The second three decades saw Gucci go global, with international wholesale and retail.

1951-1981: Expansion Trail

While Elvis was swiveling, the Beatles were invading and disco was burning, Gucci was listening to its customers and spinning out stores and design icons like horse-bit loafers and the Jackie O bag.

Aldo Gucci, the company’s strong-willed chairman, reigned in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, when retail expansion was a key component. Gucci had stores in just two cities, Florence and Rome, until 1951, when Rodolfo Gucci opened the brand’s first Milan store at 5 Via Montenapoleone, an historic flagship still thriving today. Just two years later, Aldo Gucci opened the brand’s first boutique on foreign soil, at New York’s Savoy Plaza Hotel on East 58th Street, marking the beginning of Gucci’s American adventure. Not long after that landmark opening, Gucci’s small structured handbags appeared in the pages of Vogue.

Guccio Gucci, the company’s founder, died in 1953 at the age of 72, just 15 days after the store opened. It marked an important power shift at the company: His three sons, Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo, inherited the company. Grimalda, Guccio’s oldest child and only daughter, was excluded from inheriting any shares in the company. Aldo, who had spearheaded Gucci’s international retail expansion, became the company and family patriarch. Favoring double-breasted suits and horn-rimmed glasses, he was an ambitious and decisive business leader. Vasco ran the Florence headquarters and store while Rodolfo managed Milan operations.

Aldo always stressed the importance of customer service, mandating personnel to address each client as “madam” and treat her as an individual.

“I always stay in the shop, serving customers and carefully listening to their requests. This is always the best way to know what is going on in fashion, more than looking at fashion magazines. It’s the customer who makes fashion, and one must have the ability to catch the message,” Aldo told WWD in 1969.

In 1960, Gucci moved its New York store next door, to the St. Regis Hotel. Over the following decade, Gucci opened doors in Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, Paris and London. Aldo took pride in the fact that Gucci didn’t alter its assortment of handbags and moccasins for any particular market.

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We didn’t take into consideration the fact that the English used only black, blue and brown handbags,” Aldo told WWD sister publication Footwear News in 1966. “We made our first window a festival of color. It was not a success at the beginning. But I believe the public must be educated…it took a few years.”

In 1972, Gucci opened a Fifth Avenue boutique dedicated to clothing and a second one on the same strip focused on shoes, bags, luggage and accessories. Traffic was brisk, although many customers reportedly complained about store clerks’ snooty attitude and the fact that the store closed for lunch — a reality common in Italy to this day, but unthinkable in the U.S.

Aldo couldn’t have been happier with the buzz. “People say, ‘You must be crazy, paying $400,000 in rent.’ Some people pay millions to buy a boat — I bought a lease. I love this [Fifth Avenue] corner.”

In the Seventies, the company began its fight to protect its brand name. It patented certain design elements, such as metal ornaments, and even filed a suit against baking company Picture Pies Co. and Federated Department Stores for baking and selling cakes bearing the Gucci name.

The company launched its first perfume and bowed in Asia, opening its first stores in Tokyo and Hong Kong. “It was a breeze to sell Gucci in Japan,” said Franco Gittardi, a Gucci veteran who helped open the Tokyo store. “I remember when [the Japanese] came to Italy. You had to be careful and keep things put away. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have anything left to sell to other customers.”

1966 The Flora scarf print is designed for Princess Grace of Monaco.

1968 Gucci opens in Beverly Hills.

1972 Gucci opens in Tokyo.

Maurizio Gucci, son of Rodolfo, goes to work with his uncle Aldo in New York, staying until 1982. Around this time, Gucci is hitting the heights of fashionability. A new store dedicated to clothing is opened at 699 Fifth Avenue in New York; 689 Fifth Avenue is opened to specialize in shoes, bags, luggage and accessories.

1974 Gucci opens in Hong Kong.

1975 The first Gucci perfume is launched.

1981 The Gucci Accessory Collection is launched. Gucci ready-to-wear parades for the first time at the Florentine fashion shows at the Sala Bianca, playing heavily on the Flora print.

1982 Gucci becomes an SpA and leadership eventually passes to Rodolfo Gucci.

1985 The Gucci loafer is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and becomes part of the permanent collection.

1989 The Anglo-Arab holding company Investcorp purchases 50 percent of Gucci shares.

1990 The American designer Tom Ford is hired to oversee women’s rtw.

1993 Maurizio Gucci transfers his shares to Investcorp, ending the family’s involvement in the firm.

1994 Tom Ford is appointed creative director.

1995 Domenico De Sole, previously chief executive officer of Gucci America Inc., is appointed Gucci Group’s ceo.

1996 Tom Ford’s fall 1995 collection of Jet Set glamour is a massive hit, putting Gucci back at the forefront of fashion.

1996-97 Tom Ford’s collection of white cutout jersey dresses fastened with abstract horse-bit belts sets the sleek, sexy, modern style of the Gucci Nineties look — and establishes it as a house dedicated to the kind of evening glamour that attracts Hollywood actors and actresses.

1999 The Jackie O bag is relaunched in many colors and variations, triggering a huge and sustained response. It opens the era of the Gucci must-have “It” bag.

1999-2001 Gucci’s name becomes associated with Gucci Group when the strategic investment firm PPR (Pinault Printemps Redoute at the time) starts focusing on building a luxury portfolio, of which Gucci was and is still the cornerstone.

2002 Frida Giannini, previously a bag designer for Fendi, joins Gucci’s accessories department, contributing bold reinventions of house signatures as part of Ford’s team.

2004 Ford and De Sole leave the company when they and parent PPR fail to come to terms on a new contract. John Ray takes over men’s design; Alessandra Facchinetti takes women’s.

2005 Giannini, creative director of accessories, is appointed creative director of women’s rtw after her relaunch of the Flora print as a bag collection proves a huge success.

2006 Giannini adds the role of creative director for men’s wear.

Source: Gucci Group

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