Last year, Gucci dug into its archives for old black and white images that show artisans at work at Gucci’s workshops in Florence. These images became part of the brand’s latest campaign Forever Now, which was launched last year, ahead of the brand’s 90th anniversary in 2011. The oxymoron celebrates the heritage of the oh-so-fashionable brand.
The anniversary celebrations will also include the launch of the Gucci Museum in Florence this year. “The point is to present the heritage of the company with fashion as the other side of the same coin,” Patrizio di Marco tells me at the Gucci store at The Galleria, Mumbai. The company’s CEO was in India to explain how the forward-thinking brand is in a nostalgic mood.
The stirrings of change began when Tom Ford quit in 2004, and Frida Giannini took over as the creative director. The brand’s latest campaign, which was conceived by her, also involves taking clients to Florence, where they witness what goes into creating the designer bags. “This was to show customers that we present something beautiful but also something that has substance. It may be expensive but when you have seen this process you understand what it takes,” he says.
In uniform: Di Marco doesn’t like ‘talking’ to people on BlackBerrys, but with offices in Milan, Rome and Switzerland, this has become inevitable. Jayachandran/Mint
Wearing a charcoal Gucci suit and tie, his dark hair fashionably long, di Marco is tall and incredibly slim. He could easily pass off as a model-turned-businessman, but at 48, he hasn’t accidentally graduated to being the CEO of one of the world’s largest selling luxury brands.
His enviable career graph spanning two decades in fashion includes stints with Prada, Louis Vuitton and Celine, Inc. He joined the Gucci Group as president and CEO of Bottega Veneta in 2001. The brand was near bankrupt at the time; di Marco transformed its fortunes.
It’s not a coincidence that he was asked to move to Gucci in 2009, when the fashion world was reeling under the dramatic impact of the financial downturn. The new CEO found himself firefighting from Day 1. “My first thought was that the timing of joining Gucci was pretty bad. The worst year ever,” he says, laughing.
At a time when investment became the keyword and extravagance was frowned upon, di Marco chose to focus on Gucci’s “Handmade in Italy” craftsmanship. The brand also relaunched classics such as the Jackie and Bamboo bags, and the Flora print dedicated by founder Guccio Gucci to princess Grace of Monaco in 1966. He was, in some ways, bringing to this brand Bottega’s trademark—the understated, timeless luxury of craftsmanship.
To further establish the brand’s products as investment pieces, they have launched a website in collaboration with Christie’s where collectors around the world can appraise their vintage Gucci products.
“What’s visible for the brand Gucci is the element of fashion. But in the last fashion show (in September), a dress by Frida took 400 hours to make. If that’s not handmade and that’s not craftsmanship, then what is?” he asks me, sipping his coffee. I have already had my cuppa while waiting for him to finish his earlier appointment, and I’m not surprised when he says that he is usually late for all his meetings.
“When you are a CEO, you work all the time. The problem is I might say let’s meet for an hour and the meeting goes on for 3 hours. I tend to meet people in the hallways. It sounds disorganized but there is a logic,” he explains.
Di Marco loves to sleep, and as a “separated dad” living in Italy, he spends whatever free time he has with his daughter. I wonder what it’s like for a 16-year-old to grow up with a father who has navigated the hallways of some of the most iconic fashion houses. “She’s not entirely normal. Her vision has been distorted,” di Marco says, laughing.
Her vacations with him, weren’t normal either. She would accompany her father doing the rounds of stores, pointing out how she would like the lights and the display. “When she was leaving for Germany, the cold became an excuse and she said she didn’t have a jacket. I had to work and I said why don’t you go to the store. Of course, she picked the most beautiful and expensive thing,” he says.
Gucci recently launched their children’s collection in India, which di Marco considers an important market that they are still trying to gauge. “We are in a learning curve here and will take time to learn how to deal better with Indian customers. India is a huge country and an old country with a deep appreciation of beautiful things,” he says.
Although di Marco doesn’t consider himself fashion-conscious, he does make sure he is up-to-date with all the happenings of the industry. For someone who dreamt of drawing and painting for graphic novels as a career, he entered the fashion industry by accident. Having come so far, di Marco considers himself fortunate, and his daughter even more so. “She has the freedom of choice. I knew nothing about a clothing company when I got my first job. But there was a bit of madness in me and I thought this was as close as I could get in terms of being creative.”