Although his tenure at Gucci was brief, designer Richard Lambertson was instrumental in the initial steps of the company’s turnaround in the early Nineties, working closely with the most influential people at Gucci at the time, from Dawn Mello to Domenico De Sole and Maurizio Gucci.
Lambertson hired Tom Ford from Perry Ellis and was the first to start revamping iconic Gucci looks, finding inspiration in the company’s immense archives. Mello, senior vice president and image director at Gucci, hired Lambertson in 1990 as design director. Mello had worked with Lambertson at Bergdorf Goodman, when she was president of the retailer. Despite Gucci’s dusty image at that time, Lambertson said he accepted the position because he “thought Gucci was poised for something great.”
In a phone interview from his house in Connecticut, Lambertson said, “In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Gucci was the brand and Dawn was anxious to elevate it once again. Now everyone wants to revive tarnished brands, but back then, Gucci was one of the first [examples].”
Lambertson’s first task was to put together a design team and relocate it from Florence to Milan, as per Maurizio Gucci, who headed the company at the time.
“Some designers were old, some were new, and we primarily focused on accessories and leather goods,” said Lambertson. “Maurizio Gucci’s vision was for the brand to compare with Hermès, for example. In the first couple of years, we turned out high-end products at a classic level,” said Lambertson.
The design team was in place by mid-1990. Lambertson hired Ford in June that year.
“Lambertson was always very calm and very much loved by his staff,” said one former Gucci employee. “He worked on the archival products and really helped change the course of the company.”
In particular, Lambertson updated the Gucci loafers, the hobo and bamboo bags.
Lambertson, however, found living in Milan “difficult” and the relationship with Maurizio Gucci had become strained.
“There was a lot of tension as Maurizio became suspicious and antagonistic, employees were dispirited and they were not getting paid,” said one source close to the company, referring to the period before Maurizio Gucci sold his 50 percent in the company to Investcorp in 1993.
Lambertson conceded that extensive traveling among Florence, Milan and the U.S. were weighing in on him. “I was not enjoying my life much,” he said.
In 1992, the designer went back to the U.S. but stayed on consulting for the company for another year.
In 1994, Lambertson became senior vice president and creative director at Bergdorf Goodman, when Dawn Mello herself left Gucci and returned to the store as its president.
Lambertson recalled his experience at Gucci as “wonderful” and said he enjoyed being “exposed to the craftsmanship and the knowledge of product and design.” In 1998, Lambertson launched an upscale accessories collection with John Truex, called Lambertson Truex.
The designer said his years at Gucci helped him in building his own brand. “At Gucci, I learned about the importance of marketing, owning your own store and knowing about the luxury customer,” he said. “I am very proud to have been part of that story.”