With beginnings at the end of the 19th century, the Gucci company became one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of high-end leather goods, clothing, and other fashion products. As an immigrant hotel worker in Paris and later London, young Guccio Gucci (1881–1953) was impressed with the luxurious luggage he saw urbane guests bring with them. Before leaving, he visited the manufacturer, H.J. Cave & Sons. Upon returning to his birthplace of Florence, a city distinguished for high-quality materials and skilled artisans, he established a shop in 1920 that sold fine leather goods with classic styling. Although Gucci organized his workrooms for industrial methods of production, he maintained traditional aspects of fabrication. Initially, Gucci employed skilled workers in basic Florentine leather crafts, attentive to finishing. With expansion, machine stitching was a production method that supported construction.
Together with three of his sons, Aldo Gucci (1905-1990), Vasco Gucci (1907–1975), and Rodolfo Gucci (1912–1983), Gucci expanded the company to include stores in Milan and Rome as well as additional shops in Florence. Gucci's stores featured such finely crafted leather accessories as handbags, shoes, and his iconic ornamented loafer as well as silks and knitwear in a signature pattern.
The company made handbags of cotton canvas rather than leather during World War II as a result of material shortages. The canvas, however, was distinguished by a signature double-G symbol combined with prominent red and green bands. After the war, the Gucci crest, which showed a shield and armored knight surrounded by a ribbon inscribed with the family name, became synonymous with the city of Florence.
Aldo and Rodolfo Gucci further expanded the company's horizons in 1953 by establishing offices in New York City. Film stars and jet-set travelers to Italy during the 1950s and 1960s brought their glamour to Florence, turning Gucci's merchandise into international status symbols. Movie stars posed in Gucci's clothing, accessories, and footwear for lifestyle magazines around the world, contributing to the company’s growing reputation.
Gucci's distinctive lines made its products among the most frequently copied in the world in the early 2000s. Pigskin, calf, and imported exotic animal skins were subjected to various methods of fabrication. Waterproof canvas and satin were used for evening bags. Bamboo was first used to make handbag handles by a process of heating and molding in 1947, and purses made with a shoulder strap and snaffle-bit decoration were introduced in 1960. In 1964 Gucci’s lush butterfly pattern was custom-created for silk foulards, followed by equally luxuriant floral patterns. The original Gucci loafer was updated by a distinctive snaffle-bit ornament in 1966, while the "Rolls-Royce" luggage set was introduced in 1970. Watches, jewelry, ties, and eyewear were then added to the company's product lines. A particularly iconic touch, introduced in 1964, was the use of the double-G logo for belt buckles and other accessory decorations.
The company prospered through the 1970s, but the 1980s were marked by internal family disputes that brought Gucci to the brink of disaster. Rodolfo’s son Maurizio Gucci took over the company’s direction after his father’s death in 1983, and dismissed his uncle Aldo—who eventually served a prison term for tax evasion. Maurizio proved to be an unsuccessful president; he was compelled to sell the family-owned company to Investcorp, a Bahrain-based company, in 1988. Maurizio disposed of his remaining stock in 1993. Tragically, Maurizio was murdered in Milan in 1995, and his former wife, Patrizia Reggiani, was convicted of hiring his killers. Meanwhile, the new investors promoted the American-educated Domenico De Sole from the position of family attorney to president of Gucci America in 1994 and chief executive in 1995.
The company had previously brought in Dawn Mello in 1989 as editor and ready-to-wear designer in order to reestablish its reputation. Well aware of Gucci’s tarnished image and the value of its name brand, Mello hired Tom Ford in 1990 to design a ready-to-wear line. He was promoted to the position of creative director in 1994. Before Mello returned to her post as president of the American retailer Bergdorf Goodman, she initiated the return of Gucci’s headquarters from the business center of Milan to Florence, where its craft traditions were rooted. There she and Ford reduced the number of Gucci products from twenty thousand to five thousand.
There were seventy-six Gucci stores around the world in 1997, along with numerous licensing agreements. Ford was instrumental in the process of decision-making with De Sole when the Gucci Group acquired Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, Bottega Veneta, Boucheron, Sergio Rossi, and, in part-ownership with Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. By 2001 Ford and De Sole shared the responsibility for major business decisions, while Ford concurrently directed design at Yves Saint Laurent as well as at Gucci.
The French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, however, gained ownership of 60 percent of the Gucci Group’s stock in 2003. Women’s Wear Daily then announced the departure of both Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford from the Gucci Group when their contracts expired in April 2004. The last spring collection under the direction of Ford and De Sole was a critical and commercial success. Amid widespread speculation in the fashion press about Ford’s heir, the company announced in March 2004 that he would be replaced by a team of younger designers promoted from the ranks of the company’s staff.
In 2005, Frida Giannini was appointed as the creative director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, previously joining Gucci in 2002. In 2006, she also became the creative director for men's ready-to-wear and the entire Gucci label.
As announced in December 12, 2014, Creative Director Frida Giannini and CEO Patrizio di Marco were to step down from Gucci. Marco Bizzarri was appointed CEO of the brand.
A turnaround of the company devised in the late 1980s made Gucci a global contender and a notable fashion label. In October 1995, Gucci went public and had its first initial public offering on the AMEX and NYSE for $22 per share. November 1997 also proved to be a successful year as Gucci acquired a watch license, Severin-Montres, and renamed it Gucci Timepieces.
The firm was named "European Company of the Year 1998" by the European Business Press Federation for its economic and financial performance, strategic vision as well as management quality.
Gucci headquarters are in Florence, other world offices are in Milan, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Japan, and New York. Kering headquarters are in Paris.
In 1989, Maurizio managed to persuade Dawn Mello, whose revival of New York's Bergdorf Goodman in the 1970s made her a star in the retail business, to join the newly formed Gucci Group as Executive Vice President and Creative Director Worldwide. At the helm of Gucci America was Domenico De Sole, a former lawyer who helped oversee Maurizio's takeover of ten 1987 and 1989. The last addition to the creative team, which already included designers from Geoffrey Beene and Calvin Klein, was a young designer named Tom Ford. Raised in Texas and New Mexico, he had been interested in fashion since his early teens but only decided to pursue a career as a designer after dropping out of Parsons School of Design in 1986 as an architecture major. Dawn Mello hired Ford in 1990 at the urging of his partner, writer and editor Richard Buckley.
In the early 1990s, Gucci underwent what is now recognized as the poorest time in the company's history. Maurizio riled distributors, Investcorp shareholders, and executives at Gucci America by drastically reining in on the sales of the Gucci Accessories Collection, which in the United States alone generated $110 million in revenue every year. The company’s new accessories failed to pick up the slack, and for the next three years the company experienced heavy losses and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Maurizio was a charming man who passionately loved his family's business, but after four years most of the company's senior managers agreed that he was incapable of running the company. His management had had an adverse effect on the desirability of the brand, product quality, and distribution control. He was forced to sell his shares in the company to Investcorp in August 1993. Dawn Mello returned to her job at Bergdorf Goodman less than a year after Maurizio’s departure, and the position of creative director went to Tom Ford, then just 32 years old. Ford had worked for years under the direction of Maurizio and Mello and wanted to take the company’s image in a new direction. De Sole, who had been elevated to President and Chief Executive Officer of Gucci Group NV, realized that if Gucci were to become a profitable company, it would require a new image, and so he agreed to pursue Ford’s vision.
In 1998, Guinness World Records cited the Gucci "Genius Jeans" as the most expensive pair of jeans in existence. These jeans were distressed, ripped and covered with African beads and were offered for sale for US$3,134 in Milan. (This record was surpassed in June 2005 by Levi Strauss & Co.'s 115-year-old 501 jeans that sold to an anonymous Japanese collector for $60,000.)
In early 1999, the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, headed by Bernard Arnault, increased its shareholdings in Gucci with a view to a takeover. Domenico De Sole was incensed by the news and declined Arnault's request for a spot on the board of directors, where he would have access to Gucci’s confidential earnings reports, strategy meetings, and design concepts. De Sole reacted by issuing new shares of stock in an effort to dilute the value of Arnault’s holdings. He also approached French holding company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR) about the possibility of forming a strategic alliance. François Pinault, the company’s founder, agreed to the idea and purchased 37 million shares in the company, or a 40% stake. Arnault’s share was diluted to a paltry 20%, and a legal battle ensued to challenge the legitimacy of the new Gucci-PPR partnership, with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom representing Gucci. Courts in the Netherlands ultimately upheld the PPR deal, as it did not violate that country's business laws. The second largest shareholder is Crédit Lyonnais with 11%. As of September 2001, a settlement agreement was put into place between Gucci Group, LVMH, and PPR.
Following Ford's departure, Gucci Group retained three designers to continue the success of the company's flagship label: John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti and Frida Giannini, all of whom had worked under Ford's creative direction. Facchinetti was elevated to Creative Director of Women's wear in 2004 and designed for two seasons before leaving the company. Ray served as Creative Director of Menswear for three years. 32-year-old Giannini, who had been responsible for designing men's and women's accessories, served as Creative Director for the entire brand.
In 2006, Frida Giannini, formerly Creative Director of accessories, was named sole Creative Director. In 2009, Patrizio di Marco replaced Mark Lee as CEO of Gucci.
Marco Bizzarri was appointed CEO of the brand as announced on December 12, 2014, and Alessandro Michele became Gucci's Creative Director on January 21, 2015.
In April 2016, Susan Chokachi was promoted to the role of President and Chief Executive Officer of Gucci America, having previously held the role of Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications.
In June 2012, Gucci won a trademark lawsuit against Guess with an award of $4.7 million in damages. On 16 October 2013, Gucci won a trademark counterfeiting and cybersquatting lawsuit, in US federal district court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, against several online business. Gucci won permanent injunction, the "immediate surrender to Gucci of 155 domain names used in the counterfeiting operation", and an award of USD $144.2 million, which includes interest. On 5 November 2013, the UK's Intellectual Property Office issued a ruling that Gucci has lost the rights to its GG trademark in the UK "to a version of the GG logo in four categories, which encompassed garments such as bracelets, shoulder bags, scarves and coats". German clothing firm Gerry Weber applied to revoke "the trademark on account of its 'nonuse' in the periods from 2003 through 2008 and 2007 through 2012". However, "according to Gucci, the ruling does not affect the use of its GG logo in the region" because “Gucci is the owner of several other valid registrations for this mark, including a Community Trade Mark (covering the European Union) for its iconic GG logo and those rights are directly enforceable in the U.K." On 6 November 2013, Gucci won a trademark infringement and unfair competition activities lawsuit against Guess in Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court of the People's Republic of China. Gucci claimed that Guess was " imitating its collections and image." In December 2014, a Gucci subcontractor in Italy told Investigative Journalists that Gucci was aware it irregularly employed Chinese workers who worked as long as 14 hours a day.
Gucci is famous for producing controversial advertisements that many believe sexualizes and objectifies women. Erving Goffman conducted research on advertisements and how they are consistently reinforcing common stereotypes of women. He outlined different characteristics commonly found in media that tend to favor men over women. These stereotypes, which can all be found in Gucci’s advertisements, include relative size, ritualization of subordination, feminine touch, and function ranking.
Almost all of Gucci’s advertisements include a woman who is being dismembered to show off a certain part of her body, positioned in a way, that some would consider, sexualizes her body, or made much smaller in size to appear submissive to the counterpart (usually a male) in the ad. Jean Kilbourne describes how often advertisements are working to undermine women and place women in positions of passivity. Many people find these advertisements offensive and in turn many organizations have publicly criticized Gucci. The Fashion Law, a fashion legal and business website, argues that the infamous line “sex sells” is proven through Gucci’s continual use of scandalous advertisements and correlating sales.
Gucci became popular in the early 1920s by fashion designer Guccio Gucci, but the controversial advertisement did not begin until Tom Ford and subsequently Frida Giannini took over the business. In the early 1920s print ads were not nearly as popular in the fashion industry as they are today. After Frida Giannini became the creative director for the business sales reached an all-time high, in part due to the advertisements drawing mass amounts of attention to the brand name.
In early 2003 Gucci produced a highly popular advertisement which pictured a super model with her pants pulled down and her pubic hair shaved into a “G”. The Advertising Standards Authority (United Kingdom) received countless complaints from people and organizations, including the director of mediawatchuk demanding the ad be banned due to his belief it was “harmful to society”. Many believed that the outcry regarding the ad just fed the idea that Gucci was using sex to successfully sell their products. Although this was a point of contention between Gucci and the Advertising Standards Authority, scholars have shown that Gucci continues to walk the thin line between offensive and acceptable advertisements.
Despite the fact that Gucci’s “Pubic Enemy” ad was banned worldwide instantly, the Italian luxury brand still continues to publish controversial ads. In order to promote their Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Gucci used a short film and images with reference to a cult film about drug addiction. The campaign advertisement depicted women dealing with drugs and prostitution. The film the Gucci ad is inspired by is based on a 14-year-old heroin addict and sex workers’s true story. A scene in the Gucci campaign takes place in a subway/railway station usually connected with prostitution and drug trade; in the film, the main character and her boyfriend sell their bodies at that same place called the Bahnhof Zoo. This advertisement received a lot of backlash primarily because one of their young models was unhealthily thin according to the Advertising Standards Authority. This advertisement may sound shocking to some, but to the advertisement industry it is a prime example of what they are supposed to do. William O'Barr argues that advertisements' main priority is to break through and draw the consumer's attention, regardless of what is deemed appropriate in society's eyes.
Aldo Gucci expanded into new markets including an agreement with American Motors Corporation (AMC). The automaker merged the worlds of couture and automobiles with the Gucci AMC Hornet. Starting in October 1971, the 1972 and 1973 model year Hornet compact "Sportabout" station wagons became one of the first American cars to offer a special luxury trim package created by a famous fashion designer. Although coming from Italy where sleek sports cars are more revered, Gucci put his special touch efforts on the Hornet station wagon with a rear lift gate and 60.8 cubic feet (1,722 l) of cargo space inside. The Gucci versions came with the designer's signature red and green trim colors on well-padded beige-upholstered seating and on the interior door panels. The Gucci crest appeared on the inside front door panels and on the front fenders, while the "GG" trademark was on the headliner. Exterior color selections were limited to Snow White, Hunter Green, Grasshopper Green, and Yuca Tan.
In 1979 and 1980, a Miami-based coachbuilder sold Gucci edition of Cadillac's midsize Seville luxury sedan. The exterior included a "facing double G" Gucci logo, an emblem actually featuring Guccio Gucci’s initials, as a hood ornament and the c-pillar covered vinyl roof. The interior had a headliner of the logo and headrests adorned with the logo as well. The dashboard carried the "Gucci script" logo in bold lettering. Inside the trunk was a full set of Gucci luggage.
A 1989 Gucci Series of Lincoln's full size Town Car luxury sedan was scheduled to be offered, per pricing guides, but never came to fruition. Lincoln offered Pucci, Bill Blass, Versace, Hubert de Givenchy, and Valentino designer editions during the 1970s and 1980s.
For 2011, marking the celebration of both the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and Gucci's 90th anniversary, Gucci and Fiat unveiled the special edition 500 by Gucci. Available in two versions; Black and White. The black version has detailing in shiny chrome with an interior that contrasts sharp black and white for a contemporary and racy feel, whilst the white version complete with satin chrome detailing and ivory and black interior creates a softer look.
Gucci has had a partnership with UNICEF since 2005. Gucci stores worldwide donate a percentage of the sales for special collections made specifically for UNICEF to go toward the United Nations Children's Fund. The annual Gucci Campaign to Benefit UNICEF supports education, healthcare, protection and clean water programs for orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. For the campaign in 2009, Michael Roberts promoted a children's book, "Snowman in Africa" with proceeds going to UNICEF. In five years, Gucci donated over $7 million to UNICEF. Gucci is the largest corporate donor to UNICEF's "Schools for Africa" that was established in 2004 by UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Hamburg Society. Its goal is to increase access to basic schooling for all, with a special emphasis on children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and children living in extreme poverty.
Launched in February 2013, the "Chime for Change" campaign works to further the global campaign for girls' and women's empowerment. Gucci has funded over 210 projects in 81 countries through via this initiative.
In 2013, it was announced that Beyoncé Knowles would work with Salma Hayek and Frida Giannini on the campaign that aims to spread female empowerment. The campaign, which aired on February 28, was set to new music by Knowles. A concert for the cause took place on June 1, 2013 in London and included other acts like Ellie Goulding, Laura Pausini, Florence and the Machine, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora. The concert raised over $130,000.
In July 2013, activist Lydia Emily was commissioned to paint a mural on Skid Row, Los Angeles of a woman named Jessica, who is a survivor of human trafficking. She currently works for the Mary Magdalene Project – an organization which has been helping women leave the sex industry since 1980.
Gucci opened a 1,715 square metre museum charting its 90-year history; Gucci Museo is located within the Palazzo della Mercanzia overlooking the Piazza della Signoria.