By  on June 5, 2006

The tale of this storied label easily could be fodder for an epic motion picture. From humble beginnings 85 years ago, Gucci has grown into a massive retail and manufacturing empire, known the world over for its trendsetting fashion, coveted leathers and sexy lifestyle. The saga ranges from success to near financial ruin to family feuds and scandals to one of fashion’s most remarkable reinventions.

Here are highlights from the history of the fabled brand.

1921-1951: Exploiting The Vision

Today’s Gucci empire stems from the creativity and industriousness of one man, Guccio Gucci, who started with a small shop in Florence, and whose vision created perhaps the first lifestyle brand in fashion.

Gucci’s experience in his late teens at the Savoy Hotel in London and later at prestigious leather manufacturer Franzi in Florence at the turn of the 20th century were formative, pivotal steps for the future of his personal and professional life.

Gucci was born in Florence in 1881, moved to London in 1897 and returned to Florence in 1902. His brush with luxury, catering to the nobility staying at the Savoy, left an indelible mark, which he put to good use once he entered the leather goods business.

“Italy’s century-old leather goods tradition was available to a lot of people, but Guccio Gucci exploited this potential in the best possible way,” said Francesca Polese, fashion history professor at Bocconi University. “This was one of Gucci’s main strengths, one that made his name famous around the world.”

Relying on his experience at Franzi, in 1921, Gucci opened his first store in Florence, on central Via Vigna Nuova, off the elegant Via Tornabuoni. A second store opened on Via del Parione in 1924.

According to the company’s former chief Domenico De Sole, Gucci was “legendary, a marketing genius, very good at dealing with people, and fully understood the product.” De Sole knew Gucci through the words of Gucci’s sons, especially Rodolfo. “I felt I knew [Guccio] because Rodolfo, being an actor, often impersonated his father,” said De Sole.

Guccio had four children with his wife, Aida Calvelli: Grimalda, born in 1903; Aldo, born in 1905; Vasco, born in 1907 and Rodolfo, born in 1912. (Aida already had a four year-old son, Ugo, from a man who had died. Guccio adopted Ugo.)

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