Keeping it Gucci: evolving brand image and public perception

Keeping it Gucci: evolving brand image and public perception

Whether you’re a fashion aficionado that remembers the ‘dolce vita’ days of the interlocking Gs, or you’re more familiar with the tan puffa jacket collaboration of Gucci x The North Face, it’s undeniable that the Italian fashion house is a major player in the luxury scene. Originally founded by Guccio Gucci in Florence, Tuscany in 1921, the brand became seen as an international icon of luxury, launching staples like the bamboo bag, the iconic Gucci loafer, and the Flora scarf, designed exclusively for Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco. Gucci has never failed to disrupt whilst retaining the core identity of the brand, despite how this image has altered with the Creative Directors that have influenced it. How have visionaries like Tom Ford and Alessandro Michele shaped the brand we see today, and how have these shifts altered public perception? 

Ford’s appointment as Creative Director in 1994, saw what has been coined as the ‘porno chic’ revival, demonstrating Ford’s taste for hedonistic, daring styles that disrupted the Grunge style of the 90s. His 1995 collection consisted of plunging white dresses with cut-outs around the hips and featured models with heavy smoky eyes, as well as models sporting androgynous suits in red velvet. Gucci also introduced provocative, limited edition products like silver handcuffs and a branded G string. The brand also launched a provocative ad campaign that continues to receive global attention, with striking sexual images that captured the playful, hedonistic aspects of the brand that Ford wished to emulate, with female models sprawled across their male counterparts laps. 

The most famous but most controversial was the 2003 image of Carman Kass sporting a ‘G’ shaved into her pubic hair, another model kneeling in front of her, pulling her underwear down to expose the symbol. This particular image is often pointed out on lists of Ford’s sexiest and most memorable ads, continuing to gain attention from brands like Supreme, who recently used the image across a series of graphic T-shirts. But despite the nostalgia, the campaign was originally met with backlash, both from the tabloids and the Advertising Standards Agency, but not from the public. Gucci defended the campaign saying that the advert was “intended to be the ultimate ironic pun for a sexy brand in a logo-led age”. They believed the image was “playful” and showed how men and women’s sexual roles were changing, as at the time it wouldn’t be typical for a man to be posed on his knees in front of a woman with clear sexual allusions. 

The 2006 appointment of Frida Giannini prompted a shift to a new Gucci, originally she was acclaimed at criticised for revisiting Ford’s archives before opting to push the image in a new direction, moving away from the overt sexuality displayed by Ford and experimenting more with the androgynous Bohemian style reminiscent of the 19th century. The introduction of Alessandro Michele in 2015 built on this shift, who revealed a more ‘sophisticated, intellectual and androgynous feel’ during his February fall show. He followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by revisiting old styles such as the bamboo and Jackie O bag whilst hybridising these to fit the modern era, as well as creating iconic pieces such as the Dionysus handbag. 

Public perception of Gucci has undoubtedly changed with this shift; in 2018 sales doubled with consumers under 35 accounting for 55%, showing the changing appeal of Gucci in the eyes of younger people. Michele has worked with some of the most notable influencers and celebrities to solidify the Gucci brand amongst the younger generation, pushing imagery across social media to reach the target audience in a way that resonates with them. The Gucci brand slots into millennial life comfortably, their collaborations with brands like The North Face and Adidas telling of their appetite to draw in a younger crowd, namely one that appreciates streetwear. However, at times Michele has alienated the same generation he wishes Gucci to attract; the 2019 blackface costume scandal being one of those instances. 

In February 2019, a black balaclava sweater with a rollup neck and cut-out red-lipped mouth featured in the fall collection, creating a media shitstorm and backlash across social media. Previous collaborators like Dapper Dan called out the brand for getting it ‘outrageously wrong’, Michele adding fuel to the fire by stating that his inspiration was Leigh Bowery and that the piece had been misinterpreted. The backlash ultimately prompted him to address the lack of diversity in his immediate design team and the industry as a whole, launching the ‘North America Changemakers Scholarship’ in a bid to help those who are currently underrepresented access the industry. By working closely with Dapper Dan and taking accountability for the issue, the brand mended its image and continues to be popular amongst younger generations. 

The Gucci image has evolved and transitioned throughout time, however, the essence of the brand remains the same, focusing on the pillars of quality, exclusivity, and innovation. Each Creative Director has taken the brand in different directions, taking iconic staple pieces like the Jackie bag or loafer and reimagining and reinventing them to suit the current audience. Their recent collaboration with Adidas features staples across the two brands that inspire nostalgia for the younger generation, combining bright colours and sportswear with more formal elements; a classic slice of Gucci hybridisation that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in the future. 

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Schaunagh Gleeson
PR Executive

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