With Patricia Gucci, Author of In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir, Granddaughter of Gucci Founder, Guccio Gucci
The Early Days Of Gucci: Inspiration And Tenacity
Gucci is one of the most recognizable luxury brands in the world, but few know the intriguing tale behind this fashion house that has defined Italian haute couture for over 70 years. Patricia’s Gucci’s new book In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir tells an epic family story which weaves together strands of love, ambition, passion, betrayal, and adultery. As the only daughter and sole heir of her father Aldo, Patricia paints a loving portrait of the man who took a small respected line of leather products and catapulted it onto the world stage in a very big way.
Patricia’s grandfather Guccio Gucci came up with an idea for a business while working at the Savoy Hotel, one inspired by the exquisite trunks and luggage and finery that the wealthy hotel clients traveled with. He decided to return to Florence and open a modest workshop where he could try his hand at making high-quality luggage and other leather goods. Within short order, he had assembled a coterie of leather work artisans and began making, first, trunks and soon after handbags and accessories of various kinds. Some years later, Guccio’s son Aldo saw beyond the traditional markets of Florence to the tony shopping district of Rome and with some effort, he convinced his father to open a second shop in 1938. After WWII, it was as successful as the one in Florence if not more so. Two other important events took place soon after the war: the beautiful Gucci bags soon got the attention of the well-heeled tourists and movie stars in the early days of La Dolce Vita and Aldo hired a clerk who would change his life and later give birth to Patricia Gucci.
Always looking forward, Aldo soon took another leap, this time expressly against his father’s wishes, by opening the flagship Gucci store in New York in 1958. Thus began the phenomenon behind Made in Italy—the mark of Italian excellence. After the likes of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn were photographed adorned with their Gucci handbags hanging over their arms, everyone who could afford it wanted to own a piece of Gucci.
Aldo Gucci: A Visionary “Married To The Business”
Steve describes Aldo as a man who was both a forward thinker and a man who was married to his business—in the best way, he adds. He was always imagining what the business might become far in advance of where it was at the time. Aldo also got very lucky, Steve believes, in some of his choices for store locations. He also remarks on the incredible free advertising that Gucci enjoyed on account of its popularity with the glamorous jet set and celebrities like Princess Grace. Patricia disagrees strongly, arguing that her father had very strong instincts for choosing places for his stores, assiduously researched locations on foot, and thought deeply about traffic and the projection of the Gucci name. As for the free advertising engendered by sightings of celebrities sporting Gucci products, the brands special status among the elite spread like wildfire in Rome, Patricia states, and now is part of the Gucci legend.
Family Tensions Over Business And Love Affairs
At the time he met and fell in love with Patricia’s mother Bruna, Aldo was married with three young sons and, at that time in Italy—that most Catholic of countries—adultery was against the law. How his determination and love for this woman finally won her over is only part of this fascinating story, no less interesting is the widening rift that opened up between the brothers and their sons after the death of Guccio Gucci in 1953.
Patricia’s half-brothers, cousins, and uncles Vasco and Rodolfo all had shares in the company, as well as their own and often conflicting ideas of how things should be done. In spite of that, Aldo remained the driving force behind the company which had become a major player in the luxury accessory world and, later, an equally influential and coveted clothing design firm.
Patricia Gucci’s Star Rises
Meanwhile, throughout these years, Patricia, the not-so-secret love child, was doted on by her father who eventually brought her to New York and into the business when she was in her 20s. Learning by her father’s side in those early years, Patricia ended up taking on a vital role of the family business and fortune, serving on the company’s board and, as fashion coordinator in the Gucci stores throughout the US, successfully steering the brand towards a more youthful and artistically daring reputation.
But the fighting within the family grew ugly and Aldo ultimately lost control of the company. The most painful event in his life occurred when his son Paolo went to the IRS which resulted in Aldo serving a year-and-a-half in prison for tax evasion at the age of 82—a devastating blow to this proud and dignified man.
Aldo Gucci died in 1990, but still today Gucci maintains its star luster. No longer a family business, it’s now owned by Investcorp, a Bahrain-based corporation. In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir is a worthy tribute to Aldo Gucci, a devoted father, and the man responsible for one of the most famous and enduring fashion houses the world has ever known.
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Steve Pomeranz: What does it take to create an iconic brand? And what family dynamics come into play once the brand is established and loved? Well, the story of the most iconic brand that has defined fashion for nearly a century is now told in a new book penned by the daughter of the great Aldo Gucci, the man who built Gucci into an icon. Patricia Gucci joins me today from Geneva to talk about her new book In The Name Of Gucci: A Memoir. Hi, Patricia, welcome to the program.
Patricia Gucci: Hello, nice to be here. Thank you.
Steve Pomeranz: Let’s start a little bit at the beginning to give our listeners an idea of what life was like at the very beginning. Your grandfather, Guccio Gucci, started very humbly. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Patricia Gucci: The first Gucci family business was manufacturing straw hats in the early 1900s. That didn’t go too well after a while, unfortunately. He then had to go to the Savoy Hotel to basically find a job because the family wasn’t able to continue the way they used to be. That’s when he got inspired, watching the very wealthy arrive with all their incredible trunks and luggage and seeing all their fineries. He got an incredible insight as to how the wealthy lived and all the beautiful things that were made in those days, and he decided to bring that back to Florence and start something of that nature himself.
Obviously, he needed to learn a little bit more about the world of leather and the art of making luggage and trunks, which he did. He went to school, and then he began the business in Florence in 1921 and opened a little boutique there and started with trunks. From then on, it went on to accessories and handbags and everything else, done with a little workshop where he had artisans, put them together in the way that only a Florentine would know how to do.
Steve Pomeranz: Right. I was recently in Florence and I did notice the amount of leather sellers there and great manufacturers that are there, and I can tell that there’s a culture there of fine leather-making. That was something that was quite obvious. By the way, I visited the Gucci museum while I was there.
Patricia Gucci: Oh, fantastic. It is a great museum. I really enjoyed when I visited it. There’s so much there that reminds you what Gucci’s origins were all about. Definitely worth going to visit.
Steve Pomeranz: When Guccio Gucci opened his first store in 1921, your father, Aldo Gucci, was 14 years old. Tell us a little bit about Aldo Gucci, who really was the one who brought this brand into the modern era.
Patricia Gucci: He was an eager student of his father, and I believe the one who was most passionate about the company. As a young man, he basically wanted to know everything, how his father did what he did. When he grew into a young man, he decided, “Look, Daddy, we need to move on from Florence and I believe we should move to Rome.” That’s where he set up a shop. My grandfather was very supportive at that moment of his venture to go to Rome, even though always very conservative and thought for him Florence was good enough. They opened the first store in Rome in 1938. Then, of course, my father—there was no stopping him—and the next big venture was to go to New York and London. In 1953, he came to New York and brought the phenomenon of the brand there. There was such an incredible recognition in Rome from Americans who would travel to Rome after the war and celebrities that brought back all the bags to America, so he felt that he would want to be in America because that’s where the big business could definitely develop. That’s what he did, against his father’s wishes.
Steve Pomeranz: I think it’s important to understand the kind of man that Aldo Gucci was. He was very much of a forward thinker. He was in a sense married to the business, in the best way of saying of that, and really was always thinking about well beyond wherever the business was currently. Also, he was very lucky in some cases as to where he chose his store locations. I know with the Via de’ Tornabuoni in Florence and other places right across the street from other places that turned out to be very lucky choices. How and why do you think he was able to get so much attention from the Italian movie stars and from Princess Grace? You have wonderful pictures in your book of her coming out of the store. What was special about the product back then?
Patricia Gucci: Well, I don’t think it was to luck, how he chose his locations. I really believe he had an incredible instinct. He would always walk everywhere and make sure he had a good understanding of the traffic and how the Gucci store could present itself, always imagining the name. As far as the clientele, in Rome, Gucci was number one, and there was nothing like it as far as leather goods and beautiful handbags. It was one of those places where word of mouth spread like wildfire amongst the elite and celebrities involved. Obviously, having them wear the bags created this incredible advertising. Photographers, paparazzi would be outside the shop. Grace Kelly was a wonderful client. Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, they definitely gave Gucci great advertising for the brand.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Patricia Gucci. She is the author and the heir of the Gucci name. The book is In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir. There’s also a story in the book about the creation of a family crest. It was understood that, in order to be taken seriously, the humble beginnings of the original Gucci family had to be downplayed, and they created a complete new backstory. Tell us about that.
Patricia Gucci: Yes, they reinvented their history. Coming from Florence, which is very much a city full of aristocracy and a lot of nobility, Gucci had to set itself apart, not just as a handbag and luggage shop, but they also wanted to give it the history, so that people would feel they were wearing something from generations and generations. Of course, it was an invention. My grandfather got inspired to create the crest from the image of a bellboy, and he put that on the crest. That’s how they created this brand in that way.
Steve Pomeranz: However, they did change it to a backstory that included possible ties to medieval nobility, right?
Patricia Gucci: The Gucci name does go back in medieval times, from the town of San Miniato. We have traced it back, but as far as nobility and aristocracy, I’m not sure if that’s anything close to the truth. Definitely, the name Gucci and the family traces itself back to the 1500s.
Steve Pomeranz: Patricia, let’s move forward now to the time when Aldo met your mother, Bruna. Bruna was hired by Aldo. Briefly take us through how they first really met and how their relationship developed.
Patricia Gucci: My mother went to work at Gucci when she was 18 in Rome, and started as a shop girl introduced to the manager by her fiancé who knew him very well. It was a wonderful entrance into this world that she had never before seen of luxury and glamour and something beyond her expectations. She loved her job and was very happy. My father spotted her. Of course, it was a small shop in those days. It wasn’t a huge place like now. She was a very beautiful woman, a young girl actually in those days. For the first year, it was all very proper and he would always give her special little acknowledgment that he would give only to her, but it was nothing forward.
Later on, he opted for her to be his secretary and there he showed his true intentions a little more, and eventually got to a point where he decided to give her letters. My mother was very modest and she absolutely made sure that she would never give him any indication of interest. He was a formidable person, much older and powerful, and it was her boss. Eventually his beautiful love letters won her over.
Steve Pomeranz: Those love letters are printed, a number of them are printed in the book. He was really quite a formidable writer, and he was truly enamored and in love with her, but he was married at the time.
Patricia Gucci: Yes, that was the unpleasant aspect of everything because, in those days, having an extramarital affair was considered a criminal act, not just a moral negative act. Therefore, my mother was torn in being in this situation. My father always reassured her that she was everything to him, and she had to have faith in the process but that was easier said than done for my mother. She absolutely could not accept being in these circumstances. It was battle for that for my mother all her life. She suffered a lot of anxiety due to it. It set the tone in her life that made her maybe not the person she would have become if she hadn’t been in that position.
Steve Pomeranz: Aldo also had three sons, correct?
Patricia Gucci: Yes, exactly. Around my mother’s age.
Steve Pomeranz: That created quite a problem. Eventually this affair came out to the family and created a lot of …
Patricia Gucci: After my birth it became knowledge. My mother had to have me in London and came back to Rome, and the word leaked out that my father had me and that he had given me his name.
Steve Pomeranz: The climate back then was such that if there was adultery, if there was a birth out of marriage … Even Ingrid Bergman, who had an affair when she was married, the U.S. Senate even banned her from public appearances, that’s how conservative the country was back then. In Italy, especially, as you said, it was against the law, you could be imprisoned for being an adulterer.
Patricia Gucci: The Catholic church was a huge part of the process. Very, very shunned.
Steve Pomeranz: It was a huge hypocrisy when you think about it because everybody was fooling around and doing what they were doing.
Patricia Gucci: Absolutely. Italian men are known to be the biggest Casanovas, and everyone had a mistress or so. It’s not that my mother was the first person in his life out of his marriage, but definitely she was the one that he fell in love with on a level that he hadn’t ever before.
Steve Pomeranz: You grew up in this environment and you spent most of your life in England, is that right?
Patricia Gucci: I was born in London and I was raised there until I was nine years old.
Steve Pomeranz: Tell us about what happened … About your life after nine.
Patricia Gucci: At nine, I was a very happy little child, going to English boarding school. I didn’t really know I had any other life until my mother one day decided to announce that I had three half-brothers and that my father had a wife and we were moving to Rome, pretty much all in one conversation. That was quite a revelation. I wasn’t unhappy about having three half-brothers. I was not happy about leaving England.
Steve Pomeranz: How were you treated in London?
Patricia Gucci: In England? I was in the country in those days. I loved it. I was English. I didn’t speak Italian. I was very much English. For me, it was my life. My friends were there and everything I loved and cherished was in England. When I moved to Rome, it was a shock.
Steve Pomeranz: When you moved to Rome… I’m sure it was. Were you accepted or rejected by the family?
Patricia Gucci: Absolutely accepted. They embraced me, and my father, after about a year that I moved to Rome, he organized an encounter with my brothers. When we were all together in the room, it was all very cordial and kind. One of them was even effusively affectionate. He hugged me and called me his little sister. At the beginning, I had no inclination at all that there would be any objection on their part, even though my mother was very cynical about it all.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Patricia Gucci. The name of the book is In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir.
Let’s move forward here a little bit and talk about the business now. By the time you were 16 or 18, tell us the state of the Gucci business, as you knew it.
Patricia Gucci: When I was 16, I was in boarding school in Switzerland, but I would occasionally fly to America on holidays. My father started then introducing me to social situations, like when he wasn’t able to attend a function or a party or an event, he would have me represent him. I looked older than my age, and I had all the poise and the wherewithal, I think, that he felt I could do it. That was my first realization of how incredibly important the name was in America. It was quite significant. To have that name was also quite a … It was an important thing to have, but it was also quite overwhelming because people would look at you in a completely different way. That’s not how I was raised in Europe. It was great. Gucci was in its heyday. There was nothing more exciting than to be around those exciting times when there’s so much success and recognition.
Steve Pomeranz: I’m here with Patricia Gucci. The book is In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir. It’s a memoir, and we’re speaking about the house of Gucci, the business, and, of course, Patricia’s life. Welcome back to our show here, Patricia. Now you have been introduced to Gucci. The family has moved from England to Rome. You’ve been well accepted. As you got older, you started to represent the company, as you mentioned in a previous segment. How was the business doing at that time? What year are we talking about?
Patricia Gucci: When I left school, I moved to New York to study acting, and one thing led to another, and my father brought me even more into the company. Not just as an occasional ambassador but also to work full-time. This was in the early ’80s. It was still a brand of huge significance and influence. People loved Gucci. Everybody wore Gucci. It was something of a uniform practically for every single person to have either a Gucci loafer or Gucci bag. It was an incredible company in those days and it was a fun thing to be working. There was nothing better, especially as it was a family company.
Steve Pomeranz: 1953, Guccio Gucci dies, and your father wanted to change the business. He wanted to go public and distribute shares, but there was a lot of fighting about the future direction of the company. Tell us a little bit about that.
Patricia Gucci: Sorry, you’re talking about when my grandfather died?
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, when your grandfather died.
Patricia Gucci: Yes. Well, I wouldn’t say there was a huge problem. Everybody knew what they wanted to do and where they would be. My Uncle Rodolfo was a movie star, and it didn’t work out in the long-term, so he came back into the company; and his job was to pretty much manage the shop in Milano and occasionally go to the factory in Florence. My other uncle Vasco, he was in charge of the Florentine factory. My father was the man who was the engine and just went everywhere and expanded and expanded and expanded and did what he had to do. He marketed the company in every way that only he knew how, because he was the only one with the vision.
Steve Pomeranz: However, Paolo and some others conspired to take the business from your father. Can you talk to us about that a little bit?
Patricia Gucci: Yes, well that came later. That was my father’s son. Eventually Vasco died, my father’s brother, and there was just my father and Rodolfo. The sons, my father gave them shares so that they would feel part of the company and because Rodolfo was giving a lot of pressure to my father about their presence in the company and to make them feel just as important, and not just employees. Paolo was always a bit of a rebel. He wanted to do things his way. He was headstrong. He tended to go against the grain and wanted to do things that were not part of the company’s vision. My father got very upset with him. They were always fighting. Paolo did a lot damage in the family environment.
Steve Pomeranz: There was a lot of intrigue in the way that Paolo tried to and, actually, eventually did, wrench control of the company away from your father.
Patricia Gucci: He had the opportunity to go to my cousin, who at that time his father had died and he inherited his fifty percent. By going to my cousin to make a deal, he said, “Look, I can give you my shares, you can buy my shares.” And then my father becomes a minority. That was how he took control of the company. Well, not only Paolo took control of the company, but it was taken away from my father.
Steve Pomeranz: Was it during this time that your father was contacted by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service?
Patricia Gucci: Paolo, again, went to the U.S Internal Revenue Service and gave them information that my father had been evading taxes. At that time, my father had a green card, was a resident, and so they started a full force investigation and my father ended up going to prison at 82.
Steve Pomeranz: At 82. This must have been an unbelievable, devastating blow for him.
Patricia Gucci: It was the worst thing that could possibly happen to him. It was one of the worst things. That and the betrayal. I don’t know which one could have been worse.
Steve Pomeranz: What eventually happened to the company in terms of the business reputation and the ownership of the business?
Patricia Gucci: The company was eventually bought by Investcorp. They went in toward the sons first and made them offers to buy, with Maurizio in the background, telling him that he would be running the business after they take over the ownership. My father was the last person they went to, and he resisted, because this was his baby. He had made this company, he did everything, and it was wrenched from him in a way that he never expected, but eventually he had to. That was the end of the Gucci family, other than my cousin, being involved. Then my cousin eventually ran the company pretty much to the ground doing all sorts of crazy things. Investcorp decided to save their investment by buying him out. There were no more members of the family after that.
Steve Pomeranz: Was there any inheritance? Was there anything left of Gucci to the Gucci family and to your father Aldo?
Patricia Gucci: Everyone had the benefits of the shares that were sold. No one was involved with the company anymore and no one had any ownership of the company.
Steve Pomeranz: You were on the board at that time, right? In those years?
Patricia Gucci: I was in the board a few years before. Yes, in my early 20s, which was a few years before. My father passed when I was 27, 1990.
Steve Pomeranz: What role did you play in the company beside being on the board?
Patricia Gucci: I was a fashion coordinator. I used to do all the window displays throughout America. I helped with all the fashion shows and eventually did them all myself. I basically started learning, in the beginning, from my father. I attended all the meetings with him just to learn how everything went. Eventually, I found a place for myself which was more on displays and to bring a younger look to the fashions of the company at that time.
Steve Pomeranz: After all this was done, you eventually got a job at Gucci in the United Kingdom, is that right?
Patricia Gucci: Yes, later on. It was before they sold everything. We moved back to England and I still had a position in the UK, and also in Japan and Hong Kong. Then when my father had to eventually sell, that finished my employment, too. I was put under a gag order with him at the same time that he sold his shares, so I was no longer able to work in the company, outside the company, or have any non-compete, as well as not speak about anything for ten years.
Steve Pomeranz: For ten years. Let’s stop right here for a second right here, Patricia. Is there anything that you would like me to ask you about in particular? We have about three minutes left. We’re off air now.
Patricia Gucci: Oh, I don’t know. What would I like for people … Whatever you feel. What people would like to take away with them about the book, I suppose. I don’t know. However you feel.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, so we’ll continue. It was really quite a long journey from the humble beginnings of Guccio Gucci to the dynamic business that was built by your father, Aldo. The fact that, personally, the family dynamics, you being born out of wedlock and, so on, especially back in those years in the ’50s, was quite a sensation. As the business developed and your father grew this business into the icon that it is today, he then basically ended up losing the business to his nephew and one of his sons, and then it eventually was sold to a Bahrain based company, Investcorp. To this day … Your father passed away when?
Patricia Gucci: My father passed away in 1990.
Steve Pomeranz: What was the effect on the family, on all the brothers and your mother after his death?
Patricia Gucci: My father did not speak to his sons for over a year after they sold their shares. For him, that was the ultimate act of betrayal of every kind, because they had completely destroyed his dream of having the business in the family. When he died they saw him. I had to call them to his bedside because, at that point, we knew he was not going to live too long. He pretty much looked at them as to say, “Look what you’ve done.” It was a pretty heavy duty time for them, to have to recognize. I’m sure they felt very guilty as to what they had done. As far as my mother, for the next decade I would say, it was very hard for us to figure out where our lives would go. My mother, especially. He was everything for her. She didn’t know which way to turn. It took her a long time to get back on her feet and be happy with herself. There you go. Now she’s a grandmother, and I’m a mother of three daughters, and we’re fine.
Steve Pomeranz: What are you doing now?
Patricia Gucci: Now I’m finishing promoting this book and figuring out future projects. Still to be decided, but there’s lots of things I have in mind. It’s all been a wonderful process.
Steve Pomeranz: Thank you so much for sharing the Gucci story. The book is In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir. The author is Patricia Gucci. Patricia, thank you so much for joining me.
Patricia Gucci: Thank you very much. Bye.