My interest in Gucci has always transcended their classic loafers, the Grace Kelly scarf and the Lady Web suede bag with shoulder strap in the trademark green-red-green stripe, my three all time favourite pieces created by the brand. The history of the Italian leather goods and fashion house, steeped in the craftsmanship of local Tuscan artisans, its sound foundation meant to ensure that the brand would survive the trends of future generations, the association with equestrian heritage (the above mentioned stripes were derived from a traditional saddle girth), the made in Italy stamp, the class in taste, the innovative design, the pride in and devotion to its Florentine roots, and, most recently, its active involvement in the preservation of motion pictures (including a few groundbreaking Italian classics) in partnership with The Film Foundation, all these combined reflect a much clearer image of what Gucci truly stands for. I believe there are others who feel the same. “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”, used to say Aldo Gucci, the man who, with his visionary mind and relentless work, was responsible for the rise and success of the brand.
Today, Gucci has reached new heights of success: Be interested, be interesting. But I say this is, not in the least, one more reason to remember and acknowledge the merits and accomplishments of the person who made the Gucci phenomenon all possible, setting the basis for what new generations and designers could continue to build on.
In her book, In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir, Patricia Gucci is telling for the first time the complete story of the Italian house, from the very beginning and throughout the six decades that Gucci belonged to her family, and the beautiful love story of her parents, Aldo Gucci and Bruna Palombo. It is told straightforward, unassumingly, elegantly, worthy of a brand that, above all else, has withstood the test of time; it’s the real thing. I reviewed the book a couple of months back, and, in the meantime, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia to talk about the story behind her memoir, her parents and the Gucci legacy, and about her favourite place to return to in Italy.
When did you know that fashion was part of your life and of whom you are, that Gucci was Gucci?
I began to realise that Gucci represented more than a family name when I was a young girl at school in England. Teachers and students – whose parents had likely made them aware of Gucci before I knew anything about it – treated me differently somehow. Not preferentially, just differently. It wasn’t until I first visited the Gucci store in via Condotti, in Rome, that I understood the full import of what my father did and what the name represented.
Given your lineage, being your father’s daughter and your grandfather’s granddaughter, how difficult was it to make your own mark working for the company and to find your own voice in life?
I never had difficulty with my identity, or in defining who I was. Even though I started attending Gucci functions in the US as soon as I became of age, my sights were set on an acting career and I never intended to join the family business. It was only when my father insisted that I eventually joined the company and while it was a huge responsibility I can’t say I ever felt the weight of lineage on my shoulders.
Did you ever feel that your name preceded you and your work? What have the perks and challenges of carrying the name Gucci been?
Yes, definitely, especially in America. In England people are more reserved by nature and far less invasive. In New York it was much more of a big deal – when I would meet someone at a party they would invariably react with astonishment: “Wow, Gucci!” And from that moment all the preconceptions would start flooding in, leaving me feeling judged before people got to know me and making assumptions that weren’t necessarily true.
Your memoir is a tribute to your father. It was an eye-opener for me, in the sense that I felt I finally had a clear, honest, unfiltered view on the history of the brand, on the phenomenon that your father created when there was nothing like it and its legacy, on the creative and business driving force that Aldo Gucci was; this is what I was looking to take away from the book, something so much more than the personal drama and the Gucci clan infighting. What prompted you to tell the story of Gucci? And what would you like your readers to take away from the book?
First and foremost, this is a tribute to my father, who singlehandedly really made it happen for Gucci in particular and ‘Made in Italy’ more generally, not just during the company’s heyday when he was at the helm, but for generations to come. I also wanted to pay tribute to my mother, who is credited with the less visible part a woman plays in contributing to a man’s success. As individuals and as a couple, for me, they transcended all the scandal and glamour that is normally associated with Gucci. My aim was to show the human side and the history of the brand.
What was the most challenging part, and the most rewarding one, of the research for this book?
The story of Gucci spans 100 years, starting with my grandfather before he had even conceived the idea, leading up to the time it ceased being a family business shortly before my father’s death in 1990. There was plenty of history to research – Guccio’s early days at the Savoy, the origins of the Gucci crest, surviving two world wars, but what I was really interested in – the personal details – could only be recounted by my mother. Getting her to open up to me was the most challenging part and, once the love letters were revealed, also the most rewarding part.
Your mother is a very private person. Yet, she was the most valuable source for your memoir. Is she happy with it?
My mother has always shunned the spotlight, preferring the freedom of anonymity. Reading about her life on the page was always going to be difficult, but, in time, she was able to embrace the book. I think she is happy with it.
To what extent do you think the Gucci heritage, the dedication to quality that your father instilled in his company, has contributed to the survival of the brand?
The popularity of Gucci in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was such that it is difficult to unravel. Quality was certainly at the root of the brand’s success, instilled by my grandfather in the age-old tradition of Tuscan artisans and expanded by my father, but those who have followed in their footsteps, starting with Tom Ford and, most recently, Alessandro Michele, have built upon that foundation with great success.
The tag line ‘Made in Italy’ is still a symbol of quality and craftsmanship. And your father was the one who heralded it. Do you think people wearing Gucci today have a real appreciation of the company’s history and legacy?
Ask most anyone entering a Gucci shop today and they will have little or no idea of how ‘Made in Italy’ came to be, or Aldo Gucci’s role in this phenomenon. It’s the reason why I wanted to write this book – to inform not just lovers of Gucci, but also lovers of Italian culture, that Aldo Gucci was a pioneer, heralded by President John F. Kennedy as the country’s first ambassador of fashion.
A luxury brand involves so much more than exquisite product quality and a price to match it. It is the entire shopping experience, the lifestyle concept it projects and the work ethics and shared values instilled in every employee. What was it like to enter a Gucci store back in the day?
My father was a perfectionist who insisted on the highest standards at all times. Especially in America, customers often felt intimidated by the pervasive feeling of excellence. The staff, which in the early days was made up largely of well-to-do Italians, brought an added sense of elegance to the stores, but what really set Gucci apart back then was the Gucci Galleria – the ultimate shopping experience, where limited edition pieces were displayed among contemporary paintings and sculpture to create a truly unique environment.
The Gucci headquarters are still based in Florence, where the craft of the Gucci traditions is rooted, and where your father, and grandfather, always intended the company to be based (although there was a time when it was moved to Milan). Do you think this can contribute to the brand’s not losing its identity and honouring of its past? Do you believe the location is still important to the craftsmanship and design of the label as it once was?
Yes, I think the brand’s Florentine identity carries an important symbolism that must be maintained. My father, and Guccio before him, always intended the business to be family-run, and that meant staying in Florence. Of course times change and we all move along accordingly, but we there is much to be said for legacy and tradition.
What is the most valuable lesson your father taught you?
If you could describe your father in one word, what would it be?
How would you define luxury today?
The Concorde used to be my idea of luxury, but today it’s having more time to myself as well as peace and quiet – the kind of stillness I have at my house in the desert.
How can fashion make a difference in the world?
By making the world less vulgar.
The fashion world has been praising Alessandro Michele’s work at and revival of Gucci. He has succeeded to imprint his own mark on the brand, but do you think his designs are also referencing the Gucci legacy, that timeless appeal that your father was so determined and devoted to create? Do you think it’s important for a designer at the helm of a legendary fashion house to have boundaries, to do what he wants to do but to do it in the mindset of the brand’s aesthetic?
Alessandro Michele has taken Gucci to new heights and his references to the Gucci legacy are plain to see in the way he weaves in the old with the new. He has a difficult task; craftsmanship seems to be less important nowadays and the ‘Made in Italy’ factor has all but gone.
What do you think your father would think about the brand today?
I think he would be happy that the company is enjoying great success, although I’m not sure he would identify with the design trends that have propelled the brand to such heights.
What is your Gucci wardrobe piece with the most beautiful story?
I’m not attached to anything in particular, I had a lovely collection of handbags from the 1960s & 70s, but they were stolen years ago.
Italians have an innate sense of elegant informality, easy elegance, or ‘sprezzatura’ as it’s known in the case of men’s style. Was your father a man of style? What is the most important style lesson you learned from him?
Style is the slow distilling of its culture – art, music, literature, religion – that over time seep into our being and give us a sense of who we are. Aldo Gucci certainly embodied that and even today the fashion we see all around us is a manifestation of that same process.
Would you mind sharing with us an insider tip on your favourite place to visit in Italy, a place that is not on every tourist’s radar?
There is much of Italy I have yet to discover, predominantly in the south – Puglia, Sicily and the Aeolian islands – but the place I always return to is a stretch along the Argentario coast in Tuscany. Little has changed there since I was a little girl, the tourism is mainly Italian, and there is an authenticity about it that I really like.
What do you wish people appreciated more in this day and age?
That each and every one of us is connected to the source of all creation.
Thank you, Patricia, for your openness and willingness to answer all my questions.
photos: courtesy of the author, including the ones in the book, except for the jacket photograph, by Roger Powers_HP/copyright Houston Chrinicle; photos of the book taken by me