Carine Roitfeld Reflects on 100 Years of Gucci

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“To me, Gucci is a reflection of time. It has kept evolving with time, and the looks, the imagery, the vision of beauty, and the casting all express the zeitgeist, whether that’s thirty years ago or today,” says Carine Roitfeld when asked about the Italian fashion house on the occasion of its one hundredth anniversary.

Of course, Roitfeld knows Gucci intimately from her time as Tom Ford’s stylist, muse, and creative collaborator during his tenure as the brand’s creative director from 1994 to 2004. And after her time behind-the-scenes, this magazine’s founder observed Gucci’s evolution from the front row and through the lens of countless fashion editorials. “There’s always this notion of extreme—sexy or weird. It’s a brand that takes risks,” she adds. “It’s never stuck in the past. Even though it builds on the house’s standbys, it always feels very modern. Gucci is always the club you want to belong to.”

Indeed, from its origins as a family business born in 1921 as a leather goods maker primarily focused on equestrian accessories, to its viral, youthful, and theatrical renaissance under current creative director Alessandro Michele, Gucci has rarely left the cultural conversation. One of the most cited luxury brands in rap songs, Gucci began with Guccio Gucci, a porter at the Savoy Hotel in London who decided to revive his father’s leather business after becoming enamored by the hotel guests’ glamorous luggage. And while there are house codes that live on in Gucci’s accessories—the interlocking G logo, the loafer, the shiny horsebit hardware, the bamboo bag handle, and the red-and-green-striped webbing—the ready-to-wear collections have always been carte blanche for whomever is at the helm.

Up until Ford’s appointment, Gucci was still a family business, run by Guccio’s sons, Aldo, Vasco, and Rodolfo, who were tasked with expanding the brand’s presence, bringing Gucci to Milan and eventually making it an international hit, with famous fans including Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor. During the ’80s, Gucci was presided over by Rodolfo’s son Maurizio who is said to have spent the family fortune recklessly, while the brand’s popularity waned somewhat. In 1995, a couple of years after selling the family’s remaining stock in the company, Maurizio was allegedly assassinated by a hitman arranged by his ex-wife, Patrizia—a dramatic saga currently being made into a Ridley Scott movie starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver.

While it appears that Tom Ford and Roitfeld reinterpreted Gucci with their own very glamorous, very sexy vision, Roitfeld doesn’t see it that way. “Tom literally chased me to work with him,” she says with a laugh. “I never tried to reinterpret the house. Gucci has always been sexy to me, Tom is very sexy, and we just went down that road.” Amplifying their magic touch was the fact that Ford and Roitfeld were almost psychically in sync. “I think he projected a lot on me, and in my opinion, he saw me as the female version of him. We always had the same references and muses, we have a common sensitivity, we talk about the same things. For Gucci, we pushed the boundaries and the house was always listening. Gucci was a fantasy for us.”

So iconic is the Tom Ford era in Gucci’s history that Alessandro Michele paid homage to the red velvet suit from Fall/Winter ’96, famously worn by Gwyneth Paltrow at the 1996 MTV Awards, in Gucci’s latest collection, Gucci Aria, for which he also collaborated with Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia on an unprecedented mashup of the two fashion houses. “Gucci becomes for me a hacking lab, made of incursions and metamorphoses. An alchemical factory of contaminations where everything connects to anything. A place where thefts and explosive reactions happen: a permanent generator of sparkles and unpredictable desires,” said Michele in the show notes. “I have plundered the non-conformist rigour of Demna Gvasalia and the sexual tension of Tom Ford; I have lingered over the anthropological implications of what shines, working on the brightness of fabrics; I have celebrated the equestrian world of Gucci transfiguring it into a fetish cosmogony; I have sublimated Marilyn Monroe’s silhouette and old Hollywood’s glamour; I sabotaged the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie and the codes of men’s tailoring.”

That red velvet suit is a standout for Roitfeld, too. “At Gucci, we were always showing men’s in Firenze before showing women’s. In 1996, we decided to make the exact same red velvet suits for women and it was really game changing at that time. I loved the genderless vibe. Also, Tom’s casting was quite small as he had few favorite girls, so they had to change a lot of times backstage—it was always crazy hectic. He was a coach to the girls backstage, he really was doing the warm up; he talked the girls into feeling empowered, beautiful, sexy, and you could feel their confidence on the runway.”

While Gucci’s origins are a family affair, Michele has created his own modern, eclectic family of recurring characters and collaborators that includes Harry Styles, Petra Collins, Jared Leto, Lana del Rey, Florence Welch, and Billie Eilish. “Harry Styles and Jared Leto always steal the show in Alessandro’s outfits,” says Roitfeld. “Petra Collins wears Gucci perfectly. She is the embodiment of the brand to me. Billie Eilish is another one, in a completely different style. I love the versatility of Gucci as a uniform.” Michele, she adds, has brought a more theatrical side to the brand. “His vision of sexy feels very right in our time. All genders are celebrated. Tom opened the way to diversity at Gucci and Alessandro still amplifies it today in a way that always feels organic. Gucci feels very inclusive to me.”

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