In fashion they say it’s not what you know but who you know. So as we prepare the seating arrangements for Thanksgiving dinner, ensuring that feuding siblings, wealthy patriarchs and money-grabbing stepdaughters are situated at some distance from the carving knife, let’s take a look at the great fashion lineages. Many of these most famous international houses remain family businesses and were often started as humble, working class endeavors. If you’re having a hard time imagining Fendi as a mom and pop store, read on.
The family behind the double G logo has certainly had its share of drama. Gucci is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the treachery within this Italian fashion dynasty is the subject of the Ridley Scott film House of Gucci, released in US theaters this month and starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. Founded by Guccio Gucci in 1921, the company was passed down through three generations, but family feuds led to the expulsion of the remaining Guccis and the company reinvented itself in the 90s when it went public under the creative direction of Texan Tom Ford. Current creative director Alessandro Michele has however worked within the company since 2002 under both Ford and his successor Frida Giannini before filling the top spot himself, so he could be considered an honorary family member.
Luxury house Prada was founded in 1913 as Fratelli Prada, or Prada Brothers, a leather goods purveyor. The siblings in question were Mario and Martino. Later Mario’s daughter, Luisa, assumed control, and in 1978 her daughter Miuccia stepped in. Miuccia married her business partner Patrizio Bertelli in 1987 and Prada’s revolutionary ready-to-wear collections were launched in 1989. Second line Miu Miu came along in 1992, named after Miuccia’s family nickname. Both collections dropped an entirely new visual language into the fashion landscape that continues to resonate.
Missoni was founded in the northern Italian town of Varese by Ottavio and Rosita in 1953 as a small knitwear company, and five years later they presented their first Milan show. A generational transfer of power in 1996 saw sons Vittorio become marketing director and Luca take over menswear, while daughter Angela assumed control of womenswear. Granddaughter Margherita returned home from living in NYC where she had been studying philosophy at Columbia University to become creative director of M Missoni in 2018. Earlier this year internal restructuring saw Margherita step down while two of Vittorio’s sons, Giacomo and Ottavio Jr, took prominent roles within the company.
In perhaps one of the most bumpy handoffs in fashion history, Donatella Versace took over the reins of her namesake company in 1997 after the brutal murder of her brother Gianni who founded the luxury company in 1978. Brother Santo became CEO and inherited 30 percent of the business, while Donatella’s teenage daughter Allegra inherited 50 percent. But the responsibility for the future of the business initially took its toll as Donatella as she fought spiraling cocaine addiction. Her vulnerabilities combined with her unapologetic high-octane glamorous image have made her a beloved cultural figure.
Head of America’s first family of fashion, Ralph Lauren built a multi-billion dollar empire from originally selling ties out of the trunk of his car. Heavily influenced by the style of his wife Ricky, for whom he named his best selling luxury purse favored by celebrities, he works alongside son David who holds the titles of Chief innovation officer, strategic advisor to the CEO, head of the Ralph Lauren Foundation and vice chairman of the board.
Another Italian leather-goods brand-turned-fashion house, Fendi, was founded in Rome by Adele Casagrande who acquired the family name in 1925 when she married Edoardo Fendi. Five daughters, Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla and Alda, were each given 20 percent of the business, until the family sold the majority share to LVMH in 1999. Silvia Venturini Fendi, Anna’s daughter and creator of the famous Baguette purse, is still a key figure in the company, helming the accessories, menswear and children’s collections, and her daughter, Delfina Delettrez, a jewelry designer in her own right, is also connected with the family business.
Known as the king of Italian fashion, Giorgio Armani is estimated to be worth 7.5 billion dollars, but he formed his company in 1975 with partner Sergio Galeotti on seed money from the sale of Armani’s Volkswagon. However he doesn’t reign alone. Sister Rosanna is involved in the business as are two of his nieces, Roberta, who heads up the massive PR operation, and Silvana, who is head of womenswear. Speculation has been brewing for years around who will be passed the crown when the 87-year-old founder steps down.
The most famous sister act in fashion, former child actors Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen reinvented themselves in 2005 as founders of luxury label The Row, named after London’s bespoke epicenter, Savile Row. Winner of multiple CFDA awards, the brand is synonymous with a level of minimalist luxury traditionally associated with European fashion houses.
Born into a poor family, the eleventh of fourteen children, Salvatore Ferragamo set up a leather shop in his hometown of Bonito, Italy in 1912 at the tender age of 13. By 1923 he had emigrated to the US and earned the moniker “Shoemaker to the Stars”, making shoes for Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson. In 1960, his widow, Wanda, and their six children, Fiamma, Giovanna, Fulvia, Ferruccio, Leonardo and Massimo took over, and subsequently ushered their children into the business.
One of the two towering families of fashion which cast a long shadow over all the aforementioned families are the Arnaults. Chairman and CEO of LVMH Bernard Arnault manages the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, and is reported to be the third-richest person in the world. Four of his five children are involved with the company, most notably, Delphine who is director and executive vice president of Louis Vuitton, and Antoine, married to fashion model Natalia Vodianova, who is CEO of Berluti and chair of Loro Piano.
The Pinaults, together with the Arnaults, form the two supporting pillars of today’s global luxury industry. Businessman François Pinault founded what is now Kering in 1963 as a timber-trading company, and was joined in 1987 by son François-Henri who became President and CEO in 2013. The mighty father-son team are behind an empire which includes Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta. Pinault is married to actress Selma Hayek with whom he has a daughter.