By  on June 5, 2006

Hollywood has nothing on the Guccis when it comes to scandalous sagas.

A cheapened and overexposed brand, legal controversies and family squabbles cast a dark shadow over the Gucci name during the Eighties and threatened to destroy the business.

The second- and third-generation Gucci courtroom and personal scandals would make perfect soap opera material, complete with tragedy and murder — Maurizio Gucci was gunned down in broad daylight in front of his apartment building in 1995.

Gucci’s ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, was arrested two years later for commissioning her husband’s murder and is still serving time in Milan’s state prison. Four people out of a textbook crime story and unlikely associates of the jet-setting Reggiani were also arrested as her accomplices: Giuseppina (Pina) Auriemma, a Neapolitan psychic dubbed “the black witch” and confidante of Reggiani; Auriemma’s on-and-off boyfriend, Ivano Savioni, a porter in a one-star Milan hotel; Orazio Cicala, the driver of the getaway car, who had a drug-related criminal record, and Benedetto Ceraulo, who pulled the trigger. The fur-clad, bejeweled Reggiani, who on national TV complained that she could not survive on the $3 million a year Maurizio Gucci was giving her in alimony, was allegedly moved by jealousy, greed, hatred and revenge — sentiments that also inspired Gucci family members to sue and countersue one another through the Eighties.

“They know the money is there and they will always have it. Power, however, they have to take. And they all want it,” said Gerald McKnight, author of the book “Gucci: A House Divided,” in an interview with W in 1987. That year, there were 18 cases involving the family pending in different courts. Aldo Gucci, son of founder Guccio Gucci, had no qualms about firing his son Paolo when the latter wanted to start his own line using a PG logo. In revenge, Paolo Gucci gave his father up to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion. As a consequence, at age 81, Aldo Gucci served six months in a Florida federal prison in 1987.

In an effort to control the company, Paolo and his brothers, Giorgio and Roberto, set the fiscal police on their cousin, Maurizio, who was also tried for tax evasion and for forging his late father Rodolfo’s signature on documents that transferred ownership of the company. Maurizio ran off to Switzerland, where he lived in exile for a year, until he was acquitted of those charges in 1989.These dramatic events were directly linked to two earlier family deaths. When Guccio Gucci died in 1953, he left the company equally to his three sons, Aldo, Rodolfo and Vasco, who died childless in 1974. Aldo had three sons (Paolo, Roberto and Giorgio) and Rodolfo had one, Maurizio, who inherited 50 percent of the company. When Rodolfo died in 1985, Aldo’s sons resented this imbalance of ownership. “It was an irreconcilable situation: Aldo’s sons felt their father had done more for the company, compared to Rodolfo,” said Domenico De Sole, who was also Rodolfo Gucci’s lawyer. “This was unreasonable, as Rodolfo was a great merchant and worked hard for the company. Maurizio had every right to his shares.”

The battles between the cousins ended in 1989, when the Anglo-Arab holding company Investcorp purchased 50 percent of the company from Aldo Gucci and his sons; it bought the remaining shares from Maurizio Gucci in 1993, and that date marks the end of the family involvement in the company.

Although it was Maurizio Gucci who first envisioned a turnaround and upgrade for the brand, he did not have the right tools to realize his dream. Before it was sold to Investcorp, the company was heavily in debt. According to reports in WWD at the time, in 1993, Maurizio Gucci’s personal debts amounted to between $26 million and $39 million, and the company’s debts were between $80 million and $100 million.

“Maurizio Gucci was a great visionary, but he was not a good manager,” said De Sole, “and he loved to have yes people around him, and toward the end, he surrounded himself with ill-advisers.”

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