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From the Jackie to the Diana, a History of Gucci Handbags

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From the Jackie to the Diana, a History of Gucci Handbags

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In 1897, a man named Guccio Gucci left his native Florence for London, where he worked at the tony Savoy Hotel as a bellhop. Handling the luggage of the ritzy clientele there gave him the education he needed to return to Italy and produce his very own line of travel-centric leather goods. The year was 1921 when Guccio finally opened the doors to his boutique on Florence’s Via della Vigna Nuova, selling imported suitcases in addition to goods handcrafted by local artisans. It didn’t take long for customers to latch onto Guccio’s wares, and soon after that, Gucci became an outright sensation.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A trade embargo placed on Italy during Mussolini’s rule meant that materials—leather in particular—were scarce. So, Guccio and his sons Aldo, Vasco, and Rodolfo (all now part of the family business) had to get creative, making wicker, raffia, and wood Gucci signatures in addition to cuoio grasso, an incredibly smooth veal calf leather. (Nearby, the Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo was also making do with what was available with his cork-heel creations.) At around the same time, Gucci also developed a woven hemp textile with a diamond pattern, a precursor to the current double-G monogram.

Around 1947, Gucci made fashion history with its bamboo-handled bag, a structured little purse adorned with a bamboo handle bent by the heat of a flame. By 1953, Ingrid Bergman was carrying a variation in the film Viaggio in Italia, setting off Hollywood’s love affair with Gucci. Reported visitors to Gucci’s Florence shop included then-Princess Elizabeth (before her ascent to the British throne), Eleanor Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Taylor. A stint as an actor meant that Rodolfo would also bring in his own picture-making friends like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Sophia Loren.

Photographed by Henry Clarke, Vogue, April 1971
Photographed by Henry Clarke, Vogue, April 1971

By the 1950s, when la dolce vita was in full swing in Rome and Manhattan was a playground for monied movers and shakers, Gucci was outfitting and accessorizing it all. Over the next two decades, Gucci opened up shops just about everywhere worth being seen. One day, at the Milan outpost, Grace Kelly walked in and got a silk scarf decorated with a feminine floral pattern (dubbed the Flora, which remains a house code to this day); on another, Jackie Kennedy Onassis picked out a hobo bag. The latter was recently reissued by Alessandro Michele, as was the bamboo-handled Diana bag. The stories behind these and other Gucci handbags, below.

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