Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, Neither Was Gucci

-by Aarushi Valluri

A picture with text “Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was gucci”

Prada, Gucci, Versace, Giorgio Armani. These luxury fashion brands all hail from Italy, and almost all had humble beginnings specializing in leather and travel accessories. Founded ages ago, they are now worth millions of dollars. However, their journey to attain this status and stability was not smooth sailing, neither were they overnight sensations.

It took time, hard work, and failure, but more importantly, guidance. The world of fashion is relationship-driven. You have a history of people hiring who they know and who they have mentored. Mentoring as a concept isn’t new by any means, nor is it obsolete. Famously, Christian Dior took Saint-Laurent as a personal assistant, before his own venture into haute couture. Under Dior, Saint-Laurent learned the secret of haute couture and how to run the company. “ Dior fascinated me. I couldn’t speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at his side.” After which, Dior himself personally selected Saint Laurent as the successor for the Dior fashion empire.

The Inception of Gucci

Fashion is not just about fads and trends that fade away, it’s about the artists who work behind the scenes creating such covetable items and an aspirational lifestyle into a reality. Countless such brands started from humble beginnings, yet the focus of this article is on Italian designers. One such example is the rather tumultuous success of Gucci. Gucci has that X-factor that makes them synonymous with luxury for the entire spectrum of customers. From teenagers who aspire to one day wear the brand, to Wall Street execs shelling out thousands for loafers and even celebrities privy to an exclusive tier of luxury, everyone wants a piece. Gucci, founded as a small family-run business in Florence, is one such label — recognizable to even the most entry-level customer, but not overlooked by the seasoned fashion cognoscenti. However, this wasn’t always the case. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day but burned in one. This would almost be true had it not been saved numerous times by various creative directors. Since the label’s inception in the early 1920s, Gucci has undergone numerous changes, transforming from a premium leather goods maker to one of the largest — and most recognizable — luxury brands on the planet.

All through 1920–1940 Italy, war, sanctions, and a depleting economy, Gucci has always powered through and adapted to the circumstances. By the start of the 1950s, Gucci was ready to enter the American market, however, soon after their launch, Guccio Gucci had passed away leaving his sons Aldo and Rodolfo to take the reins. Their streak of success continued into the early ’70s with fresh designs, a new logo, the classic Gucci loafers being launched and a Gucci store solely to sell ready-to-wear clothes. However, Maurizio, Aldo’s son, joined the family business and in 1983 sacked Aldo, removing the man who had helped shape Gucci’s visual identity over the last fifty years. Following this, Gucci had struggled not only in fashion but also in business. Until the entry of Tom Ford.

Tom Ford and His Androgynous Designs

While today it would seem commonplace for a designer of Ford’s ilk to join Gucci, it was a drastically different scenario in 1990. Ford, for one, had told a few white lies to get his start in the fashion industry: he would omit the fact that his degree from Parson’s was in architecture and that his stint at Chloé was at the PR firm of the same name, not the French label. Cathy Hardwick, who would eventually give the young Texan his big break in design, could tell he knew nothing about fashion but hired him anyway. Ford was not the revered designer he is today, but Gucci was not a dream job at the time. In 1994, Tom Ford was appointed Creative Director because he may have been the only person in fashion who wanted the job. The Gucci by Tom Ford era was tremendously influential, both for the Florentine brand and for luxury menswear as a whole. Ford’s ‘70s-inspired Gucci Fall/Winter 1995 collection had reshaped the fashion landscape. Ford presented (and conceived) menswear and womenswear collections as one, helping to explain looks that were at the time relatively androgynous. Cropped trousers for men were meant to expose bare ankles and showcase a sporty take on the Horsebit loafer, while the womenswear contained a wide array of power suits. Mens’ suits were cut from velour, with strong shoulders and lapels offered alongside satin shirts, silk neckties, and overly ostentatious belts. By all accounts, it marked the dawn of a new era for Gucci. In that season Gucci grew at an unprecedented pace under Ford’s guidance, doubling revenues to the tune of $342 million.

It is hardly an exaggeration to claim that Ford “ushered in a new ultra-glam age of Gucci,” in his decade in charge — he transformed a brand whose appeal was based on those who wore the brand, into a house that became synonymous with glamor.

Alessandro Michele, The Man Who Sparked Guccification

Alessandro Michele is the Creative Director of Gucci, who has been associated with Gucci since 2002. Alessandro was born in 1972 in Rome. He went to the Academy of Costume & Fashion, Romeo, And embarked upon his design career as Senior Accessories Designer at Fendi. He joined Gucci under the mentorship of Tom Ford in 2002. After the departure of Tom Ford, Gucci’s rather inconsistent stint was powered by designer-CEO power couple Frida Giannini and Patrizio Di Marco. While Michele had worked alongside Giannini at both Fendi and Gucci, he was poached by Ford to work at Gucci and saw the Texan designer as a role model and mentor. Michele’s debut collection for Gucci, designed and produced in a matter of five days, was an unequivocal success on par with Ford’s breakthrough exactly twenty years prior.

Michele has pushed Gucci in a direction that is both new and familiar, delving into the brand’s archives in search of textiles, photos, and garments to inspire his collections. In the short time that Michele has been at the helm of Gucci, the menswear collections have been centered on extensive use of colorful prints, retro tailoring, loungewear, and androgyny. Like Ford, Michele chose to show men and women together, a comment on both his aesthetic and his reverence for his former mentor. In the four years since stepping up as creative director, Michele has turned Gucci into a maximalist dream with collections that seem to seep from his imagination onto an intricately designed runway. With crystals, ruffles, vibrant color schemes, baby dragons, and fake heads, plus endless pop culture references and an innate understanding of social consciousness, Michele has returned Gucci to the “it” status it held under Ford.

A Fresh Look At Mentorship

While success stories of Gucci and Saint-Laurent are inspiring, the issue of race representation is quite glaring. Under the guidance of Tom Ford, Michele not only revolutionized maximalism but also adopted the concept of gender fluidity. Much like Gucci in the 1990s the fashion industry now requires a revamp program. Issues of racial representation, body positivity, and ethical practices of sourcing and manufacturing are looming over luxury brands. With little to no history of hiring from more diverse pools, which contributes to a culture that can feel insular and homogenous. Mentoring could be one solution for fashion’s racial inclusion problem, with more established industry professionals volunteering to provide and improve access. Grassroots organizations like Room Mentoring, Mentoring Matters and Raise Fashion are among a recent wave of mentoring programs, spurred by Black Lives Matter, that focus on redressing the racial balance in fashion. There needs to be space created for BIPOC in the industry, not just as a diversity card, but because they deserve to be there. BIPOC perspectives are not only valuable in an industry as competitive, but it also gives way for mentor-mentee cycles to continue. The concept of mentorship exists in the fashion industry but has been reserved and coveted to the few who could breakthrough, the industry understands the benefits of mentorship, as not only an asset to professionals and artists but also an asset to the company. Inclusion and mentoring Addresses the historic exclusion of marginalized people in fashion with access and advice to not only grow but sought out a unique brand image and freedom to curate a versatile visual identity. The fashion industry not only has professional diversity to worry about but also the looming concern of sustainability. The fashion industry needs a mentor to guide them on a fresh perspective into sustainability and ethical sourcing.

IndyWise is a mentoring driven upskilling platform that helps startups and businesses solving their talent crunch and skills gap.