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Andrey Solin

Customer Care

You Can’t Fake Quality: House of Gucci Got It Wrong

Protecting your brand shows respect for customers

Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2022 - 13:03

The other day I watched House of Gucci—a biographical movie directed by Ridley Scott about the Tuscan dynasty representing the famous luxury fashion house. The story is based on a nonfiction book written by Sara Gay Forden, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed (Custom House, 2021).

Apart from all the drama and all the glamour, what I was looking for was how the Gucci family approached quality. As a quality manager and researcher, I had previously addressed the subject of perceived quality and how some manufacturers, especially the manufacturers of luxury goods, had worked to purposefully create the impression of high quality.1 Often, their reputations for craftsmanship would later be abused by unscrupulous dealers who flooded the markets with knockoffs. It’s in this respect that I found one deviation of the movie from the book quite unsettling.

‘Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.’
—Aldo Gucci

In the movie, there is a scene in which Patrizia Reggiani (played by Lady Gaga) presents Aldo Gucci (played by Al Pacino) with fake trinkets all bearing the Gucci logo: mugs, bags, even an umbrella. Patrizia had bought all these items at some lousy New York City midtown store that isn’t a Gucci flagship store yet boasts a Gucci shelf.

Patrizia is infuriated. To the viewer’s (and Patrizia’s) surprise, Aldo reacts with complete equanimity. In a deadpan style, he begins to explain to Patrizia and Maurizio, his nephew, that the trinkets are in fact replicas, not fakes, and that “this stuff” is very profitable. “Quality is for the rich,” Aldo continues. “If a Long Island housewife wants to live with the illusion that she’s a Gucci customer, why not let her?”

That’s all well and good, except for one thing: In Forden’s book, Aldo Gucci never said anything like the above. So why did the screenwriters make Aldo a mouthpiece for such an idea?

It’s not as if the tolerant attitude to fakes had no place in the world of fashion business. Dana Thomas, in her book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (Penguin, 2008) cites Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs, who told her that he thought counterfeiting was “fantastic,” adding, “As long as I’ve been here, everything that we have done has been copied.... We hope to create a product that is desirable.”2

Thomas further quotes Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli, who calls counterfeiting part of “the game of fashion,” and says, “I would be more worried if my product wasn’t copied.” However, Aldo didn’t subscribe to this point of view. According to Vogue, Aldo didn’t think of knockoffs as a sign of flattery: “I’m very strict about protecting our name,” he says. “It’s out of respect for our customers. It’s depressing for them.”3

As for the illusion of being a Gucci customer, which Al Pacino’s character so condescendingly allowed every housewife to entertain, the real Aldo had said the exact opposite. He is quoted as saying to New York Magazine: “Why should a woman see an expensive handbag she has just purchased copied all over three months later?”4

Aldo didn’t seem to mind what Thomas referred to as a “bastardization or mélange of brand names—like Bossco or Emilio Valentino.” On one occasion, Aldo chose not to pursue the manufacturer of a canvas shopping bag inscribed Goochy, “because he thought it was funny.” Apart from that, he fought counterfeiters mercilessly.

All this provides an insight into what kind of person Aldo Gucci really was, and gives us an idea about one of his priorities: protecting the Gucci name. So why did the screenwriters add the opposite idea to Al Pacino’s character in the movie? Here’s one possible explanation.

The events shown in the movie took place over a period of 25 years between the early ’70s, when the third generation of Guccis stepped into business, and 1995—the year of Maurizio’s assassination and of Paolo Gucci’s death. Much has changed since then. There isn’t a single Gucci family member left to run the business today. Unauthorized copying continues its march, and manufacturers of branded luxury goods are plagued by counterfeiters. On top of that, there’s a noticeable trend in literature toward rationalization and even justification of consumer behavior aimed at buying knockoffs.

‘The fakes hadn’t turned potential Gucci customers away from the brand. The opposite was true.’
—Renée Richardson Gosline, MIT Sloan School of Management

Professor Renée Richardson Gosline of MIT Sloan School of Management, in her contribution to Forbes, suggests that “The fake products were a gateway.”5 Firsthand experience with the knockoffs somehow increased consumers’ attachment to the real brands. After the initial excitement of buying a “luxury handbag” for a pittance, users gradually began to develop dissatisfaction with the item’s quality (such as poor stitching). After a while, customers would consider purchasing the authentic luxury handbag, then finally buy “the real thing.” Far from endorsing counterfeiting, Gosline offered a glimpse into the intricate dynamics of consumer behavior: an evolution from a buyer of faux items to a loyal customer of the authentic brand.

So, what does that explain about Aldo’s line? Well, most likely, the screenwriters wanted to surprise the viewer with (a) how ubiquitous the knockoffs had become, and (b) how attractive the faux luxury items may appear: “As far as fakes go, they’re pretty good. I mean, I’d buy them,” says Maurizio in the movie.

However, Aldo Gucci never approved of cheap fakes. We must acknowledge this fact before the phrase about the “housewife’s illusion” becomes another example of the Mandela Effect.

References
1. Solin, Andrey, and Curry, Adrienne. “Perceived quality: in search of a definition.” The TQM Journal. Apr. 29, 2022.
2. Thomas, Dana. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Penguin, 2008.
3. Borrelli-Persson, Laird. “Everything You Need to Know About the House of Gucci Before Watching House of Gucci.” Vogue. Nov. 24, 2021.
4. Forden, Sara Gay. The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. HarperCollins, 2021.
5. Gosline, Renée Richardson. “Counterfeit Labels: Good For Luxury Brands?Forbes. Feb. 12, 2010.

Discuss

About The Author

Andrey Solin’s picture

Andrey Solin

Andrey Solin is a management systems consultant and educator who is obsessive-compulsive about the clarity of language and terminology that quality professionals use for their concepts and ideas. He holds a master’s degree in TQM and business excellence from the University of Stirling, Scotland, is a recipient of the British Chevening Scholarship for postgraduate study in the United Kingdom (2003-2004), and is a Six Sigma Green Belt. Based in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Andrey shares his house with two rescue dogs and three cats. You can reach him via LinkedIn.