Visiting The Gucci Factory in Florence

posted on: Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My first Italian designer bag was a Gucci. It was the first bag I had ever bought that was more than £300 and I had saved a whole summer to buy it. When I first took the bag out of its sleeper and slipped it over my shoulder I knew my addiction would be a dangerous one in the future.  I can remember examining the bag meticulously from feeling the different textures presented with the cloth and the leather to zeroing in on the stitching used to put the bag together. I was mesmerised by the detail and the amount of effort that must have gone into making such a bag. Having never spent more money in my life at that point, I wanted to understand what made this bag so pricey, other than it's instant status symbol appearance. Of course at that point I wasn't working in fashion, had no idea where things were sourced or how they were pieced together. In actuality, even after writing a blog for two years, I still didn't have the faintest idea of what made a Gucci bag a "Gucci bag" up until last week.

You can imagine then that when I got the call from Gucci inviting me to tour their factory in Florence, I jumped at the chance. Actually I think my response was more like "are you serious?" I had thought this would be a place as highly guarded as the Bank of England. Did they know I was a fashion blogger? After all, fashion bloggers do have a reputation for spilling secrets. In fact, Gucci knew exactly who I was and were inviting me to join 15 other bloggers from around the world to visit their Florentine factory and also their brand new museum located in the famed Palazzo Vecchio (more on this in another post).

The group met in Milan where we were given fabulous seats for the Gucci autumn winter 2012 runway show. It was there that we came face to face with Gucci's latest creations (read the review here). It was the biggest tease you could imagine and what a way to whet our appetite before showing us the workers behind the wheel!

We made our way down to Florence where we were transported to the super chic Gucci offices and factory located just on the outskirts of the city centre. I couldn't help but wonder if tourists knew this heaven existed. It is certainly off the tourist trail but there is no mistaking the green Gucci sign at the gates to paradise...

The offices are clean and modern as you'd expect Gucci to be. The people working there were of course the definition of Italian chic and those who worked in the various departments of production all wore a white lab coat with "Gucci" emblazoned on a pocket on the left side of their chests. Lab coats has you wondering right? Well, trust me when I say that what goes on behind closed doors here is as methodical as a science project.

Our first stop on the tour was probably my favourite... the materials room! This is where they keep their current and archive materials for making bags. There were two tables overflowing with samples as we walked in the door and massive vaults surrounding us that undoubtedly contain a plethora of different options when it comes to fabrics and leathers that Gucci use on rotation. On display, there was everything from an 18 foot long anaconda skin to stretched and treated ostrich. We even saw a fabric that must certainly be one of the most expensive in the world. It's a special woven fabric that features the interlocking Gs and is made on a loom where only 15cm per hour is produced. There are only four of these looms in existence and only a select few Gucci craftsman that know how to use them. Where most luxury companies are moving away from this fabulous craftsmanship and embracing production lines in factories, Gucci remains true to the art of creation and prizes its people far above its machines. This is seen throughout the tour, time and again. 

And of course I can't not mention the crocodile all the way from Mississippi! There was a lot of crocodile on show actually and we were told that Gucci uses both farmed and hunted crocodile for their collections. I wanted to roll everything into one and just make one giant patchwork Gucci bag! PETA pets, don't flip out on me here. Everything is by the book at Gucci and all pelts are tagged, IDed and registered to make sure all guidelines are met. These guys aren't playing any games here when it comes to obeying the rules! And when it comes to these fine materials, Gucci doesn't take any chances with wastage. They've hired only the best who are trained to cut each and every sample so that it is almost all used in production. Not only do they have to cut for minimum wastage but also for maximum beauty as each piece cut will be part of a bigger picture so there is little room for mistakes here! And that all takes place on the next stop in our tour...the cutting room.

After the cutting room we were led into a room where no pictures were to be taken and our lips were locked with the key permanently lost from that point onward. We were visiting the prototype room! This is where Gucci creates its accessories up to a year in advance and there were some pretty amazing pieces being made as we made our way through the room. We all tried to catch a glimpse here and there but no major secrets were revealed (or at least that's what I have to tell you ;))

While in the prototype room we were introduced to the Gucci travelling trunk. There is a small team that build these trunks that start in price at €30,000 and go up to €240,000 for the crocodile edition. Yes, all of our jaws dropped immediately to the floor after hearing that. 

But our tour was not yet over... although you'd think we'd have seen it all...there was still one room left to go. Our last stop was the bamboo room. Who doesn't love Gucci's bamboo handles, watches, tassels, and on and on? It's a feature I've always treasured in the bags and after seeing the process that is involved in creating these pieces, I have a new appreciation and love for the embellishment. 
And then just as quickly as it started, the factory tour was complete. I was walking away wishing I could have stayed longer and taken time to speak with each and every artisan. What Gucci creates is truly inspiring and beautiful. The way in which they create is a beautiful process all in itself. And now knowing what goes into the production of these gorgeous bags, I'll never complain about the price again. There's a reason your high street bag is a tenner and your Gucci has a couple more zeroes added on. There's is no replacing quality and craftsmanship...both found at Gucci to such a high level of perfection it's hard not to be in awe.