MORE ON THE AGNELLIS: The Agnelli family has not lost its luster, a new book out Monday reveals. “Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty,” by Jennifer Clark, is published by Wiley & Sons and examines the 2009 partnership between Fiat and Chrysler without shying away from human drama.
The author, a Chicago-born journalist who has lived in Italy since the early Eighties, conducted roughly 150 interviews and traveled to Detroit, Washington, New York, Rome and Turin for the book. She said numerous former Fiat executives “rolled out the red carpet” and were happy to tell their story.
This story first appeared in the December 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I also got good cooperation from the Agnelli family,” she said, adding: “There is an immense feeling of pride about what they have accomplished, and they were keen to share it with me.”
Giovanni Agnelli founded Fiat in 1899, and his descendants remain a powerful, wealthy — and sometimes scandalous — Italian clan. His great-great-grandson John Elkann remains at the helm of Fiat as its president and is married to blue-blooded Lavinia Borromeo; Elkann’s brother Lapo launched the Italia Independent fashion label in 2007, following recovery from a drug overdose, while Lapo’s sometime-girlfriend and distant cousin Bianca Brandolini d’Adda is frequently spotted front row at fashion shows.
Clark said she chatted with doormen, gardeners, butlers and sales clerks who spent years alongside the former Fiat head Gianni Agnelli and his wife, Marella, hoping to unlock the secret of the glamorous couple’s style. “It comes down to ‘sprezzatura,’ or the seemingly effortless mastery of making the difficult look easy,” she said. “Elegance was always mixed with a casual touch. For Marella, that meant the cut flowers filling her mansion in Turin came exclusively from her own gardens, and that she designed her own floral wallpaper. For Gianni, it meant mixing Brooks Brothers off-the-rack shirts with tailored Caraceni suits.”
The author uncovered numerous surprises: Gianni Agnelli inherited a love of skinny-dipping from his mother Virginia, and at the end of World War II, Fiat executives were liaising with the U.S. army to free Italy from Nazi Germany.
“It was the resilience and resourcefulness of the Agnelli family that really surprised me,” Clark said. “If it hadn’t been for those qualities, they would have lost Fiat long ago.”