This week, the city of Florence was invaded. Invaded by an army of good-looking, impeccably dressed, fashion-savvy men. As one may imagine, the city did not put up much resistance. In fact, women reportedly flocked to the streets, nonchalantly “hanging out in caffè” and “reading in piazze.” For those of us who were not in Florence, we followed vigilantly from afar, refreshing our Instagram feeds every ten minutes for new images of the dashing intruders.
There is only one thing that draws this many men and this much style to Florence – Pitti Uomo. Pitti Uomo is a biannual fashion fair in Florence, spotlighting men’s style and setting trends for the year. It is the definitive international event to see and be seen in the men’s fashion industry.
This year, to honor men, fashion and Florence, we are highlighting one of Florence’s founding fathers of fashion–Guccio Gucci. We’re taking a walk from one side of Florence to the other to visit the places where the Gucci brand grew from a small leather shop to an international fashion house. And, I guess if we are out and about anyway, we might as well do a little uomo watching while we’re at it.
Scuola dei Cuolo, Santa Croce
Our journey through the life of Gucci begins at the Scuola dei Cuolo (leather school) of Santa Croce. Although the scuola predates Gucci by several centuries, the leather scents, tools and craftsmen working inside give us a sense of the medium that would inspire and define the life of Gucci.
Guccio was born in Florence in 1881 to the family of a modest merchant. Seeking glitz, glamour and adventure, Guccio moved to London at 17, where he worked in the Savoy Hotel.
While we’re not heading all the way to London, we can give you a peek.
At the Savoy, Gucci observed and learned the ways of the upper class. Quality, luxury and exclusivity attracted the elite. In particular, Gucci fixated a watchful eye on the gorgeous leather bags that passed through the hotel daily.
Once Gucci saved enough money, he returned to Florence where he married and started his family of eight. Gucci worked several jobs to support his large brood. The struggle continued when Gucci was called off to fight in World War I. However, when he returned to Florence, he found opportunity among the the recovering economy in the leather industry. His success encouraged Gucci and his wife to open their own shop in Florence in 1921.
The Original House of Gucci
Head west through Piazza della Signoria, towards Piazza della Repubblica. Walk straight west out of the piazza, under the large arch, onto Via degli Strozzi. The road forks at Via Tornabuoni. Head straight, then veer left at the fork. Although we certainly hope you kept your eyes peeled for Gucci-clad men on your way, we have something even more special to show you.
7 Via della Vigna Nuova was the address of Gucci’s very first shop. As you can see, the Gucci label has reclaimed the corner that is so integral to the fashion house’s history. In 1921, the store was primarily focused on the production of leather bags for trendy tourists and purses for luxe ladies.
Leveraging his London lessons on lifestyle, Gucci understood the importance of not only quality, but also high-end prices, in creating products exclusive for the elite. Gucci knew that Florentine leather craftsmanship offered the quality, all he needed to do was increase the prices. The business roared during the roaring twenties as wealthy tourists flooded Florence.
In the 1930s, leather gloves, belts and accessories were added to the line-up of Gucci goods.
Gucci’s Second Shop
Continue down Via della Vigna Nuova until you reach the Arno. Cross the Ponte alla Carraia and turn left on Lungarno Guicciardini. Here is our next stop.
As Gucci’s business grew, so did his need for space. In 1937, he relocated to the Oltrarno, to this very street, where he opened a larger shop. During this time, the demand for Gucci grew, as did the desires of the exclusive clientele. Gucci found himself catering to an elite class that enjoyed horse riding. Riding boots and accessories became his next hot items, and here the horse bit and stirrup became the perfect inspiration for the insignia of Gucci, which is still used today. The success of the 1930s brought the business to Rome by 1938.
Gucci’s success came head to head with the trials of World War II months later. All businesses struggled under fascist rule, including Gucci. However, even with limited supplies, Gucci’s innovation under such pressure only contributed to the growth of the brand. During the war, Gucci defaulted to less luxurious materials, like hemp and linen in lieu of leather, on which the double G logo was stitched. Perhaps Gucci’s greatest success was his use of bamboo for purse handles. The bamboo purse became an instant success and an iconic staple of the brand. It remains popular to this day.
Gucci’s legacy continued after his death in 1953 when his sons Aldo, Vasco, Ugo and Rodolfo took over the business and opened stores around the world.
The Original Gucci Showroom
If your people watching draws you deeper into the Oltrarno, pay a visit to the original Gucci factory and showroom. From Piazza Santo Spirito, head south out of the Piazza on Via delle Caldaei. In one block you will arrive at Via delle Caldaei 7. The location continues to represent Gucci, housing offices and showrooms for the brand’s latest creations.
Return to the city center for our last stop on this sartorial stroll. Head north, towards the Arno. Cross the Ponte Vecchio and turn right, finding yourself in Piazza della Signoria.
The Gucci Museum
Piazza della Signoria is the most seminal piazza in Florence. It represents nearly 2,000 years of Florentine history, art, government, movements and eras. And now, since 2011, it also represents Florentine fashion, as it is home to the Gucci Museum. The Palazzo della Mercanza, on the east side of the piazza, now hosts the Gucci Museum, caffè and bookshop.
Even if you do not decide to tour the museum (there is an entrance fee), you can still fake fashionable and fabulous by browsing the bookstore or treating yourself to an espresso, sweetened by the most exquisite sugar you’ve ever seen in your life.
I am so obsessed with these Gucci sugars that I tried to pack them and bring them back to the states to show my sister. Note: it didn’t work.
If all goes as planned, we will leave you here in the chic Gucci Caffè, sipping a cappuccino and thumbing through the Spring 2015 catalogue. A striking man approaches your table. You can’t help but notice his impeccably tailored Gucci suit, perfectly placed lapel and bold confidence in the way he carries that man bag. “Scusi, bellisima,” are the two words that strike up a conversation. As it turns out, the young-model-turned-apprentice of Patrizia di Marco is in need of your help. You see, he is without a date for the events of Pitti Uomo that evening. Your beauty has caught his attention, and now he simply cannot imagine attending without you on his arm. But you have nothing to wear! you shyly admit. That won’t be problem. As soon as you finish up that cappucino, it’s to the Gucci store, where your stylist will greet you and dress you for the evening. And of course you get to keep everything.
Can’t get enough Florentine fashion in your life? Check out:
- Walking Tour: Fashion as Art on Display
- The History of Florentine Fashion Through Photographs
- Scroll through gucci.tumblr.com for hours of stylish eye candy and historic photos.
- Explore the Gucci Caffè through the lens of A Dusty Olive Green.
Finally, don’t forget to see what’s happening over at #pittiuomo. That’s where you’ll find us! Buon Pitti Uomo tutti!