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100 years of Gucci! The stark story behind the luxury label

100 years of Gucci, 100 years of Italian luxury fashion! Behind the glamorous façade, family feuds were played out like in a movie, and the fashion company almost broke up as a result. The coveted label owes the fact that the brand is now shining again to rescuers from outside.

In the middle of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, creative director Alessandro Michele recently staged his latest Gucci collection under the title "Love Parade". The location could hardly have been more fitting, as Gucci’s 100-year history reads like an Oscar-worthy screenplay. Its darkest chapter has now been filmed by Ridley Scott. House of Gucci, starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, will be released in German cinemas on December 2.

Adam Driver and Lady Gaga in House of Gucci
In "House of Gucci" Adam Driver slips into the role of Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga plays Patrizia ReggianiPhoto: dpa picture alliance

The history of Gucci

At first, it was the classic upstart story: at the end of the 19th century, a young man named Guccio Gucci set off from Florence to London to try his luck. He found a job at the famous Savoy Hotel and was fascinated by the noble luggage of the guests. Back home, he went into the leather goods business himself. In 1921 he opened his first small store in Florence. And the family followed his passion. His three sons joined the company. Aldo Gucci, the oldest, was the main driving force. He introduced a Gucci symbol that is still valid today: the green-red stripes that go back to saddle belts.

In 1947, a bag with a bamboo handle was launched on the market, which was to become another trademark. Until finally, at the end of the 1960s, a shoe finally made Gucci a status symbol: a loafer with a horsebit buckle over the instep. By then, the third generation of the family was already involved in the company. From then on, things got messy. They argued, intrigued, litigated, disinherited. And they did so continuously and in full view of the public. In her biography Gucci, published in 2001, Sara Gay Forden describes in great detail how poisonous this family feud was.

How Maurizio Gucci wanted to revamp the label

In the early 1980s, Maurizio Gucci, a grandson of the company’s founder, set out to emerge from the discord as the new strong man. By then, the label’s aura had faded. Its own line of cheaper bags had flooded the mass market, and its luxury image had been tarnished. In addition, new names like Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace had risen. Maurizio Gucci addressed all these problems, bringing in management and shareholders from outside for the first time in the company’s history. But the latter soon turned against him. He, who had previously pushed out all family members, now had to sell his shares himself to the investment firm Investcorp in 1993. From then on, Gucci existed without a single Gucci.

Tom Ford, a smart Texan, rose from design director to creative director and quickly laid the foundation for a look that sent the fashion world into ecstasy. A cool sexiness, with pants, lasciviously opened silk blouses and velvet coats. He was assisted by Domenico De Sole, a lawyer who had been Gucci’s family litigator for years and was now chairman of the board.

Murder of Maurizio Gucci now filmed

Maurizio Gucci did not live to see this hype. As he was about to enter his Mailänder Büro on the morning of March 27, 1995, four pistol bullets hit him. A murder ordered by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani, who was sentenced to 29 years in prison. This story is at the center of the feature film House of Gucci, now in theaters.

Meanwhile, the company remained true to its reputation for providing thriller material even in golden times. In 1999, French luxury giant LVMH set out to integrate the label into its portfolio in a hostile takeover. Domenico De Sole then launched a defensive campaign that captivated the fashion and financial worlds. When he and Tom Ford left the company five years later in disagreements with their then savior, the French group PPR (today: Kering), Gucci’s end once again seemed near. The collections of the following ten years, which were more successful than ingenious, seemed to confirm this. And no one would have guessed on January 19, 2015, that this show would again be one of those striking turning points.

Gucci back on top of the fashion Olympus

Of that Alessandro Michele one knew at the time only that he already worked for more than ten years for Gucci. In five days, the new creative director assured, he had designed his first collection: Men who wore shirts with scales, lace and Persian coats. They were the harbingers of a new Ära. Male and female, high and pop culture, Michele no longer thinks in such binary terms. His eclectic, gender-fluid looks are particularly appealing to young customers. Gucci regained a clear identity. And above all: peace behind the scenes.

With material from dpa