Birthplace: Florence, Italy

Awards: Future Best New Designer, Tom Ford, VH-1 Fashion Awards, 1995 CFDA International Designer of the Year Award, Tom Ford, 1996 International Designer of the Year, Tom Ford, Fashion Editors Club, Japan, 1996

Designer of the Year, Tom Ford, VH-1/Vogue Fashion Awards, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999

European Company of the Year, European Business Press Federation, 1998

Style Icon Award, Tom Ford, ELLE, 1999

Commitment to Life Award, AIDS Project Los Angeles, 1999

The House of Gucci was for years a thriving business, known for its beautiful saddles and fine leather goods, the most famous of which were its quietly understated loafers and handbags. Well known as international status symbols, the famous bit-and-stirrup hardware and double G's have adorned shoes and bags since the company's beginnings, when all pieces were lovingly designed and assembled by founder Guccio Gucci and his brotherhood of Florentine artisans who first came together in 1921.

Passed down from father to sons, the company flourished and began its worldwide expansion, opening the first U.S. store in New York in 1953, followed by shops in London, Paris, the Far East, and so on. When family leader Rodolfo Gucci died in 1983, however, the business suffered tragic setbacks which began when the various branches of the family began fighting, and worsened as the company image started to plummet, largely as a result of the continued licensing of literally thousands of inferior products— from key chains to drinking glasses—most bearing the red-and-green-striped bands that had become part of the Gucci trademark.

In 1989 Maurizio Gucci, son of Rodolfo, became chief executive officer and the largest shareholder in the family, owning 50 percent of Gucci shares. The other family members had sold their 50 percent of the company to an international investment firm, Investcorp. Rodolfo's brother, Aldo, and his sons blamed not only Maurizio, but also his clever attorney, Domenico de Sole (who later became president and chief executive officer of Gucci Group), for the internal chaos the company was experiencing. Maur-izio, determined to restore the Gucci name, unwittingly sent the entire business into a downward spiral by refusing to continue the myriad of ill-advised licensing agreements. His decision brought about a serious cashflow crisis which forced most of the designers to leave the company. Ultimately Maurizio also sold his share of Gucci to Investcorp.

At what appeared to be the final hour, a young designer named Tom Ford entered the spotlight, poised to alter the course of modern fashion. Ford had joined Gucci in 1990, after leaving his position as design director for Perry Ellis at the urging of Gucci's new creative director, Dawn Mello, who had left her post as president of Bergdorf Goodman to save the failing brand. On the edge of bankruptcy, having lost $30 million in one year alone, Investcorp was desperately trying to sell Gucci, but there were no takers, and by 1994 it looked as if the company would be liquidated. Tom Ford, who was then designing all eleven product lines, magically reinvented Gucci style and changed fashion history with a witty and wonderful mix of tradition and modern innovation. It appeared that Ford had single-handedly transformed Gucci overnight.

Ford was named the new creative director, and his 1995 men's and women's collections were acclaimed by style watchers everywhere and embraced by trendsetters from Madonna to Goldie Hawn. In just a few seasons, he helped turn the fading company into the hottest name in international fashion, increasing sales so dramatically that Investcorp was able to take Gucci public. Lucrative licensing agreements with Zamasport, Ermengildo Zegna, and other Italian manufacturers were also put in place. In 1997, for example, Gucci Timepieces was created when Gucci Group NV acquired Severin Montres, a Gucci licensee for twenty-three years and one of the world's largest manufacturers and distributors of watches. In 1999 Gucci completed its acquisition of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, Sanofi

Beaute, and Sergio Rossi, and plans for the acquisition of Boucheron International, the prestigious jewelry and perfume giant, were well under way.

What did Ford do at the end of the century's final decade that was so right for the moment? It is clear that he has a brilliant understanding of popular culture; his revival of the double G logo, banished from all Gucci goods shortly before he took his place as head designer, was a stroke of genius. By resurrecting the famous status symbol and reframing it as an icon for the 1990s and beyond (the G's now appear on all Gucci products, in every form from rhinestone to gold), he demonstrated shrewd marketing know-how and a clear understanding of the prevailing Zeitgeist.

Gloss, glamor, and daring experimentation characterize everything Ford designs, and the pieces fly out of Gucci's more than 150 stores, from Milan to Tokyo. Many of his hard-edged creations (mile-high stilettos, metallic jackets, and leather hip huggers, for example) are a reflection of today's urban life which, as Ford has said, is becoming tougher. Whatever his take on modern fashion is and where it is going, he and president/CEO Domenico de Sole have turned Gucci into a billion-dollar international luxury goods company with customers clamoring for more of anything bearing those globally glorified G's. See also: Yves Saint Laurent.


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