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G IS FOR GUCCI
BY: LINDSAY COLGAN
COVER ART: JULIANNA LUKACS
This year, Italian luxury brand Gucci celebrates its 100th anniversary. Guccio Gucci began selling luggage in 1921, taking advantage of his home country’s resources and fine craftsmanship. Over time, the brand began to move into the luxury sector, expanding its product line to include a variety of leather goods and accessories, and eventually, clothing.
While leather goods still make up around 57% of the brand’s revenue, Gucci is no longer known for its saddles and suitcases. In fact, some would say Gucci is best known for its classic, iconic pieces—the Jackie bag, renamed after Jackie Kennedy in the 70s; the Horsebit loafers, an homage to the brand’s equestrian past; and the silk floral scarf, constantly reimagined and always adored. I would argue, though, that what Gucci is best known for today is quite the opposite of its timelessness.
Many long-standing luxury brands struggle to connect with younger audiences, especially with fast fashion now dominating and trends becoming more relevant than ever. However, in 2017 Gucci’s sales grew by 44.6% from the previous year, a dramatic increase for such a tenured brand. Many attribute their growth and enduring success to their ability to attract a younger demographic—CEO of Kering, Gucci’s parent company, announced that nearly 50% of the brand’s sales come from millennials and Gen Z. While other luxury fashion houses find themselves bound by tradition, Gucci’s creative directors and designers have pushed their collections to new heights, focusing on including current trends alongside reworking classics. Through pushing boundaries, Gucci has found its unique place in the luxury market as a favorite among the young and wealthy.
The first big shift in Gucci’s reputation can be attributed to Tom Ford. Often regarded as the man who saved Gucci, Ford began as the women’s ready-to-wear designer in 1989, and soon after took over as the brand’s creative director. Instead of mimicking other 90s minimalistic collections, Ford broke from the industry norm and enlisted the power of sexuality to stand out. The 1996 autumn/winter collection and campaign perfectly encapsulated his vision, featuring slinky slip dresses, plunging necklines, and sexually-charged photographs. Young, fashionable consumers embraced the brazen sex appeal, boosting Gucci’s sales and pulling the brand from near bankrupcy to a value of $10 billion. Ford not only revolutionized Gucci’s brand, but he also revolutionized high fashion, pushing the limits of tradition and normalizing “scandal.”
In 2004, the Pinault-Printemps-Redoute group acquired the remaining shares of Gucci, completing their $8.8 billion buyout of the company. Tensions arose from this shift in power, and Ford departed, leaving the brand to be passed between different creative directors before finding its stride once again when Alessandro Michele was announced as creative director in 2015. Michele often sings his praises of Gucci under Ford’s rule, so it is no surprise that he is also known for his out-of-the-box approach to the luxury fashion industry. As one of his first moves as creative director, Michele notoriously redesigned the 2015 menswear collection in just five days, setting the tone for his career. Known for his maximalist designs, pop culture references, social consciousness, and courage to prioritize quality over quantity—reducing the frequency of Gucci’s yearly shows from five to two—Michele is the perfect fit for the brand. He seamlessly combines respect for the past and forward-thinking to create designs that push boundaries, attracting new generations while retaining the old. Under his direction, Gucci has integrated itself into every aspect of popular culture, from adopting the biggest superstars as their poster children (Harry Styles and Billie Eilish, to be exact) to addressing current issues such as sustainability, releasing their first sustainability-focused collection, “Off the Grid.”
It is safe to say that Gucci finds itself thriving under creative directors who are not afraid to push the limits, pay attention to consumers, and be true to themselves, qualities which seem to resonate especially with younger generations. Thanks to people like Tom Ford and Alessandro Michele, Gucci has made it clear that this fashion house isn’t going anywhere; in fact, it will follow the public, changing and transforming with the times, maintaining relevance through its adaptability.