Gucci at 90: Still hitting the G spot

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Gucci is 90, and to mark its birthday, the luxury label is paying homage to the classic designs that made it great, says Susannah Frankel

Gucci is 90 and, given that the luxury goods industry is rarely backwards in coming forwards where the promotion of a big brand is concerned, if you didn't know about its birthday already, you soon will.

Festivities have so far included a standout women's ready-to-wear collection harking back to spirit of the label in the jet-setting Seventies. That era was all about "Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci", of course, as Sister Sledge and the entire guest list at Studio 54 understood only too well. Then there is the recently unveiled Gucci Fiat 500 to consider – retailing at around $19,000 it's perhaps the ultimate run-around, complete with signature green-red-green go-faster stripe. This week, meanwhile, the Gucci 1921 collection arrives in store, featuring a new trademark – G Gucci 1921 – and drawing on the name's heritage for all its worth. Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director since 2005, says that "with this special commemorative collection I wanted to pay homage to the icons, craftsmanship and luxury materials for which the house has become renowned since its founding by Guccio Gucci... Each item in the collection tells a story, representing a chapter within the house's narrative history."

With this in mind, 1921's New Jackie and Horsebit Chain handbags more than nod to an eponymous Gucci-loving First Lady at the height of her fame and to Gucci's equestrian roots respectively. The original Gucci green (a little brighter than racing, a little darker than emerald) lines moccasins and loafers. A pair of Gucci loafers has formed a staple part of the wardrobes of men and women of style for decades. They are worn by everyone from the wealthy European frequent flyer who wouldn't be seen in anything but the first class cabin, to the young and too-cool-for-school contingent. Jodie Foster once rode a skateboard in a pair. Then come watches, bangles, wallets and more, all with an emphasis on the fine leather and exotic skin with which Gucci originally made its name, and in all the colours and textures a Gucci-phile could wish for.

Today, and despite the recently rocky economic climate, business is booming here – Gucci's parent company PPR (Pinault, Printemps La Redoute) posted double-digit growth for the label everywhere but Japan in the first quarter of this year. In a recent interview with the fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily, Giannini said: "After experimenting with fashion's many facets and drawing inspiration from [everything from] David Bowie to Russia, I feel that over the past couple of years I have synthesised, edited and cleaned up my act."

Her secret? An elegance with its roots in the classic bourgeois fashion tradition, most gloriously upheld by Yves Saint Laurent, but with an Italianate sense of sexuality that loosens that up somewhat, makes it more at ease with itself: expressive over and above repressed. Gianinni's signature is indeed steeped in Gucci's own story. "I was so fascinated the first time I visited the archives, which are full of incredible objects, and it's great fun to bring them back to new life."

When the imaginatively named Guccio Gucci, the son of a Florentine craftsman, opened a leather-goods store in his native city in 1921, he could surely not have foreseen that he was laying the foundations for what would go on to become one of the world's most powerful and instantly recognisable luxury brands, one of very few to appeal to all age groups and classes alike. Signore Gucci had worked at the Savoy Hotel in London and was therefore, it is said, well versed in the luggage requirements of European aristocracy, which he duly supplied with travelling paraphernalia including luggage and saddlery, all distinguished by its horse bit and stirrup iconography. As with the majority of Italy's most high-profile luxury goods empires, Gucci was a family-run concern. In the decades that followed, Guccio was joined by his sons Rodolfo, Aldo, Ugo and Vasco, who introduced printed canvas as a low-cost substitute for leather during wartime, the bamboo-handled bag (a version of the same appears in the 1921 collection), the interlocking "G" logo and the aforementioned stripe. In the early Sixties Gucci expanded into clothing and, in 1966, a "flora" print scarf was specially designed for Princess Grace of Monaco.

Throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s Gucci expanded across the globe, diversifying and licensing a burgeoning and increasingly accessible range of products. Such ubiquity comes at a price and the label's allure, until then associated with elitism, began to tarnish. In 1983 Rodolfo died and his son Maurizio took over. Gucci was not only over-exposed, it was also beleaguered by family in-fighting and intrigue, and on the verge of bankruptcy, too. Maurizio sold half of the company's shares to a Bahrain-based investment group at the end of that decade and the rest in 1993.

Gucci's spectacular reversal of fortune is, famously, attributed in the first place to Tom Ford, brought into the fold by Gucci creative director Dawn Mello, who employed him to design womenswear in 1990. Five years later, Domenico De Sole took over as CEO and, with Ford as creative front man, set about re-launching the label. De Sole and Ford, dubbed fashion's dream team, bought back any licenses and the latter's openly decadent, sex-fuelled collections and equally suggestive advertising campaigns courtesy of Mario Testino did the rest.

Boot-cut velvet trousers teamed with skinny shirts worn open to the navel looked back to the Seventies and made that era fashionable once more. Later, techno-stretch tailoring and talon heels in gleaming metal saw the birth of a 1980s revival from other people's catwalks down. Crash barriers were erected to contain the crowds at Gucci's Milan shows. Sales figures, meanwhile, were the envy of the industry, so much so that, in 1999, the French powerhouse LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) attempted a hostile takeover of Gucci, only to be pipped to the post by arch rival PPR, which owns the label today.

At the height of their careers and in a blaze of publicity in 2004, Ford and De Sole parted company with Gucci and a year later, following her successful relaunch of the "flora" print on a money-spinning range of bags, Frida Giannini, relatively unknown and who had worked on accessories alongside Ford, stepped into his shoes. If, by her own admission, Giannini took time to adjust, then that is not surprising. At Gucci, Tom Ford was perhaps the ultimate superstar designer and Giannini, conversely, was very much an insider, although a talented one. It is to her credit that she rose to the none-too-easy challenge of multi-tasking that was Ford's blueprint and was swiftly made responsible for menswear, moved into fragrance and oversees advertising. Under her watchful gaze, the company continues to flourish.

As for the birthday... Celebrations are due to culminate in the mother of all parties to be held in Florence (where else?) in the autumn of this year. Everyone who's anyone will doubtless be there, acknowledging both the longevity and ongoing success of this, one of designer fashion's most famous names.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas