Set to occupy one of Harrods' Brompton Road windows and to show at the notably selective Le Cabinet de Curiosités boutique in the Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, Aviteur is creating a new benchmark in the world of luxury luggage
As the only granddaughter of Guccio Gucci, founder of the world-conquering Gucci brand, Patricia Gucci has designer DNA running through her veins. When her infamous father Aldo (who, amid a fair bit of family drama, would turn Gucci into a global name) was a young boy, his father waved a strip of leather under his nose and said, “This is the scent of your future!” Just as Aldo learned from Guccio, so did Patricia from him. And how.
Patricia is keen to focus on the “scent of her future”, rather than that of her family’s past, with the launch of her beautiful lifestyle brand’s carry-on luggage range. However, having released a book only four years ago titled In the name of Gucci, a little context is hard to sidestep.
Patricia Gucci started life as a secret, whose birth out of wedlock in 1963 – the halcyon days for the brand beloved by royalty and the international party crowd – could have brought ruin for her father and the business he had so successfully shaped. Although she was born in London, Gucci was smuggled back to Vatican City and hidden from the world, and the rest of the Gucci family. Aldo couldn't afford a public scandal, but he could not resist Patricia's mother Bruna, whom he met when she worked for him as a shop girl in Rome.
In the book, Patricia charts her parents' untold ‘love story’ (which viewed with 2020 vision, is perhaps not quite so rose-tinted), recounting childhood memories as well as an archive of love letters and interviews with her mother. She was kept a secret from the rest of the family, hidden away for the first 18 months of her life. Aldo’s three sons, who betrayed him in a famous coup, were shunned and Patricia, once considered the shame of Gucci, becomes protégé, ambassador and sole universal heir.
Educated in England, Italy, and Switzerland before moving to New York to study acting, she was appointed to the board of Gucci in 1982. Becoming the first woman in the company’s history to hold such a position, Patricia became the brand’s roving ambassador to the United States and Asia.
Fast forward three decades, and Patricia has again stepped into the limelight, this time by her own design, with the launch of Aviteur, her new lifestyle brand. It’s miles away from anything you’d expect from the House of Gucci. Showing at the famously selective Le Cabinet de Curiosités in the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, Aviteur sets a new standard in the world of high-end luggage.
Hand-crafted in Italy, the collection is beautiful: with a translucent polycarbonate handle, aluminium wheel casters, and a Paglia di Vienna pattern reminiscent of the fashionable cane luggage of the 1950s and 60s, while the hardware components are made from lightweight materials used in modern aviation. “It symbolises Aviteur perfectly,” says Gucci. “Innovation, craftsmanship, luxury and above all, made in Italy.” The patented silent wheels were designed for the cobbled streets of Venice after the city banned the use of trolleys due to noise pollution. Notably, there are absolutely no logos.
I ask Gucci what prompted her new venture, when she already has a ready-made fashion powerhouse at her feet. “I travel a lot, so carry-on luggage is important to me, not just the practical aspect but aesthetically as well. We’re constantly on the move, yet walking through airports, the luggage you see is generic, with no real personality... Looking at my options, I couldn’t find anything I really loved, something that reflected my personality in the same way a handbag does, for example. A carry-on bag may have wheels but it’s still an accessory and I don’t see why we should give it less importance than say, a handbag or a briefcase. When you get home, you shouldn’t feel like it has to be hidden away. I decided to make my own, and that’s where Aviteur started.”
Launched at the tail end of last year, Aviteur was set to arrive in select stores this spring, before Coronavirus put the breaks on. “Italy was among the hardest hit by the crisis and the country was quick to react. Factories were forced to close at the beginning of March and for three months our operations were at a standstill. We had been preparing for our launch in Harrods, where we were due to showcase Aviteur in a dedicated shopfront window on Brompton Road, when everything came to a grinding halt.”
Gucci has, of course, experienced her fair share of trials and tribulations, both professionally and personally. I ask her how the current situation compares to challenges she’s faced in the past? “I faced similar challenges in the late eighties. I was working at Gucci, with a three-year-old daughter and a second baby on the way, when the family business became a target of a hostile takeover. Soon after, my father died. Looking back, it felt like everything was imploding – much like the situation we are in today. In times of adversity, all we can do is face the future with courage and optimism."
Having largely grown up by her mother’s side, Gucci still cites both her parents as a source of encouragement and advice: “My father is a constant source of inspiration, not only because of what he achieved but because of his attention to detail and quest for perfection. ‘Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten,’ he used to say, and this is a principle I followed when I set out to create my carry-on. In this disposable age, it’s nice to have objects that last a lifetime.
“My father had a strong work ethic, great style, great vision and was always ahead of his time,” Gucci continues. “Characteristics which influenced me and many of the choices I made throughout my life. I learned from him the importance of loyalty, high standards, perseverance and family. My mother instilled a certain modesty in me but both my parents lived by the principle of Bella Figura, which is Italian for leaving a good impression, especially in public.”
Given the type of lifestyle Gucci leads, how difficult did she find lockdown? “Being unable to fly has been a welcome respite from my non-stop schedule. I kept busy, stayed in touch with family and friends on Zoom, and did my best to adjust to the new reality. In Switzerland – my present home – there were fewer restrictions on movement compared to most other countries. I was able to take walks along the lake with my boyfriend and our dog Lola and of course we cooked endlessly. Recently, we retreated to an Alpine village with a population of 900. The change of scenery has been amazing, and the wide-open spaces have really lifted our spirits. City life is great, but it took a global pandemic to make us realise how much we prefer being surrounded by nature."
When in search of advice today, Gucci turns to her mother and partner Gregory, who always has a positive outlook regardless of the circumstances. “However, over the years I’ve learned to above all follow my gut instinct,” she says. She “grew up fast”, going straight from school into Gucci (in fact, her engagements started when she was still a teenager) so there was no room for any role model other than her father, she says, which may be surprising to some given the way things started.
“To this day, he remains my greatest role model, and even though he’s been gone for 30 years I still feel his presence over my shoulder. It’s comforting and inspiring at the same time.”
London-born, Gucci visits the capital every couple of months or so as her childhood friends still live here. “It feels familiar,” she says, “not necessarily because I was born here, but because it’s cosmopolitan and easy to blend in. It’s a great city – perhaps the greatest of them all.”
I ask her what it is that captures her. “London has a rich history,” she muses. “There’s the 1970s fashion pioneered by Vivienne Westwood with her boutique on the King’s Road; the music scene sparked by Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols, the tailoring tradition of Savile Row, the Queen. I adore the Queen! All these elements give London its unique style. I also like its scale, which makes it more liveable than most other capitals around the world. Despite being a city of nine million people, the parks are like no city in the world and the low-rise buildings of Chelsea, South Kensington and Notting Hill give it a relaxed, village-like feel.”
Much like her clientele, Patricia is rarely in one time zone for very long. “Honestly, I’d like to travel less,” she admits, “but in today’s world, it’s difficult”. Last year, she enjoyed a family holiday in Tulum and would love to explore more new places with her family. “I travel mainly for work and for pleasure I tend to make short hops, which usually means a destination in the Mediterranean – Porto Ercole, Ibiza, Ischia, Capri. With that said, I wouldn’t mind a week in the Maldives!”
While international travel might still be some time away, I ask Gucci what suitcase essentials she’ll pack once things do return to normal. “My Aviteur carry-on will always have a Simple Human magnifying mirror with a light, herbal tea bags, an extra pair of reading glasses, my MacBook Pro and a cashmere scarf.”
Despite her genes, Gucci downplays her wardrobe choices. “I like to mix items that I’ve collected over the years with more contemporary pieces and tend not to wear logos, at least not prominently. Accessories are important as they can say a lot about who we are. I also love colour – in both my outfits and my décor at home.”
Gucci’s favourite design pieces of all time include her Gucci bags from the 1970s, her vintage Bulgari watch, and anything from Apple. “At the moment I’m in love with my new Dyson hairdryer!” She recounts a moment, aged 10, when she was allowed to visit the Gucci store in Via Condotti in Rome all by herself. Her father said she could have whatever she wanted. “I chose a white pair of moccasins,” she says, “which I treasured for years.”
At the moment, the Aviteur carry-on comes in three colours – walnut, grey, and black – and will expand to six next season, with variations in patterning and materials used in the geometric panels. Bespoke colours for both leather and anodized aluminium are available by special order, as well as monogramming. Each model has a serial number engraved on the base of the handle and is supplied with a protective neoprene cover for airline check-in. This year, Gucci is hoping to add a new colour to the carry-on range and unveil a weekend bag in two sizes, plus a range of complementary accessories tailored to jet-set travel. “To be first with something original,” says Patricia, “leaves a lasting impression.”
Knowing she’s the sole heir to the Gucci throne, you’d think Patricia would settle in and put her feet up. But having inherited the flair of her forefathers, she’s got ideas of her own. I ask her what other path she may have taken, and her answer is surprising. “I’ve always liked the idea of creating a wellness centre on my property in the Californian desert, which you never know, I might do one day!”
And if Gucci could change one thing about the world we’ll be returning to, post-coronavirus, what would it be? “It’s likely that we’ll have to make some permanent changes to the way we live. If there’s one thing I’d like us to pay more attention to, it’s the environment. I’d like there to be fewer chem trails in the sky, cleaner air and water, and for us to slow down a little. This pandemic is a reality check and it’s important that we learn from it."
Aviteur is available at Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi and aviteur.com