The mysterious case of Gucci

Understanding how the luxury fashion house survived 100 years, went through drastic changes and is still hugely successful
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The renovated Gucci Garden in Florence, Italy (Photo: Gucci)

Throughout the years, Italian luxury fashion house Gucci has built a cult following and 2021 marks its century long history and legacy. What started as a family business in Florence in 1921, turned into an empire with multiple classic pieces and details attached to its name: the Bamboo bag, the red and green stripes, the double G logo belts, the Jackie bag and the moccasins, among others. However, with power and money, come egos and problems. There were moments up until the late 1980s where profits were not seen, Gucci was losing its exclusivity factor and many family fights were taking place in regards to the fashion house. By then, the company was at risk of bankruptcy.

 

In 1990, American fashion designer, Tom Ford joined Gucci to assist in designing, but it was not until 1994 that he got promoted to creative director of the fashion house. Ford decided to have a full revival of the label by introducing more provocative, hyper-sexy designs and campaigns. Cut-out dresses, cufflinks, low cleavage blouses paired with tailored suits – it was a porno chic dream at the time. Although Gucci was back on the map and making millions of dollars, Ford announced his departure from the label in 2004 and for the ten years to follow, they struggled to find the right replacement – that was until Marco Bizzari became the CEO in December 2014, with the mission of reversing Gucci’s declining sales. He named the now renown Alessandro Michele as creative director in January 2015, who had been working for the house as a head accessories designer since 2002. Things were about to take a huge turn.

Usually when fashion labels as big as Gucci are not doing well business wise, they have to go through an enormous rebranding process and that is exactly what happened when Michele took over. He wanted the new Gucci to be “sophisticated with an androgynous feel,” he has said multiple times in the past. He now does genderless fashion shows, brought back iconic pieces, such as the Jackie bag, the loafers and the double G print, which was very fitting when logomania saw a rise in trends and sales. “My aesthetic philosophy is an uninterrupted flow: There is no distinction between old and new things, but there are only beautiful things. I love contemporary, but I want to always look to the past. You can’t ignore it,” he tells Vogue in 2019. With Michele more is never enough and his mixture of modernity and Renaissance influences gave Gucci a marmite effect, but most people tend to love it as the company has more than doubled in revenue since his arrival. The fashion house was not only the most successful luxury label in 2020, it continues to be in 2021, claiming the highest profit so far and a growth of 12.5% according to the Business of Fashion.

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White cut-out dresses by Tom Ford for Gucci, Autumn/Winter 1996 (Photo: Getty Images)

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Alessandro Michele's first Gucci show, Men's Autumn/Winter 2015 (Photo: Getty Images)

Models that do not always fit the beauty standards, genderless clothes, excessive numbers of accessories and designs that cater from high fashion lovers to tracksuit obsessives are a few of the characteristic that built the new Gucci. Michele seems to have found the sweet spot of success and although many people thought the label could not last the hype of the moment, he has proven everyone wrong by using the weird and the ugly to his advantage, creating his tribe of outsiders. The maximalist and neo-Romantic aesthetic not only translates into the clothes, but also its campaigns, fashion shows and the celebrities that have become ambassadors of the label – Florence Welch, Harry Styles and Billie Eilish to name a few. “I know that I cannot afford most things the sell, but when I see my idols wearing the label I want to save up to buy at least something small. It gives me a sense of connection to them,” says a young woman, who is a fan of both Styles and Eilish.

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Harry Styles for Gucci's Beloved campaign, 2021 (Photo: Gucci)

Harry Styles and Billie Eilish in custom Gucci for the Grammys 2021 (Photo: Getty Images)

Michele’s marketing awareness plays a huge part into why the megabrand has taken over the fashion world. A big part of Gucci’s market is younger people in their early 20s and 30s, and although using celebrities they look up to as the faces of the fashion house is a great idea, designing clothes that are eye-catching, look good on Instagram and sell an idea of individuality and exclusivity, encourage this age group to buy it even more – it becomes part of a lifestyle for them.

 

Alessandro Michele’s latest move was a collaboration with another Kering owned label: Balenciaga – also a “hype brand” under the luxury fashion umbrella. Just like Gucci, the Spanish fashion house is part of the five most profitable labels in the luxury market in 2020, so joining the global sensations that have similar cult followings was inevitable and simply genius from a business point of view. The collaborative collection could not have come at a better time with the celebration of Gucci’s centenary anniversary as a business. Some of the items consisted of structured blazers with shoulder pads, loose shorts, tights, pointed-toe boots, bags and accessories all with a combination of the houses’ logos and colours all over. If you imagine Alessandro Michele and Demna Gvasalia throwing their signature designs into a blender and turning it on full-speed, you would start to paint a picture of the collection.

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Gucci x Balenciaga (Photo: Gucci)

While Gucci has its lovers and followers, it also has its haters (myself included, although hate is a strong word) and people that consider the whole label a gimmick. “I do not understand how Gucci continues to make this much money when everything looks horrible and cheap. If you have any sense of style, any taste, you would not be buying any of it,” says a young man who wants to remain anonymous. “The ugly and maximalist aesthetic is only a capitalist marketing strategy to get their obsessive fans to buy into the hype and idea they are trying to sell, not because they like it necessarily, but because their friends or people they look up to consider Gucci cool,” he adds.

 

The excitement people thought would die down after a couple of years of Michele being in charge had the complete opposite effect as the numbers show. The bigger the fashion house gets, the bigger the budget and more extravagant his next move has to be – it is a rollercoaster that only goes up, but how long will it take until it has no choice but to fall? Everything so far has worked in his favour: morphing womenswear and menswear into two genderless collections a year; bringing back some iconic items from the past century, all with a modern twist to go with Michele’s rebranding; casting diverse ‘unusual’ looking models that are heavily tattooed, have non-conventional features and represent his image of “weird”; choosing the correct celebrities to be the ambassadors and faces of the label; having a strong online presence which targets the younger audience he has reached.

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Hoarders and Collectors campaign, Autumn/Winter 2018 (Photo: Gucci)

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Gucci Spring/Summer 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)

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Gucci Cruise 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)

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Gucci Autumn/Winter 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)

Michele understands his market so well that he recently announced that their next fashion show, taking place in November, will be in Los Angeles. He also recently reopened the Gucci Garden in Florence, after massive renovations. The space shows some of the most iconic pieces and set designs from Gucci and also sell everything – from clothes, shoes and accessories, to cushions, ceramics and candles. The “gift shop” as Michele likes to call it, has something for everyone. All his strategies work wonderfully both separately and together as a whole, forming what we now know as the twenty-first century Gucci.

 

The real question is how much longer can Michele continue with his questionable designs and styling choices, Renaissance references and “quirky” maximalist aesthetic before people get bored of it and jump to the next hot thing. What seemed like would die down in two or three years’ time has carried on for six years and does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. After this collaboration with Balenciaga, reopening Gucci Garden and moving Gucci’s next fashion show to Los Angeles, what will be Alessandro Michele’s next move? What is he going to turn to in order to keep this fashion empire the reigning King and Queen of the luxury market? We will find out the answer in five months, when the next collection will be shown in Los Angeles. Until then, all we can do is wait for any smaller campaigns to be shared on their Instagram page and watch people’s reactions from our screens.