Hollywood is pretty much Gucci, and Gucci is pretty much Hollywood." So says Patrizio di Marco, president and CEO of the world's top-selling Italian luxury goods brand, which boasts celebrity "faces" James Franco, Blake Lively and Chris Evans and even used the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to launch a couture line for the red carpet. Founded by Guccio Gucci as a leather goods brand during the 1920s in Florence, it remained family-run for more than 50 years. But by the '80s, Gucci was bankrupt and sold amid infighting and psychodrama (a notorious murder; a prison sentence for tax evasion).
Then a young, no-name American designer, Tom Ford, became creative director in 1994 -- and Gucci soon became a billion-dollar brand. After Ford departed in 2004, many thought the business would falter, but it has flourished under di Marco, 51, and his creative director/designer (and girlfriend) Frida Giannini. In 2013, revenue for the 10,000-employee company soared to nearly $5 billion (leather goods accounted for 58 percent of sales, shoes 14 percent and ready-to-wear garments 11 percent).
Before joining Gucci in 2009, di Marco -- who lives in Milan and has a 1-year-old daughter with Giannini -- held top posts at Bottega Veneta, LVMH, Celine and Prada. THR sat down with the executive in his Milan office, decorated with sculptural furnishings in dark, masculine colors, as he dished on Gucci's relationship with Hollywood (the company has sponsored Martin Scorsese's film foundation for years) as well as its support of film restoration (including the works of John Cassavetes, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone) and plans for a new Rodeo Drive boutique.
Luxury brands began using Hollywood celebrities as part of their marketing strategies during the early 1990s, but Gucci has a lengthy history of celebrity interaction, correct?
If you go back to the '50s, '60s and '70s, you have plenty of pictures of the most important actors and actresses buying and wearing Gucci. We've been more than 40 years in L.A. There are beautiful images from the time: Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof carrying a Gucci Bamboo bag, etc. Many of them wore our iconic loafers and bought our luggage. Back then, there wasn't the concept of product placement you have now; people wore the bag in the movie or on the street because they liked that bag. Everything was much more genuine and sincere.
You have Chris Evans and Evan Rachel Wood (Gucci Guilty fragrances), Blake Lively (Gucci Premiere fragrance, for which she is rumored to have been paid $2 million a year for two years) and James Franco (fragrance and clothing ads). How do you choose celebrities to serve as brand ambassadors?
Frida's the mastermind behind these talents. When James Franco was chosen, other companies were going after more established faces -- he'd only played James Dean and Spider-Man's friend at that time. Frida always has a dialogue with the celebrities; if the "click" is there, we go. James has become a very close friend of Frida and even produced her documentary [2013's The Director]. Blake has become a friend, too. Of course, everyone is doing this because it's part of their job, but it's nice when it becomes a relationship beyond something commercial. All these things are good for the brand, but we're not doing them specifically for marketing purposes. Having a strong relationship with Hollywood doesn't necessarily affect our sales, but there is a definite return when it comes to image.
Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway wore Gucci custom gowns to this year's Oscars, and countless men wore its suits and tuxedos for awards season. Is it easier now to get big stars to wear the brand on the red carpet?
As I said, it's all about the buildup of relationships -- Frida's relationships and our team's relationships with actors and actresses. They look [good] in our clothes, so why wouldn't they?
There are rumors you soon will launch Gucci Beauty, a color and makeup brand. True? It's hard to believe it never has existed.
No, it never existed -- and it shouldn't even be known now! But since everyone knows: It will be launched in 2014, and from what I've heard from our own people and our consultants, it will be a very interesting launch. It will debut in a select number of our stores, plus some key corners of major luxury department stores. The launch will be quite selective initially then expand from there.
Why do beauty now? The field is so crowded.
Because it's the right time to do it. We needed to work on it for a long time; for three or four years, that has been the main focus of the company. That's how long it takes. In the last five years, we have completely reworked our fragrance business; there's not one single product that currently exists that existed five years ago. The entire business has been changed -- with great success, I would say. We are pretty young in the beauty business, but the size of the new beauty division is still very substantial.
How much does China mean to Gucci's worldwide sales?
It's by far the most important -- it accounts for a third of our sales. And I don't necessarily mean mainland China but all countries that are dependent upon Chinese consumers: Hong Kong, Macau, even Singapore. What's interesting is that different styles of handbags are popular in each country, so we distribute them that way.
Gucci recently purchased historic Florentine porcelain maker Richard Ginori for $16.9 million. Does this mean Gucci is in the homeware business?
Gucci tableware existed in the '60s and '70s. When this company founded in Florence in 1735 went bankrupt, it seemed like time for a perfect merger. So we will be launching tableware this year: Some of it will be Gucci, and we will also revive the brand Richard Ginori.
When you and Frida go home at night, how do you stop working?
We don't! No, no, we do. The good thing is, we now have a daughter who reminds us to be serious people. Whenever you work with someone you live with, efficiencywise it's much better. But I am capable as much as Frida of keeping things separate when they have to be kept separate. If I tell her that I didn't like a show, which I actually did … of course I learned from my mistake. (Laughs.) But don't worry, she was as cruel as possible with me as well.
This story first appeared in the March 21-28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.