Gucci’s ascent from humble origins in Florence, Italy on Via Vigna Nuova and Via del Parione streets, to the behemoth of luxury that it is today – with flagships in Rome, Milan, Paris, London, New Delhi, New York, Bal Harbour, Korea, Tokyo and other destinations – tells the story of a successful family business that used leather goods like a rocket ship to explode and dazzle the haves and have nots all around the world. To wear Gucci was to make a person feel like royalty. But to be a member of the family and bear the name, that was as good as striking the genetic lottery. Or so most thought.
That would all change for one member of the family, Maurizio Gucci – the head of the fashion house – whose financial choices and romantic leanings led to a brazen attack which ultimately threatened to sully the prestigious name that had 70 years of heritage behind it.
Maurizio Gucci was born in 1948 to parents Rodolfo and Alessandra Gucci. His father was one of four brothers – along with Aldo, Vasco and Ugo – who were the heirs to original founder, Guccio Gucci, who used a wartime embargo against Italy and its leather goods, to develop a specially woven canapa, or hemp, from Naples, that was a part of the brand’s initial luggage offerings that bore the first signature print and featured a series of small, interconnecting diamonds.
The first five years of Maurizio’s life would be marked both by tragedy and triumph. In 1953, the company forged into the United States marketplace after Aldo opened the inaugural store in the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City. However, just 15 days later, the patriarch of the family, Guccio, would pass away at 72 years old before his family name would come to represent the pinnacle of luxury goods.
Despite the loss of their founder, the Gucci family continued their sartorial push under the direction of son, Aldo.
The introduction of the Gucci Loafer into the marketplace was the first of many decisions that perfectly embodied the family’s understanding of both style and narrative associated with product – and was a direct challenge to the formality associated with luxury goods that were steeped in British traditions.
As The Telegraph noted, “they came to embody a louche, easy-going and sporty sexiness,” thanks to such attributes as the now-iconic almond shaped toe and equestrian-derived hardware which was inspired by Guccio Gucci’s time working in London’s famous Savoy hotel where he often overheard conversations about racing and polo.
As the “Made in Italy” trend took hold, Gucci leveraged their popular loafer to enter into additional key markets like London, Palm Beach, Paris and Beverly Hills.
While Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive have come to represent a decadent lifestyle, Gucci was actually the second major luxury brand to set down roots on the street – alongside the Giorgio Beverly Hills boutique with its iconic yellow-and-white-striped awning.
By the 1970s, brands like Giorgio Armani, Brioni, Burberry, Fendi and others would establish a row of retailers that are now world famous.
“It happened spontaneously,” Patricia Gucci, daughter of Aldo, explained. “He was supposed to set up shop in San Francisco, but there wasn’t foot traffic. For him to establish a shop he took risks — and my mother persuaded him because of the rich movie stars. There were incredible customers that hadn’t been tapped.”
Despite the immense popularity of the brand throughout the world and continued growth during the ’70s, in-fighting and jealousy would begin to threaten the fashion empire.
According to ABC News, “At first, Gucci’s three sons divided the business among them. But when one of the brothers died, Aldo split the company 50-50 with his youngest brother Rodolfo. However, Aldo and his three sons resented Rodolfo’s share. They felt Rodolfo, a former silent film actor, hadn’t contributed enough to the company’s growth. To remedy the perceived imbalance, Aldo set up a perfume subsidiary, and kept 80 percent of ownership for himself and his three sons in an attempt to hoard profits.”
In response, Paolo Gucci, the chief designer – who played a leading role in the creation of the interlocking double G logo, the familiar double snaffle bit, and the red, green and black striped webbing motif – attempted to start a rival Gucci brand at the height of the tensions.
Ultimately, Paolo won the right to market a Paolo Gucci line, but he ended up cashing out in 1987 for a $45 million USD stake in the company. However, he wouldn’t leave without seeking retribution against his father after tipping off authorities that the Gucci chairman had been conspiring to evade more than $7.4 million USD in U.S. income taxes.
A weeping Aldo Gucci, then 81 years old, was sentenced in 1986 to serve a year and a day in federal prison.
Suddenly, Gucci was in need of a savior. The man tasked with righting the ship was Maurizio who an Italian court sequestered 50 percent of the Gucci shares to.
According to The New York Times, “The court took that action when Aldo and two of his sons, Roberto and Giorgio, sued Maurizio, charging that he had arranged to have the signature of his father, Rodolfo, also a son of the founder, forged to gain control of the company. Maurizio denied this but has been unable to claim his shares.”
In June 1988, Maurizio sold nearly a 50 percent interest in Guccio Gucci S.p.A. to a Middle Eastern investment banking firm, Investcorp, who obtained Aldo’s shares for a reported $135 million USD which left the new CEO as the majority shareholder in the company.
Under Maurizio Gucci’s leadership, the brand notably hired Tom Ford to lead its women’s ready to wear line after plucking him from Perry Ellis and launching what would become a legendary career.
To say that Maurizio lived a lavish lifestyle would be a vast understatement. He owned a 206-foot, three-masted yacht, Creole, originally built for Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, which carried a crew of 23. He also owned two Ferrari Testarossa and had decadent residences in both Milan and Saint Moritz, Switzerland. By most people’s accounts, his spending habits resulted in an estimated debt of $40 million USD.
During his days of indulging in seemingly everything, Maurizio began dating Paola Franchi, an interior designer and childhood friend of his, after he had separated from his wife of 15 years, Patrizia Reggiani, in 1992. The two eventually moved in together in the two top floors of a four-story, 18th-century Milan palazzo with her 10-year-old son.
“He was calm,” Paola said of Maurizio’s demeanor at the time. “If he would have had any problems, he did not talk to me about them. Each morning he ran in the park. This did not seem to me like the actions of a man who felt he was in danger.”
Although Maurizio was seemingly at ease with his new girlfriend, Paola, his troubled relationship with ex-wife, Patrizia, was clearly weighing heavily on his mind in the months leading up to the now infamous attempt on his life. In court documents, it was revealed that he had hired a “maga bianca,” or white witch, to cleanse his Saint Moritz mansion of his ex-wife’s evil spirits.
By most accounts, Maurizio Gucci had failed in his role as chairman after the company lost over $22 million USD on revenues of $230 million USD in 1993.
As Forbes noted, “Unhappy trade creditors were banging on Gucci’s doors. Payrolls went unmet.”
With the writing on the wall, Maurizio sold his shares for $170 million USD to Investcorp – ending the families control over the fashion empire created by his grandfather.
Two years later, it was a regular work day in Milan For Maurizio Gucci. As he was strolling through the foyer, four gunshots rang out. Three bullets entered his back. The fourth came point blank to his face.
Following his death, police initially suspected that a member of the Gucci family was involved. As they peeled back the layers, they uncovered that Maurizio had planned to marry Paola, and had publicly stated that he would reduce his ex-wife’s alimony to $860,000 USD a year.
Patrizia viewed this sum as an insult, calling it “a bowl of lentils.”
Despite her insistence that she had nothing to do with Maurizio’s murder, Patrizia was charged with the crime as investigators looked to connect all the dots.
During the trial, investigators got Patrizia to freely admit that she had dreamt of getting someone to kill her ex-husband, but she insisted that they were just fantasies.
“I was asking everyone,” she told the court. “I would have even asked the butcher; it was a mania with me. But I didn’t really mean it.”
Prosecutors also knew that Patrizia had enlisted the help of a woman, Auriemma, a self-titled witch, who had befriended her after learning of her belief in the supernatural which seemed to mirror Maurizio’s own belief that his ex-wife was leaving no stone unturned when it came to seeing that he was ruined.
Among the evidence prosecutors presented in court was Patrizia’s diary. In it she wrote, “There is no crime that money cannot buy.” On the day Maurizio was shot, there was a single word entry: “Paradeisos,” the Greek word for “paradise.”
A year after the hit, police continued to struggle to find any tangible evidence or financial paper trails that tied Patrizia to Maurizio’s death.
While many in Maurizio’s inner-circle probably found him to be a bit paranoid after he had turned to “magic” of sorts to cleanse his life of Patrizia, it was in fact black magic that proved to be a vital clue in cracking the case.
Ivano Savioni, a doorman at a hotel near Gucci’s office building, called the police with a tip that broke the case wide open. Essentially, Savioni had been approached by Auriemma, Patrizia’s “witch,” to make all the arrangements for the hit.
During the trial, Auriemma admitted that Patrizia hadn’t explicitly stated that she wanted her husband dead. However, she did receive a $300,000 USD payment and a note which read, “Leave me out of it and I’ll shower you with gold.”
The people involved in the murder soon came to light. Ivan Savionni had sub-contracted the hit to Benedetto Ceraulo, the would-be-triggerman, and Orazio Cicala, the getaway driver. They would each be sentenced to life and 29 years in jail, respectively.
Auriemma was sentenced to 25 years in prison as an accomplice, while Patrizia Gucci received 26 years in Milan’s San Vittore prison for her role as the mastermind.
When Patrizia Reggiani was convicted in 1998, Gucci’s flagship store in Florence displayed silver handcuffs with the Gucci emblem in its display windows.
In 2014, Reggiani was granted work-release. She declined, saying, “I’ve never worked a day in my life; I’m certainly not going to start now.”
She famously once said, “I’d rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.” Perhaps that best embodies her plans moving forward; one she hopes will still closely be tied to the Gucci empire which is worth a reported $12 billion USD as of May 2016.
“I dream of returning to Gucci,” she said. “I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of all. I have the qualifications – for years I went shopping around the world. I came from the world of jewels and it is to that world that I want to return.”