Artisan Guccio Gucci founded his House of Gucci in 1921 to sell utilitarian leather goods such as high-end riding gear and luggage to aristocrats in Florence, Italy. As their fine leather handbags became more and more sought-after by wealthy clientele, the company never forget its equestrian-oriented roots, including horse-bit inspired closures on the purses.
With the help of his sons, Aldo, Vasco, Ugo, and Rodolfo, Gucci expanded his company to Rome and Milan. During World War II, a leather shortage prompted the company to experiment with other handbag material, such as hemp, linen, and jute. In 1947, an Gucci artisan created the iconic bamboo bag, shaped like a saddle with a handle of burnished bamboo cane.
In 1953, Aldo and Rodolfo expanded the company to New York City, and at the same time, wealthy jet-setters and film stars were traveling to the company's headquarters in Florence, giving the brand a status of international glamour. First Lady Jackie Kennedy flaunted a Gucci shoulder bag, now known as the Jackie O. The unstructured, unisex hobo bag was carried by Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Sellers, and Samuel Beckett.
In terms of icons, the riding theme continued into the 1950s with Gucci's green and red web stripe, taken from a saddle girth. In the '60s, Gucci introduced its interlocking double G logo.
During the '70s, Gucci rose in importance as the branded handbag became a status symbol. At the same time, the company was shifting its manufacturing to overseas factories, which diminished the handcrafted quality of its bags while also making them vulnerable to believable knockoffs.
Nonetheless, First Lady Nancy Reagan favored Gucci purses, which sold for upwards of $600, as the logos telegraphed wealth and importance in a decade where decadence was embraced.
Then, in 1994, Tom Ford joined Gucci, altering the bamboo handles and the horse-bit closures, attaching them to python, fur, and metallic leather purses. In 1999, the Gucci brand was absorbed into a large conglomerate of luxury goods, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.