Trevor Andrew, a Brooklyn graffiti artist known by the moniker GucciGhost, began spray painting versions of Gucci’s double-G logo on New York City ATMs, street corners, bathroom walls and dumpsters in the early 2010s. The designs resurfaced online on Andrew’s Instagram feed, his website, and in the background of his music videos (Andrew is also a DJ under yet another moniker, Trouble Andrew), and eventually, word of his work made its way to the brand.
Rather than become appalled, when Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele caught wind that the Gucci name was leading a double life as a graffiti artist’s inspiration, he promptly invited Andrew to Rome in 2015.
The collaborative collection of GucciGhost-branded Gucci items later premiered on the runway show at Milan Fashion Week in February. Now, all the products are available to buy in Gucci’s online store, and they’re not limited to a small capsule collection of clutches. GucciGhost items sold by Gucci run the gamut of low to high luxury, including a $270 iPhone case, a $465 scarf, a $2,645 handbag, and the centerpiece: a $34,000 mink coat decorated with GucciGhost’s diamond logo.
“Artist Trouble Andrew is as much as Gucci as the brand is, the way he uses the logo of the company is by taking it to the streets,” said Michele in an announcement. “It is interesting how our language, started by a family in Florence nearly 100 years ago can be something very contemporary.”
Luxury brands typically have a tight grip on copycat appropriations of their logos and other intellectual properties. In the past, Gucci has sued online marketplace Alibaba several times for selling fake Gucci bags on its site, and left the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition earlier this year in protest after Alibaba joined. In July, Burberry took the rapper who was going by the pseudonym Burberry Perry to court for using its likeness in his stage name. The brand won, and the rapper was officially ordered to change his name.
Michele’s embrace of Andrew is a demonstration of the designer’s embrace of modern streetwear culture and style.
“It’s completely different than the idea of copying,” Michele said in an interview with WWD. “It’s the idea that you try to [take to] the street, through language like graffiti, the symbols of the company.”
By collaborating with the artist, Gucci is flipping the appropriation on its head. What was once accessible to anyone who came across the artist’s work on a Brooklyn street corner is now accessible only to those who can afford a $3,000 bag or a $6,000 leather jacket. While Andrew is hard to identify as a big brand risk — he’s married to singer Santigold and is a DJ and former professional snowboarder — for Gucci, pairing its new GucciGhost GG Marmont Bag with a couture dress from its core autumn collection is an exercise in infusing a traditional brand with an element of relevancy. Streetwear’s convergence with couture is an of-the-minute phenomenon that can be linked to hot high-end brands like Vetements and Hood By Air.
The trend hasn’t trickled to every luxury brand: Where Burberry looked at this incorporation of its name in current culture and said ‘irreparable harm,’ Gucci and Michele looked at GucciGhost and saw an opportunity.
“Embracing Andrew’s GucciGhost project and bringing him into the fold for an official collaboration was a smart, contemporary piece of branding from Gucci and Michele,” said Adam Wray, Fashion Redef’s former curator. “They recognized that the project came from genuine affection for the label. We’re all inundated with so much traditional advertising that this type of unofficial brand evangelism is priceless.”
Right now, it seems that Gucci can do no wrong. Its executive duo comprised of Michele and CEO Marco Bizzarri is a powerful one that has led the brand on track to top $4.5 billion in revenue for the first time by the end of 2016, and sales of women’s ready to wear have risen 66 percent so far this year over last. In a recent report, financial firm Exane BNP Paribas named Gucci the current hottest luxury brand.
“In an uncertain time for luxury, Gucci’s current model is most likely to succeed,” said Exane BNP Paribas’s head of global luxury goods Luca Solca. “Brands have to innovate faster to convince existing consumers to spend more money on them — you won’t be buying another identical handbag or dress.”