leather shortage, Gucci drew on his resourcefulness and created luggage made from woven hemp featuring the brand’s now signature print — a series of interconnecting dark brown diamonds on a tan background.
Other Gucci hallmarks followed over the decades: the bamboo handle handbag, the double-G monogram, the Gucci red bar between two green stripes, and the Gucci loafer with its equestrian-inspired metal horsebit clasp, among others.
Across Italy and beyond
After WWII, Guccio’s sons — Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo — came onboard and opened more stores in Italy and abroad, spurring the company’s fortunes.
Aldo, for instance, oversaw the opening of Gucci’s first New York store at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in 1953. Although founder Guccio passed away just 15 days later, the brand continued to make waves in New York City.
One of its handbags was renamed “the Jackie” after one of the city’s famous residents, Jackie Kennedy, was seen carrying the model.
In 1985, the Gucci horsebit loafer was inducted into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection. It was also famously worn by Madonna to the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, and Brad Pitt in the 1999 film Fight Club.
Behind the scenes though, things weren’t always as rosy at the House of Gucci.
The 70s to 90s saw in-fighting among the Gucci siblings, tax evasion charges, poor management, flagging sales — and the headline-grabbing murder of Guccio’s grandson and one-time Gucci head, Maurizio.
The family would eventually lose all stakes in the company after it was taken over by Bahrain-based Investcorp in 1993. It was later bought by French group PPR (now Kering SA), whose CEO Francois-Henri Pinault is married to Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek.
Hayek is part the star-studded cast of the upcoming Ridley Scott film, House of Gucci, that focuses on the events leading to the murder of Maurizio Gucci (played by Adam Driver), orchestrated by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).
Having once enjoyed a glitzy lifestyle together, Maurizio eventually left Patrizia for his mistress, Paola Franchi. Patrizia and her accomplices (which included a self-confessed witch called Auriemma, played by Hayek) were later found guilty of the crime, and served time in prison.
From sex appeal to genderless fashion
However, one fortune-reversing decision that Maurizio Gucci made before his untimely death was to enlist American designer Tom Ford as the brand’s creative director.
Ford is often credited with having injected the brand with a heavy dose of sex appeal, extending even to its at-times scandalous advertisement campaigns.
With Ford at the helm creating high fashion that stood out against the grunge subculture of the 1990s, Gucci was transformed into a billion-dollar business, sealing its reputation as an “it” fashion brand.
Ford left big shoes to fill. His successors Alessandra Facchinetti and Frida Giannini did contribute to the brand’s evolution — though not as exceptionally as he did.
In 2015, Alessandro Michele, who’d already been working at the fashion house including in roles as a handbag designer, was made creative director. And his recent genderless takes on fashion — especially men’s fashion — has led to a revival of sorts for Gucci.
For instance, Michele dressed Jared Leto — who incidentally portrays Paolo Gucci in the film — in a red Gucci evening gown, accessorized with a model of his own head, for the 2019 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala.
And British singer Harry Styles became the first-ever man to grace the cover of American Vogue, wearing a periwinkle Gucci gown and dark jacket also designed by Michele.
Beloved: from hip-hoppers to Instagrammers
Underscoring its place in pop culture is the fact that Gucci is one of the most-referenced brands in hip-hop music: Lil Pump’s 2017 hit “Gucci Gang” mentions the brand 53 times.
Gucci’s connection with hip-hop dates back to the 1980s, when Harlem-based designer Daniel Day aka Dapper Dan created knockoffs by customizing track jackets with Gucci’s monogram for hip-hoppers Eric B. and Rakim for their debut record, “Paid in Full.”
Gucci initially attempted to stop Dapper Dan from using their logo for his flamboyant “knock-ups,” as he called them. The label has also tried to put an end to counterfeits of their designs through legal action — but the multi-million dollar industry still thrives. And the brand finally decided to collaborate with Dapper Dan himself, as part of its 100-year celebrations.
The recent resurgence of 1990s trends has also helped Gucci amass a new market: millennials and Generation Z — people who are now in their 20s and 30s. Gucci’s double G logo is hard to escape on social media these days. And as a nod to the trappings of the 21st century, there’s also the Gucci Kids Playground: the company’s first app dedicated to children’s wear.