For 70 years, the Gucci loafer has been a hallmark style.
What do late US President George H. W. Bush, 1960s model Jane Birkin, and rapper Wiz Khalifa have in common? Despite their drastically different personalities and careers, they have all been seen wearing Gucci horse-bit loafers.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the odd shoe, distinguishable by its metal snaffle flourish, that has become a piece of fashion history — one so well-known that a statue of it has been erected in its honor pair was added to the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984.
Gucci will host an exhibition honoring the heritage of its distinctive loafer in mid-June, coinciding with the menswear presentations at Milan Fashion Week. (The Gucci loafer)
The shoe has been seen on the White House lawn (Bush, 1974), the Cannes Promenade (Birkin, 1969), and even red carpets (Wiz wore a pair to the 2016 Golden Globes). Others who have worn it include “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola, Sophia Loren, Monégasque royal Charlotte Casiraghi, Madonna (who wore a platform version to accept her MTV VMA award for Best Female Video in 1995), Jodie Foster, Brad Pitt during a scene in 1999’s “Fight Club,” and, more recently, actress Zoe Kravitz and model Gigi Hadid.
But how did this basic slip-on become such a sought-after fashion accessory?
A reflection of society
Guccio Gucci, the creator of the Italian fashion company, began his career as a luggage porter at The Savoy Hotel in London in the late 1890s. Gucci was able to view the higher strata of society up close and personal from this vantage point. It was his window into the world’s elite’s lives: a precious glimpse of what they valued and were ready to pay for. Gucci was inspired by the lifestyles and interests of The Savoy’s nobles, artists, and other privileged visitors; his own brand would subsequently take on a particularly equestrian look. (The Gucci loafer)
In 1906, he opened a tiny leather goods company in Florence, Italy, and quickly began producing travel trunks and other pieces that would define the brand’s reputation. (The brand still produces a faithfully rebuilt replica of its 1947 distinctive bamboo top handle bag.) Gucci died two weeks after his sons Aldo, Rodolfo, and Vasco launched the brand’s first flagship shop in New York in 1953. In the same year, inspired by his father’s favorite equine themes, Aldo designed the horse-bit loafer in the hopes of attracting the same clientele Guccio had experienced at The Savoy.
Loafers were already popular footwear in the 1950s, but they were reserved for more relaxed occasions. Aldo took advantage of the slip-on style’s widespread popularity and incorporated the snaffle bit element to enrich the design. It is still used as an aspirational status symbol today, as a tribute to equestrian lives.
Gucci’s Horsebit loafers have been famous for decades, and their continued popularity may be due to the shoe’s adaptability.
There are the financial types who wear loafers with tailored suits, earning the moniker “deal sleds” for their legendary ability to express confidence on Wall Street trading floors. Then there are the subversive cool females who wear the preppy shoe with Hawaiian shirts, gold chains, and loose pants on purpose. (The Gucci loafer)
The brand’s Fall-Winter 2015 collection, which saw then-creative director Alessandro Michele reintroduce the iconic item with a few modifications, fueled the latter’s spirit of experimentalism. His “Princetown” model featured no back, was lined with kangaroo fur, and came in baby pink leather, wool tweed, or embroidered cloth. It was a long cry from the original, but although some protested the usage of fur, others dubbed it the most fashionable shoe of 2015. The shoe has proven to be a solid investment and time-honored wardrobe staple seventy years after its invention, given to the smorgasbord of notable personalities spotted wearing them — as well as the innumerable imitations they have inspired. (The Gucci loafer)
Gucci’s solution to the near-philosophical dilemma, “What shoes do I wear?” is the Horsebit loafer. One shoe fits all, whether you’re an off-duty model strolling the beaches of the South of France or a respected rapper walking the red carpet. (The Gucci loafer)