MILAN — A murder, money, revenge, fortune-tellers, a hit man, a scorned wife and the enduring allure of the Gucci brand. There’s enough material for a blockbuster movie.
Fast-forward some 25 years, and a film is indeed being made, with images from the “House of Gucci” movie directed by Ridley Scott starting to circulate.
Lady Gaga and Adam Driver play Patrizia Reggiani and her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, and the cast includes Al Pacino and Salma Hayek Pinault, all of whom are helping to spark new interest in the events that made headlines in the 1990s. But Marco Bizzarri, the current chief executive officer of Gucci, told WWD earlier this month that the film won’t deal with any of the events after the company’s takeover by Investcorp in 1993.
WWD covered those days extensively through its Milan office, and its then-bureau chief Sara Gay Forden wrote “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed,” the book the film is based on, first published in 2000.
Two years after Maurizio Gucci was gunned down, Reggiani was arrested in connection with the murder. In 1998 she was found guilty of hiring a gunman to kill her ex-husband, and was sentenced to 29 years in prison, although she only served 17.
Benedetto Ceraulo, the man who shot Gucci to death on the steps of his office building on March 27, 1995, was sentenced to life imprisonment while three other defendants in the case got prison terms of 25 to 29 years.
The courtroom was packed with journalists, TV cameras and police the day of the verdict. The prosecutor in the case, Carlo Nocerino, had asked for life sentences for each of the five defendants.
Reggiani was arrested in January 1997, accused of having plotted Gucci’s murder with the help of Giuseppina Auriemma, her longtime friend and spiritual adviser, and Ivano Savioni, Auriemma’s sometime boyfriend, and a hotel porter.
Reggiani never denied venting her hatred for Gucci to the couple, but insisted that she never acted on her desire to see him dead.
Reggiani blamed Gucci for abandoning her in 1985, and divorcing her six years later. She also resented what she described as his indifference to her illness and consequent brain surgery in 1992, and said she felt betrayed by Gucci’s sale of the family company shares to Investcorp.
“At a human level, I’m sorry. I can’t say the same on a personal level,” Reggiani flippantly told journalists at Gucci’s funeral in 1995, while Paola Franchi, the woman he loved, lived with and had hoped to marry, stayed home.
Money was of the utmost importance to Reggiani, who once lamented to an Italian talk show host that she could hardly survive on the mere $3 million a year her ex-husband was giving her in alimony and child support payments.
Here, some of those who witnessed those moments share their memories with WWD.
Giulia Masla, founder and CEO of GM/PR
“I was hired by Maurizio Gucci as head of the Italian press office. He epitomized the handsome, rich and successful Italian man, elegant, always wearing perfume, very ‘simpatico’ and charming, with a strong charisma. I remember he was one of the first to carry a cellular phone and he would walk through the office speaking in an assertive voice, which reflected his strong personality.
He was the first to believe that Gucci could be more than duty-free bags. He felt the brand had lost its prestige and wanted to restore its luxury allure, but it’s true he was not very careful with money and was easily influenced. Perhaps he trusted the wrong people. You can’t just be a dreamer.…I did meet Patrizia Reggiani. They were already separated and she had recently had her brain surgery, but she was lucid. She was intelligent, but she was literally obsessed. She was not happy with the way he managed the company.
I left Gucci for Ralph Lauren when things were tense with Investcorp and returned when Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford were running the brand. The second day after I was back, Maurizio Gucci was shot. I found out because [the Italian newswire] Ansa called for a quote. Our office then was in Via Montenapoleone, above the store, and I called De Sole, who was in Florence.
The store was besieged by journalists and onlookers. Few knew that Maurizio was out of the company. I guess for them it was more interesting to focus on the slain tycoon and they were seeking information everywhere. Reggiani was never mysterious about her hate for her husband. This was a film waiting to be made, pre-scripted. I’m not surprised the story was turned it into a movie. I am curious to watch it. I saw photos of Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, with the big glasses fashionable back in the ’80s. They look very realistic.”
Armando Branchini, deputy chairman of Milan consultancy InterCorporate
“I like to remember Maurizio as an entrepreneur. I met him in the early ’80s and then became a personal consultant starting in 1988, writing a book on Gucci’s brand values. I remember we streamlined the sku of moccasins, worked on the supply chain and I saw how he realized Dawn Mello’s and Tom Ford’s talent — he had a special intuition and an entrepreneurial flair.
He had an almost religious attitude toward the company and realized the brand needed to be reinvented. He did spend money like water, but he was extremely generous. He felt like the Sun King and treated his guests like princes. He was also a hard worker. What annoyed me toward the end was his need to consult a clairvoyant every morning — something that he picked up from his mother-in-law.”
Glynis Costin, InStyle Magazine West Coast bureau chief
“As Milan bureau chief for W and WWD in the early ’90s, I once flew in a helicopter with Maurizio and Dawn Mello to the Gucci headquarters in Florence for a story.
We had lunch outside at a beautiful Tuscan villa and then took a tour of the Gucci factory, where I watched the skilled workers hand-make the classic Gucci bags with the bamboo handles. It was all very glamorous and impressive and Maurizio was quite the charismatic salesman.
I think the company was going through some hard times then, and Maurizio was really trying to bring back the luster of the brand and make people remember the craftsmanship that went into each bag or pair of shoes.
He was striving for Gucci to be a sought-after label again like it had been in the ’60s, when Grace Kelly and other big stars carried their handbags. Of course, it soon became sought after again when Tom Ford took the helm, and it still is.
I was shocked when I heard about Maurizo’s murder. That, along with the whole history of the Gucci family, all just seemed so operatic. I’m really looking forward to the film and seeing how Adam Driver and Lady Gaga portray the famous Italian couple.”
Cristina Malgara, fashion, luxury and lifestyle communications expert
“He had a very big vision for Gucci, and could see it as a global company. He hired Dawn Mello and had already begun cutting down all of the licenses. The initial seed for the globalization of Gucci came from him — he was the first to think ‘We can really do something with this brand.’ Tom and Domenico captured that vision, and saw where Gucci could go,” said Malgara, who worked for Gucci in Paris from 1992 until 2010.
She said Maurizio interviewed her for her first PR job at the company. “I remember him as being very open, passionate and focused on the new project. He had a big smile and was very elegant — and profoundly Italian. I also remember visiting the Gucci archives with him in Casellina [Gucci’s historic headquarters near Florence] and how excited he was to be there. He was proud and obsessed about Made in Italy, and thought it was a trademark of its own.”