By  on June 5, 2006

Domenico De Sole first brushed with the Gucci family in the early Eighties, when he became Rodolfo Gucci’s lawyer and broke up a fistfight in a board meeting. Little did De Sole know it was just the beginning of the drama he would witness at the House of Gucci.

Taking on the post of Gucci America chairman and chief executive in 1984 and ascending to the entire group’s helm 11 years later, De Sole did no less than guide the company to a blockbuster initial public offering, spearhead an ambitious acquisition drive and thwart a hostile takeover attempt from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in one of fashion’s nastiest battles.

But even though the 62-year-old De Sole earned a reputation as a fierce businessman proud of his Calabrian heritage — he’s reminded people on more than one occasion that people “eat nails for breakfast” in his family’s home region — perhaps his most lasting legacy at Gucci was his ability to relate to everyone, from factory workers to key managers he hired at Gucci Group, many of whom still correspond with him today.

“I got a beautiful letter from Patrizio Di Marco [ceo of Bottega Veneta] thanking me for everything now that Bottega Veneta has become so unbelievably successful, thanking myself and Tom [Ford] for the help we gave him to get the company started,” De Sole said in a phone interview from his offices in South Carolina, just hours before flying to Italy for a weekend to take in Ermenegildo Zegna’s annual regatta in Portofino. “There’s a great bond that was created with these people and I really cherish those memories.”

Di Marco said he e-mailed De Sole earlier this year to express his gratitude and “appreciation for the faith that he and Tom [Ford] had in the brand” during the first years of Bottega Veneta’s relaunch.

Gianfranco Ferré ceo Massimo Macchi, who managed Gucci’s watch and jewelry divisions from 2001 to 2003, recalls how De Sole’s tenacious spirit spilled over on the slopes of Aspen, where De Sole used to host an annual retreat for Gucci managers.

“You couldn’t even get him to stop for a sandwich because he wanted to make the most of every hour left in the day to ski,” Macchi said.

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