The new trending film, The House of Gucci, premiered in November 2021. It showcases the tumultuous events inside the Gucci family that ultimately led to the family’s fall from grace, with Maurizio Gucci being killed by a hitman ordered by his ex-wife, the infamous Patrizia Reggiani. In the movie, Tom Ford has a very brief appearance when he is appointed into the Gucci business by Maurizio. Yet, the film does not explore how Tom Ford revitalized what was a dull, decaying brand that lacked creative vision, something which Ford was in ample supply of. Here, I will showcase how Ford changed Gucci, and its creative vision, forever.
When Ford was first promoted to Creative Director of Gucci in 1994, the brand and company were in complete disarray. The business was losing millions per year, and as the film brilliantly illustrates, Gucci was a laughingstock at fashion week. The Golden Era of Gucci from the 1950s to the 1960s was well and truly over. No longer were celebrities draped from head to toe in Gucci like they had been. Indeed, figures such as Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly were seen with Gucci hats, scarves, and handbags back in Gucci’s heyday. Jackie sported a Gucci purse so frequently that it was to be relaunched as ‘Jackie.’
The glory days, however, were soon to be history. From the time of Vasco Gucci’s death in 1974, the brand was divided between his 2 sons and then their children, who fought bitterly for control of the brand up until the early 1990s as the film brilliantly documents. This led to a stagnation in creativity, something which was going to change in the iconic era of the 1990s with the arrival of Tom Ford.
Ford’s background was anything but impressive. Born in Texas, he went on to enroll on an Art History course at NYU before dropping out and pursuing various lines of work including TV commercials until studying interior architecture at Parsons School of Design. He first worked for Perry Ellis before arriving at Gucci in Milan, where Dawn Mello (then Creative Director) wanted new blood to revitalize the brand. Little did she know how monumental a change Ford would ignite.
Once becoming Creative Director after Mello’s departure from the brand in 1994, Ford was on a mission to make Gucci sexy, glamourous, and modern. Ford knew the history of the brand, and how A-listers had worn Gucci back in the heydays of Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. Through his amalgamation of the film noir cinematic aesthetic and 1970s sex and glamour, he would make Gucci something of legends.
In his debut Fall 1995 collection, he introduced 1970s inspired red velvet suits for both men and women, satin shirts, and velvet jeans. It was an instant hit, bringing back to Gucci the glamour and sex appeal it needed to attract celebrities again. In his Fall 1996 collection, disco era music and spotlights were added to the show to fit the aesthetics of 70s sex and glam, reflecting Ford’s own experiences of the late 1970s in New York as a young gay man, especially from his times at the infamous nightclub Studio 54. Also in his Fall 1996 collection, Ford’s inspiration from the legendary American fashion designer Halston is portrayed through his Grecian column dresses, which he adds his own flare to by creating a hole in the side, showing a continuation of the themes of sex and glamour that Ford was injecting into the brand. By 1997, the iconic unisex Gucci G-string was launched, shocking conservative journalists worldwide. To wear Gucci now was to be edgy, cool, and ultimately sexy.
Tom Ford stayed at Gucci until 2004, when he launched his own brand, which has come on to occupy a pivotal status in the fashion world. At the Gucci Museum in Florence, 2 rooms have been dedicated to Ford’s tenure at Gucci, showcasing some of his most iconic masterpieces, such as the white Grecian column dress with the hole in the side, and his many velvet suits and other velvet products from various collections.
Ford’s influence at Gucci can still be felt today, most poignantly in the fact that the brand still aims its appeal at a young, edgy audience, while retaining a level of chic and dignity befitting to a luxury brand. The Gucci of today would be very different if it was not for Tom, something which the recent film did not have time to dwell on due to its biographical focus on the Gucci family. But there is one thing the film illustrates; that creativity can arrive like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, creating something beautiful in a time of horror and death.