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Gucci: A History Lesson

Triumphs, tragedy, corporate raiding, scandal, reinvention and ultimately, indelible fashion icons, characterize nine decades of the Gucci story.

Guccio and Rodolfo Gucci in front of the Rome store 1938
Gucci advertising for its Via Vigna Della Nuova store 1921
Tom Ford 1990

Tom Ford, 1990.

Photo By Nigel Parry

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 02/23/2011

1881: Guccio Gucci is born in Florence.

1897: 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.

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.

 

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.