Gucci company thrives as a family affair

As head of a company that caters to urbane clients on three continents, Aldo Gucci is a veteran tastemaker among Italy's rich field of fashion trendsetters. Refined and genial, he clearly enjoys his role as patriarch of the close-knit family whose vision shapes the sophisticated swirl of Gucci products.

On a visit to the new, richly appointed Gucci Salon here, Dr. Gucci settles into a back office hung with paintings and a framed Gucci scarf to discuss the family business. Speaking in a flowing cadence, punctuated with expressive gestures and a ready smile, he reveals his devotion to a design tradition established by his father.

''Among family members, we conceive taste and quality and style in one way only. This is reflected in the expression of elegance we apply to anything we do ,'' says Dr. Gucci, impeccably dressed in a pin-striped suit and jewel-toned tie.

He attributes their aesthetic sensibility, in part, to the family's Florentine heritage dating back to the Renaissance. The Gucci business is based in Florence - a city where the creative past looms large - among other notable family-run design companies, including Ferragamo and Missoni.

''(Italian designers) are going through a most favorable period in our history now. The climate seems right,'' Dr. Gucci observes. ''Milan, Florence, and Rome are three cities in which there are a great many designers. There is a great desire among these designers to challenge themselves by expressing and interpreting fashion to the approval of the world and its customers.''

In contrast to Italy's more experimental design firms, family members at Gucci hold to a fashion identity that has evolved over decades.

''The advantage is we are all involved in the design, promotion, and production. Everything is under family control - it all comes from the same kitchen,'' says Dr. Gucci.

The Gucci collection includes shoes, clothing, handbags, perfume, luggage, jewelry, and other accessories - all noted for their clear colors, fine materials, crisp detail, and strong design. During the past decade the collection's status appeal, symbolized by the linked double-G logo, has triggered a flood of counterfeit products.

''We have thousands of confiscations and lawsuits all over the world,'' says Dr. Gucci. ''It's a big affair and it's costly, but we are succeeding. It's important to safeguard the interest of the customer.''

Despite the counterfeit problem, the Gucci business continues to expand, particularly in the American market. Currently, there are 20 shops owned and operated by Gucci and approximately 200 franchises worldwide.

The company began in 1906 when Dr. Gucci's father, Guccio Gucci, started a saddle factory in Florence with four workmen. Soon he added canvas feedbags marked with his initials GG. Surcingles and girths to hold blankets and saddles were made of webbing woven in green and red stripes, the colors of the Gucci coat of arms. Later, Gucci added leather bags and valises. During World War II, when leather was scarce, Gucci first began manufacturing the signature canvas bags trimmed with leather.

Aldo Gucci entered the business when he was 20, first in production and later in sales. He earned his doctorate in economics from San Marco College in Florence.

Today Dr. Gucci spends most of his time in New York as chairman of the board of Gucci Shops Inc., the base of operations for Gucci-owned shops and franchises in the United States. He travels frequently to visit stores and attend benefits.

He has received several awards from charity organizations and two Italian government awards for his contributions to fashion and export development.

Two of his three sons, a nephew, and his daughter hold high positions in the business. His oldest son, Georgio, and his nephew, Maurizio, are co-presidents of Gucci Italy, the main company based in Florence. Roberto, the youngest son, is vice-president of Gucci Italy. His daughter Patricia, who lives in New York, is the fashion coordinator for Gucci.

Plus, ''we have five grandchildren working already,'' says Dr. Gucci. ''They haven't been forced - they've asked to come into the business. They have a passion to learn, and they are ready in spirit and heart to do it.''

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