To hack it means to be successful, and Gucci—celebrating its 100 birthday this year—is undoubtedly so.
What started in Florence as a small, family-owned business has become a global behemoth, experiencing exponential growth since the 1990s.
Gucci was an Italian-British businessman and a legendary designer and it is said that he became fascinated by the stylish guests at the Savoy Hotel in London, where he worked as a lift boy in the early 1900s. It was not just the high quality clothes of the wealthy guests that inspired Gucci but also their well made luggage. On his return to Florence, Gucci created travel bags. The House of Gucci was founded in 1921. By 1938, Gucci had outlets in Rome and his sons, Aldo, Vasco, Ugo and Rodolfo would follow in his footsteps. Until his death in 1953 Gucci managed the brand.
In the 1940s the firm faced shortages of the usual materials needed to create bags and other accessories. During the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini leather was often very difficult to acquire. Undeterred Gucci began producing luggage and handbags made from linen, hemp and jute. Bamboo was incorporated to form handles. 1947 was the first known year of availability for the Bamboo Bag.
In the 1970's the Gucci expansion continued and stores were opened in the Far East. Tokyo and Hong Kong featured in this global expansion and the first Gucci ready to wear range was launched.
In 1994 Tom Ford was appointed to the position of Creative Director at Gucci.
By the end of the 1990's Ford's vision and leadership had increased sales by 90%. When Alessandro Michele became creative director in 2015, he brought a new, more inclusive perspective. As the brand has noted, he has “introduced a new narrative, one that includes a remarkable emphasis on words.”
The world Michele is building at Gucci is one without (many) boundaries. But it also addresses the hunger for Gucci that has led to counterfeits on the mass level and smaller-scale bootlegging. He reckoned with the former with Guccy bags, the latter by partnering with the Harlem couturier Dapper Dan. “I pursue a poetics of the illegitimate,” Michele wrote. It’s not without irony that such freedom is perhaps only possible within the context of a luxury house.
Michele speaks of his hacking lab as allowing “thefts and explosive reactions.” Some of this pilfering is being done in the house archives. Putting ego aside, Michele has taken a generous view of the house heritage, building on the best of all that came before, thus reinforcing the brand equity in a way that is in keeping with how people live and dress today. Total looks were made redundant by social media; Michele understands that. In dialoguing with (and sometimes hacking) the past, he expands Gucci’s lexicon as the brand looks to the future. In honor of Gucci’s centennial and Michele’s new hacking-lab concept, we look back at how the brand’s history has been rewired over time.
When Dapper Dan (Daniel Day) tells his story, he begins with a childhood in Harlem, some hustling, selling stolen clothing, returning to school, and working for a newspaper. In 1982, he opens a clothing boutique and soon has an “aha” moment. When a customer shows up with a cheap vinyl Louis Vuitton pouch, he realizes that its LVs make it valuable. As he explains, “This dude was bragging about the pouch. And it occurred to me, if that’s how he feels about the pouch, how would he feel if that Louis Vuitton became the whole outfit?”
Dapper Dan became a high end hip hop fashion designer whose clientele included Mike Tyson and LL Cool J. His custom clothing and car interiors were awash in logos. Populating every inch of a sleeve, an entire jacket, some trim on a dress, his logos included Prada, Vuitton, and Gucci.