Guccio Gucci was a self made millionaire whose legacy has lived more than sixty years after his death. He started out as a Florentine artisan whose obsession was in making leather products. Inspired by lavish lifestyle of the elite class, Guccio founded the iconic fashion label 'Gucci' over a century ago. Although the company has been passed over several generations to date, Guccio Gucci remains a celebrated veteran fashion designer across the globe.
Born on March 28th 1881 in Florence, the Italy’s northern manufacturing region, Guccio Gucci’s passion to become a fashion designer was innate. His father was an Italian hat merchant and this further motivated Gucci to become a businessman. Sadly, his father’s business went bankrupt and Gucci had to chip in to support the family.
In search for employment, Guccio moved to Paris and then London in 1898, where he worked as a dish washer, waiter, bellhop and other sorts of odd jobs. Gucci could not have landed a better job, considering he never received ample education while in Italy. The then 20-year old teenager later got hired as a lift boy at the Savoy Hotel in London, a place that was to change his life forever. Savoy was a hotel for the royalty and wealthy in London and also the first at the time to operate electric elevators. Celebrities and leaders across Europe frequently met here and this experience gave Gucci an opportunity to network with the elite class. Gucci’s job involved lifting guest’s luggage and taking it to their respective rooms.
Although, some would regard Gucci as a coolie, he managed to give an elevator ride to famous people such as Winston Churchill and Claude Monet just to name a few. Without considerable doubt, Savoy was a golden spot for the young man to observe how the elite class behaved and ran their life. While in the line of his work, he would observe the elegant and refined baggage owned by the guests, a trend that later inspired him to create his own line of leather goods. After serving as an elevator attendant for some years, Gucci moved back to Florence in 1902 where he worked under the Italian leather manufacturer Ditta Franzi in Milan. Gucci also sold leather saddles and bags, a venture that resulted to be quite lucrative.
With a great sense of design and style borrowed from his life in London, and immense exposure to the leather industry he had acquired over the years, the 40-year old man decided to explore the leather industry with a collection of high quality products. In 1921, he opened a small family owned leather saddler store in Florence, named the House of Gucci.
The first clients of Gucci were horsemen, to whom he made and sold leather bags. His reputation soon spread across Florence credit to the high quality bags he was making. After operating the shop alone with the help of family members, Guccio had no choice but to hire some of the best craftsmen to help him in the demanding venture. He also came up with machine carving and stitching carving which further helped him meet the growing demand. His horsemen clients had also graduated from equine transportation and were now using horseless carriages. This saw Guccio diversify his products to provide his clients with more of a variety.
In early ’30s, horse racing became very popular as a pass time activity in Rome. Guccio viewed the sporting activity as a business opportunity and a chance for him to grow the House of Gucci. He therefore started designing hardware for his leather products that were creatively made to resemble horse bits and stirrups.
One of the most remarkable products that Gucci made around this time is probably the loafer shoe with a gilded snaffle. Interestingly, the shoe became a product to treasure years later and is to date placed for display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
In 1935, the League of Nations ban against Italy made importation of leather difficult and this was a blow to the thriving business Guccio Gucci was priding in. However, the ban was a good test to Guccio Gucci whose creativity awakened and he started exploring other alternatives to replace the imported leather. He instead started making his products from specially woven canapa or hemp which he got from Naples. These woven materials were accessorized by pieces of interconnected diamonds in the brown color on a tan background. The materials were of great quality and so were the products made from them. Gucci targeted the rich and elite class in Florence by producing luxurious suitcases under the symbol GG. The rich immediately recognized and loved the Gucci brand and since there was no competition to the unique products, Gucci factory elevated to higher levels.
By this time, Gucci’s reputation had spread vastly and the demand for his quality products was more than he could supply. As a result, Gucci began planning on how he could expand his business. In 1938, he spread his wings to the capital by opening a retail outlet in Rome at Via Condotti. His sons, who by this time were grownups, came to his aid by assisting in the running of the business.
In the late 1940s, Guccio’s wife, Aldo Gucci, helped her husband introduce a new line of products made from pigskin. It’s also around this time that Guccio collaborated with his craftsmen to make the first bamboo-handled bag resembling the shape of a saddle- an innovation that has since then remained the brand’s mainstay.
Guccio was now getting old and the House of Gucci had been partially inherited by his sons. In 1951, his son Rudolfo assisted in the opening of another branch in Milan. Following the success the company was getting in Italy, Gucci’s son Aldo exposed the company to International recognition after he opened branches in Manhatttan, London, Paris and New York.
Sadly, only 15 days after the opening of the New York branch, Guccio Gucci died at the age of 72.
Guccio Gucci is a reflection of what determination and willpower can do. Despite passing on over sixty years ago, Guccio remains an inspiration to many in the fashion industry who follow in his footsteps.
The Florentine craftsman is celebrated to date for his desire to create historic products that have forever maintained the Gucci label. Interestingly, the skills, trends and aesthetics Gucci used to make the iconic leather products have been passed down generations. Such skills include hand stitching handles, preparation of leather strips for stitching and assembling bamboo handles on women handbags.
Gucci’s legacy has been maintained by the opening of the Gucci Museo in Florence. The museum is stocked with iconic items that range from the first leather products Gucci made to high edge dresses designed by him for international actresses. Further, the adoption of the company’s interlocking double G logo ensures Guccio Gucci’s name and initials live on forever.
Without any doubt, Gucci is not just a brand name, but a celebration of the man behind the prestigious label.
Guccio Gucci is the patriarch of a strong Italian dynasty which has in the recent years been on the headlines for family conflicts. However, Guccio was himself a humble man who believed in family love and hardwork to make it in life.
Guccio married Alda Calvelli Gucci who was a seamstress. Together, they had a large family of seven children; Aldo being the eldest, Maurizio, Enzo (who died at the age of nine), Vasco, Ugo, Rodolfo and Grimalda who was an only daughter. Upon Guccio’s death, his four sons Aldo, Vasco, Ugo and Rodolfo took over the family business. The four shared responsibilities with Aldo moving to New York where he opened a Gucci branch, Rodolfo preceded the opening of Milan store while Vasco managed the company in Florence.
Although Guccio loved Ugo like his own son, he was a step-son from Alda’s past relationship. His son Rodolfo initially found interest in the film industry as a movie actor. He, however, returned to run his father’s business together with the other brothers. It was the same case with Aldo whose interest in the formative years was Botany and equestrianism.
By the time of his death in 1953, Guccio lived in West Sussex England near Rusper.
Written by: Peris Ngaruiya