x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Gucci Museo celebrates 90 years of the ultimate luxury brand

Museum is housed in the historically appropriate 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia, a former guild hall for the merchants and artisans of Florence.

It was in Florence, 90 years ago, that the splendidly named Guccio Gucci, working as a lift boy at the Savoy in London, watched and learnt from the rich travellers who stayed at the hotel. Returning to Florence, he set up his own company supplying fine luggage to the international wealthy, and a design legend was born.

The Gucci Museo, which opened to the public on Wednesday, displays some iconic moments from the history of the brand over three storeys in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia - appropriately enough, the former guild hall for the merchants and artisans of Florence.

The building also used to be the design headquarters for Gucci, and the creative director Frida Giannini says that it was the Palazzo that served as the initial inspiration for the museum. "I was so in love with this building. I thought it was an incredible opportunity because the building really tells you the story of the city as well."

But it's the story of Gucci that is the main attraction: the ancient whitewashed walls of the worn-down stone staircases are studded with black-and-white photographs showing Gucci-clad silver-screen idols - Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, David Niven - and the ground floor cafe features a bookshop and what will no doubt be a highly lucrative gift store selling special editions of the brand's iconic pieces (as well as more accessibly priced postcards and pens).

On the same floor is revealed the foundation of the Gucci brand: a room full of antique Gucci suitcases, trunks and even a 1979 customised Cadillac Seville. They don't make cars like that any more, luckily.

Those cases, with their travel stickers and battered corners, are a fascinating reminder of a long-gone era of travel: try getting one of these babies through check-in without paying excess baggage, or carrying them across an airport without wheels to ease the load. Up a floor, and as well as a changing contemporary art space currently hosting a Bill Viola video installation, there are what must be some of the prettiest pieces Gucci ever made.

All the classic handbags are here, as are evening bags with ornate tiger-head clasps (a motif used in the Spring/Summer 2012 collection shown in Milan this season), silver make-up purses, decades-old jewellery that looks utterly contemporary and buckled shoes that look ancient. In one room it is possible to marvel up close at the exquisite and tiny one-off evening gowns designed for stars such as Hilary Swank, Kate Beckinsale and Naomi Watts to wear on the red carpet. This floor is also where a reprise of the Flora pattern (commissioned as a scarf by Rodolfo Gucci in 1966 from the illustrator Vittorio Accornero, a gift for Princess Grace of Monaco on her visit to Florence) is featured on bags, original Accornero sketches and the rippling chiffon dress used in the eponymous perfume's advert.

Having climbed to the top floor, visitors are rewarded with the extremes of the Gucci legacy. Fine saddlery, beautiful riding boots and the riding costume of the showjumping Monégasque princess Charlotte Casiraghi sit next to Gucci surfboards, a Gucci bicycle (perfect thief-bait for a European street) and Gucci diving goggles. And the best is saved for last with the Logomania room: double-G monograms on every surface you can imagine, from relatively subtle canvases on bags to a stiff silver brocade evening dress and a quite appalling orange velvet flared trouser suit from the 1970s, stamped all over with double-Gs. It's not all there, though: "I made a selection of all these things so I know there are secrets still in the basement of this building, of many things that I want to work with," confides Giannini. We'll just have to wait for those pieces to emerge.