Yet again the relaxed but elegant staple is turning heads once again.
Like gelato and chatting with one’s hands, the Gucci Horsebit loafer is perhaps one of Italy’s most revered cultural products. An early model of la dolce vita way of life, nonchalant luxury, and brand virality, it was delivered in 1953, during a period of quick development for Gucci — just as the house was opening its Manhattan lead, at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, on East 58th Street. As per company lore, Aldo Gucci (who, alongside his siblings Rodolfo and Vasco, took control over the business from their dad, Guccio, the founder) drew out the dressy loafers in light of the ascent of comfortable knockabout sandals, for example, the Bass Weejuns, which he saw were well known with American prepsters.
The raised Gucci offering, in black lightweight leather and featuring an almond-shaped toe and a distinctive gilded snaffle that suggested the company’s equestrian roots, was a moment hit — especially in Italy. Initially, for men, the shoe was soon followed by ladies’ versions, and both won the hearts — and lire — of recently solvent Italiansenamored with the design objects that they connected with their country’s postwar rebirth.
As traveling paparazzi bait like Sophia Loren, Jane Birkin, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Lee Radziwill beat a way to the Gucci store on Rome’s Through Condotti, the Horsebit turned into an early It shoe, and it didn’t take long for its popularity to spread Stateside. As ubiquitous as Gucci is now, thanks to its worldwide retail footprint and enviable digital reach. it’s difficult to imagine how unheard of it was in those days for a design to hijack the global spotlight and appeal to both women and men.
The Horsebit’s effect went beyond sales figures. It was in sync with a changing, more liberal way of dealing with traditional clothing standards. Understated yet easily recognizable from a distance, it exuded a carefree style, with simply a sprinkle of status signaling. Before the appearance of the shoe, it was one of the few casual shoes acceptable in corporate boardrooms and country clubs alike. By the 1970s, it was being captured on a young Jodie Foster while she skateboarded, and on then CIA chief George H. W. Bush as he visited the White House.
Today the loafer remains firmly connected with Italian craftsmanship and social legacy and is a staple of Gucci collections. It was recently the subject of “Gucci Horsebeat Society,” a display held during the men’s shows in Milan praising every one of its iterations over the years, including a red pump from the watershed Gucci fall/winter 1995 collection, designed by Tom Ford. The snaffle actually summons the offhand refinement that comes from a life well lived. and it currently appears on stable accessories in assorted colors and styles, including fuzzy mules.
The fashion world holds up anxiously to see how Gucci will continue to evolve under the course of new creative director Sabato De Sarno. No doubt he will have a different take on contemporary dressing than his ancestors — but it’s almost certain that the horsey classic will continue riding high. Its selling point might be solace and simplicity, but its set of experiences is everything except inactive.
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