When Guccio Gucci founded his leather-goods company in Florence, Italy in 1922, his modest goal was to produce upscale luggage for an affluent clientele. Today, Gucci is known as much for the dresses, shoes, boots, and hats packed in those Gucci bags as the bags themselves.
Like all design firms, Gucci had to improvise during World War II, when materials such as leather were in short supply. Gucci began to make his luggage out of canvas, and used cheap and plentiful bamboo on the handles of his handbags. For some designers, these improvisations would have been considered compromises, but for Gucci, they became trademarks.
After the war, Gucci’s star was on the rise. During the 1950s, Gucci introduced its green-red-green stripe, which was reportedly taken from the girth, or cinch, that secures a saddle to a horse. By the 1960s, the word Gucci was synonymous with “men’s loafer”; Grace Kelly wore Gucci’s multicolored Flora scarf everywhere; and a Gucci bag was seen so frequently on Jacqueline Onassis’s shoulder that it was often called the Jackie O. Accessories from sunglasses to purses were soon covered with the firm’s new double-G logo. Counterfeiters saw double-dollar signs, knocking off countless Gucci products because there was just so much of it in the marketplace.
By 1972 the brand was beginning a death spiral of ubiquity. Even the lowly AMC Hornet, a no-frills economy car, had a Gucci interior. By the 1980s, with Gucci family members in open warfare with each other, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive named Dawn Mello finally took the company’s reins in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the brand. Her most important decision was to hire designer, and now film director, Tom Ford as Gucci’s new creative director.
More than anyone, it was Ford who made Gucci hot again. The company continued to make loafers (no need to kill that cash cow), but it also offered knee-high boots in alligator with tiny little heels in the back, a counter-intuitive reversal of the standard practice of finishing similarly styled boots with high stilettos.
Ford gave Gucci looks that Guccio could not have imagined—backless evening dresses in burgundy velvet; lace-up jersey tunics in jet black; baseball and ski caps that are walking billboards for the now-iconic double-G; and lipstick-red bikinis and other revealing examples of swimwear.