India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Luxury & Brands
May 15, 2011

In her prime

Text by Sohiny Das

For a house with a 90-year history, there can never be a singular muse, or any one person who inspires or defines its traits. Gucci describes its woman as ‘forever now’. To understand her better, Verve creates a collage of all the women who have been patrons and faces of the Italian luxury brand – not just personas projected through campaigns, but real women over the decades who have connected with the company’s ethos. This is a complex character sketch of the 90-year-old Gucci woman

Let us start from the present. The Summer 2011 campaign images of an Italian luxury brand depict glamazons clad in the ensembles of the season, each with her eyes closed, in some form of writhing ecstasy that has been captured still – hinting at something sexual, but holding back. There is little or no physical contact between the models in the photographs, but each seems immersed in her own self, as if in a pleasurable nirvana trance. You are drawn. You want to know what these women are feeling. You want to get inside their heads. But the best you can do is imagine.

It is this intrigue that has defined the Gucci woman for almost a century. Campaign visuals, celebrity associations, runway styling, the visions of the various creative directors of the house – the ‘woman of the moment’ has been presented in many ways. Down the timeline of the house, she has developed various facets and grown more complex. An adjective or two will not suffice.

But the house of Gucci did not start with the idea of a woman. When Guccio Gucci opened his shop in Florence, Italy, in 1921, the first products were equestrian. It is only during World War II, when material rationing and import bans compelled the house to design the legendary ‘Bamboo Bag’, that the society ladies began to associate themselves with the brand. The G monogram and logo became coveted acquisitions. That was when the Gucci woman started sketching herself out.

The feminine form
“Women should celebrate their femininity,” Frida Giannini, current creative director of Gucci, tells Verve in an interview (read it in this issue, following this feature). For Gucci, a woman has always been, well, a woman. Powerful women, mysterious women, sexy women, ‘proper’ women – the feminine form is the basic design inspiration of the house.

Gucci’s definition of feminine has always evolved with the global one. The lady-like 1940s, Hollywood glamour of the ’50s, lady-mod in the ’60s, the free-spirited ’70s, the big Gucci slump in the ’80s, the sexual assertion of the ’90s and the assured woman of the new millennium. Even the unisex designs of the brand have been presented with masculine/feminine distinctions. To be perceived as strong, a woman need not try to be like a man.

The newly launched Gucci kids line features singer-star Jennifer Lopez with her twin sons Max and Emme. Lopez, in her flowing maxi dress, is the millennium’s goddess – the multifaceted, multi-tasking feminine force. She is a career woman, home-maker and mother. This connect between the Gucci woman and the Gucci juniors is a gentler assertion of Gucci’s current feminine image.

A lady
Discreet branding through tonal embossings, understated logos, distinctive elements, and the overall feeling of absolute luxury are qualities favoured by the modern ‘noble’ ladies. The wives of diplomats and members of royal families have been comforted by the security of Gucci’s classic yet contemporary creations. The scope to go wrong with a Gucci is next to nil.

In the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was seen carrying a particular Gucci handbag (first designed in 1961) during her daytime trips. Spacious, understated, classy, it was a luxurious staple for the working woman in high offices. Jackie Kennedy became so synonymous with the handbag model that it was relaunched in 1966 as the ‘Jackie O’ bag, and went on to become a Gucci classic.

Actress Grace Kelly, who later became Princess Grace of Monaco, was a regular patron. During one of her shopping trips in 1966, Guccio Gucci’s son Rodolfo – who was at the store – insisted on gifting her something special. Princess Grace relented and requested a scarf, and Rodolfo Gucci commissioned an artwork to Vittorio Accornero, who created the ‘Flora’ print for her. The print became one of the most iconic designs of the house and emerged time and again in later collections.

Throughout the 1960s, Audrey Hepburn and Nancy Reagan were spotted many a time with their Gucci handbags, which seemed to be their constant companions. Princess Diana, Queen Federica of Greece and Queen Rania of Jordan have also been fans. At present, Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni Sarkozy accessorise their elegant ‘first lady’ wardrobes with Gucci; both ladies are fashionable names to be reckoned with. In India, female members of the country’s political first family – Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Vadra, have sported minimalist footwear designs from Gucci to complement their starched, crisp, handloom saris.

The plane truth
The constant patronage of movie and music stars over the decades has given Gucci a ‘jet-set, rock and roll’ status. The brand’s roots of luxury luggage received a glamorous boost in the 1940s and ’50s, with the advent of Hollywood bombshells in Italy for film shoot schedules. Society sirens too, were constantly on the go with their ‘G’ monogrammed baggage.

Swedish actress Britt Ekland, who became a Bond girl in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, had the paparazzi chasing her jet-setting with husband Peter Sellers, their pet pooches and Gucci luggage. Ekland spoke in interviews about her Gucci hardcase being a very comfortable foot-stool during flights.

The Gucci girl was constantly on the move. She was a luxury traveller who loved to live it up. This glam-nomad stamp has continued to define a large part of the Gucci woman over the decades. Giannini’s fixation with the ’70s continues even in 2011; at the Gucci 90th anniversary show, she announced her inspirations as actress Anjelica Huston (at her helm during the ’70s) and Florence Welch (lead singer of Florence and the Machines), who is creating ripples with her hippie/ Bohemian meets trip-hop appeal.

The disco era, with its bevy of superstar partygoers, Studio 54 and eccentricities, was a high glamour period for Gucci, as the house was on an expansion roll. Being the first Italian brand to arrive in the American market (the first Gucci store in New York opened as early as 1953), it quickly set up plush retail points in Beverly Hills and Palm Beach. In Europe, stores were built in London and Paris. Gucci headed eastwards – Tokyo and Hong Kong were the first Asian business destinations. The world was Gucci’s oyster.

Bounce right back
Resilience, thy name is woman. Gucci has always been associated with women who can stand up for themselves, even if she is run to the ground. The famous Gucci slump of the ’80s, under Maurizio Gucci (Guccio’s grandson), saw the Italian house lose its glory due to family disputes and questionable business leadership. No one was willing to wear or carry the brand’s designs. After Maurizio was edged out due to his incapabilities, the reins of a dying company were put in the hands of Domenico De Sole and creative director Tom Ford. What followed was a phoenix-like resurrection. Ford’s vision of the new Gucci woman – sexier, more confident and powerful than ever before – stunned the world. After Ford’s departure, Giannini guided the house to another meteoric rise up the charts. Gucci is back to heady days.

The brand’s association with UNICEF recently acquired another face. Singer Rihanna supports the cause and connects with the ‘resilience’ of Gucci. Her traumatic past – the all too famous physical abuse by former boyfriend Chris Brown – and her post-trauma emergence as a stronger, more emancipated woman find a connect with Gucci’s dramatic story. The Gucci woman does not pretend to be unaffected by crises, but works her way through them.

Heritage, harlot and ‘hell’
The Gucci woman has always been somewhat risqué and ‘colourful’, an addictive juxtaposition of traditions and twists. Before the days of print and media advertising – which projects the idea of a woman set by the house itself – the image of a brand was largely dependent on its loyalists. The paparazzi of the times were key to the study of the celebrity Gucci user. Those were the good old Hollywood days, when ‘scandals’ were fewer and one savoured their delicious juiciness for a long time. In 1949, Ingrid Bergman, spotted many a time with her Gucci carriers, fell in love with Roberto Rossellini on the sets of Stromboli and became pregnant with his child, causing quite a stir. In 1962, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got ‘illicitly’ involved while filming Cleopatra; she was famously clicked with him in a leopard coat, carrying Gucci.

Many decades later, the likes of Kate Moss, Madonna and Elizabeth Hurley – each an ardent Gucci user and a face of the brand – have retained the ‘rule breakers’ legacy with their fair shares of controversies. Another instance when risqué was notched up to ‘scandalous’, was the infamous Gucci campaign during Tom Ford’s time featuring model Carmen Kass with a G-shaped pubic trim, which caused a frenzy. The ad was banned in many countries, including England, which was tagged as a ‘conservative nation’.

A jolt, some ‘shock-therapy’ and a few tremors in fashion – Gucci has always been instrumental in shaking things up. The Gucci woman has her own system of morals and values in place, but has no qualms about staring ‘righteousness’ in the face.

Passing the buck
Princess Caroline of Monaco, inspired by her mother’s (Princess Grace) Flora scarf, dressed herself in Gucci shirts in the same print. Current creative director Frida Giannini grew up watching her own mother wearing her Gucci Flora scarf with pride, and treasures her inheritance. The print remained close to her heart and her first prêt collection for Gucci featured the floral pattern in abundance.

It is this heirloom quality in Gucci that has inspired the house to look into its vast archives for constant inspiration. Products have been revamped and contemporised, but the essence and the primary features remain the same. The ‘Bamboo Bag’ and the ‘New Bamboo’ bag are parent and offspring. The ‘Jackie O’ and the ‘New Jackie’ can also be called so. This timelessness is what defines the ‘forever now’ Gucci woman. More than the brand’s exceptional quality, impeccable finish and luxurious appearance, it is the sentimental value attached to an heirloom that makes it priceless.

“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten,” Aldo Gucci (Guccio’s son) once said. What your grandmother may have paid for a pair of horsebit loafers is not important. The intact (even if a little worn) loafers, with her aura, are.

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