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Renaissance Stories: Gucci

William Kissel

Gucci has updated its woven GG insignia for its La Pelle Guccissima collection; like a cattle brand, the GG logo now is burned into handbags, shoes, luggage, small leather goods, and gift items with hot stamps and then colored in a variety of shades. The mark should prove longer-lasting than Gucci’s cachet of the 1970s. At that time, the brand’s red-and-green-striped webbing and interlocked Gs were as ubiquitous as polyester, but by the 1990s, years of feuding between Gucci family members and a series of business missteps—including allowing substandard quality and unchecked worldwide licensing of the name—had relegated the label to little more than a tacky airport brand. When the Gucci family sold the company to Investcorp in 1993 and chief executive Domenico De Sole and creative director Tom Ford assumed its helm, the 70-year-old Italian leather goods company was approaching bankruptcy.
 
Nevertheless, Ford and De Sole saw great potential in many of founder Guccio Gucci’s original designs. Some of the brand’s current best sellers—including bamboo-handled handbags and suede loafers accented with metal riding bits—were conceived prior to Gucci’s death in 1953. Essentially, Ford and De Sole resurrected the nearly moribund label by drawing from the brand’s glory days of the 1960s and early ’70s, when Gucci featured unbuttoned skin-tight silk shirts and velvet hip-hugger slacks. Ford fully embraced the spirit of such fashion hedonism in his early collections and cultivated a younger, celebrity-studded following. Furthermore, his sexy reinterpretation of classic Gucci designs and his resuscitation of the GG logo reestablished the label and made Ford a celebrity himself.

While Ford single-handedly restored sex appeal to the products and cohesiveness to the Gucci stores in which they are sold, De Sole pioneered a new business model—no licenses, no franchises, and no secondary lines—to protect the brand’s purity and enhance its exclusivity. By 1999, Gucci had become Italy’s most profitable fashion company, surpassing Prada and even Giorgio Armani. That same year, De Sole and Ford launched their quest to develop Gucci into a fashion conglomerate by forming Gucci Group NV, which acquired such storied brands as Bottega Veneta, Boucheron, Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent.
 
Despite the departure of De Sole and Ford in 2004, the company continues to trade on its GG signature. Gucci Group’s 2005 sales exceeded $2.2 billion, more than half of which was generated by the entity itself. Only seven years earlier, Gucci was losing money on sales of $200 million, and auditors were recommending liquidation.

Gucci, 800.234.8224, www.gucci.com

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