Few words are as synonymous with luxury as Gucci. We see the gilded "G" and we know, instantly, that its wearer is in the 40-percent tax bracket. However, Gucci's beginnings were a bit more humble. Guccio Gucci, a former maitre d'hotel,... [more]
Few words are as synonymous with luxury as Gucci. We see the gilded "G" and we know, instantly, that its wearer is in the 40-percent tax bracket. However, Gucci's beginnings were a bit more humble. Guccio Gucci, a former maitre d'hotel, started the company in early-1920s Florence as a purveyor of leather goods. Within a decade, Gucci had originated one of its classic pieces: the horse-bit loafer. More classics followed with the silk scarf, the bamboo-handled purse, and other basic accessories. Eventually, his sons took the reins from Guccio and expanded the empire by opening several more shops. Gucci fans like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jacqueline Onassis raised the label's profile, and it enjoyed increasing popularity throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s.
By the late '80s, however, the Gucci heirs were too busy shooting themselves in the collective foot to worry about loafers. Family mishaps abounded: Guccio's son Rudolfo died, and his brother went to jail for tax evasion on evidence provided by his son, Paolo. Rudolfo's son Maurizio (who would later be killed in a hit arranged by his ex-wife) assumed control of a label plagued by internecine squabbling and mismanagement. In all, Gucci family members filed an amazing 15 lawsuits against each other. The Gucci label, already devalued by unchecked counterfeiting, crumbled further under its own injudicious licensing policies. At one point Gucci approved licenses for 22,000 products, many of them shoddy. The clothes had become boring and somewhat frumpy. On the verge of bankruptcy, Gucci was taken over by investment bank Investcorp in 1993. Maurizio's lawyer, Domenico De Sole, stepped in as C.E.O.
By this point, however, nearly all the designers had quit, tired of working without pay. The only designer to stay was Tom Ford, a new hire with relatively little formal experience. However, Ford proved to be the infusion of new blood that Gucci so desperately needed -- under Ford, Gucci experienced a complete turnaround. Sales quadrupled, and the label became synonymous with shockingly sexy luxury. Thanks to its recent facelift, Gucci, once sagging at 70-plus years old, is looking pretty good. [show less]