Gucci's trunk of treasures

Step into a Florentine palace steeped in history and you can travel back in time to see the relatively humble origins of today's luxury-goods powerhouse

Florence is home to a host of museums and galleries displaying everything from Renaissance treasures to modern masterpieces. And for over two years now, Gucci Museo, located on the popular Piazza della Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio, has been adding to the appeal of this enchanting city.

Gucci Museo is housed in a ‘palazzo’, which dates back to 1337.

Showcasing the history of the Gucci fashion house, Gucci Museo opened its doors to the public on September 28, 2010, the day the brand marked its 90th anniversary. It is housed within the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, which dates back to 1337, and this three-storey building has been converted into a fantastic art space, complete with a cafe and bookshop out front. The latter is managed in conjunction with Rizzoli, one of Italy's oldest publishing houses, and offers a wide array of titles in Italian, English and Japanese on design, fashion, cooking and the arts, plus some children's books.

The bookstore at Gucci Museo.

The cafe is a cosy place with a good view of the action in this picturesque square. It offers organic, Tuscan-style food and beverages; order a coffee here and it'll be served with sugar cubes shaped like Gucci's double-G symbol. A small corner on the same floor is dedicated to items in the Exclusive Icon Collection, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world, such as the New Jackie bag and Gucci Museo tote bags.

A journey through Gucci's history begins on the ground floor at the Travel zone. Here is told the story of the young Guccio Gucci, who worked as a lift boy at the Savoy Hotel in London and was fascinated by the elegance of the guests' luggage. Upon his return to Italy, he opened a workshop specialising in the production of travelware before opening his own shop in 1921. The sign read: G. Gucci, Articles for Travel, Florence. Some of the first suitcases and travel trunks he made back in the 1930s are on display here. The highlight is a white case, the oldest exhibit in the while museum, which is made from real zebra leather _ impossible to get nowadays due to animal-protection laws _ stretched over a wooden frame. Also on this floor, visitors can view a white Cadillac embellished with the Gucci monogram. A collaboration between Gucci and the high-end auto-maker, it was manufactured in Miami in 1979. Only 200 were made.

The first floor showcases Gucci's Flora patterns, brought to life in 1966 when Princess Grace of Monaco visited the Gucci store in Milan. Rodolfo Gucci decided to commission a beautiful floral scarf for the princess and asked the illustrator Vittorio Accornero to take on the challenge. The result was nine bouquets of seasonal flowers. The original sketch of the print, complete with Accornero's signature, is displayed alongside a myriad of variations on the theme all with Flora motifs, from bags, accessories and jewellery to chinaware and perfume.

In 1966, Gucci celebrated a visit to its Milan store from Princess Grace of Monaco by commissioning a design for the nowfamous Flora silk print scarf from illustrator Vittorio Accornero.

Next to Flora World is a collection of Gucci handbags including an eye-catching one fashioned entirely of bamboo; the curator told me it was made from the roots of bamboo plants sourced from China and Japan and covered with a special protective layer of bamboo grown in Thailand. A few steps from that unusual item, I stumbled into an haute-couture heaven of extravagant evening-wear items created by Gucci and worn by celebrities such as Salma Hayek and Blake Lively.

The top floor has a display of Gucci footwear and lifestyle items plus exhibits illustrating the evolution of the double-G symbol there was a single G, a square G, GG Tondo, GG Diagonale and GG Mignon. While best known for its leatherwear, other creations devised for the complete Gucci lifestyle, thermos-holders, picnic sets, parlour games, table lamps; there was even an electric guitar, proved just as impressive.

There is also a space here for hanging temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. During my visit work by American artist Cindy Sherman was on display; that show continues until June 9 and is the third to be hosted by Gucci Museo. What I found fascinating about Sherman's work is the way she uses make-up and clothes to completely transform her image; all this done for the purpose of taking pictures of her different alter egos in order to tell a story.

The basement of the building is not open to the public. It is used as a storage space for items waiting to be showcased. Gucci Museo periodically updates its displays, replacing some exhibits with others, in order to give repeat visitors something new to see.

Admission costs 6 (227 baht), half of which is donated to the Florentine municipal authorities for preservation and restoration of the city's signature art treasures. The museum is open year-round, seven days a week. The only scheduled closures are August 15, December 25 and January 1.

The Cadillac Seville, a collaboration between Gucci and Cadillac; only 200 were ever made.

About the author

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Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Writer