MAURIZIO GUCCI SLAIN OUTSIDE MILAN OFFICE BY UNKNOWN ASSAILANT
Byline: Sara Gay Forden
MILAN — Maurizio Gucci died as he lived — sensationally.
The shooting Monday of the 46-year-old Gucci shocked the fashion community here and resulted in widespread speculation about just what could have brought a dynamic young businessman to such a tragic end.
Some observers here theorized that Gucci was slain over bad debts. Others dismissed that idea, and the Italian press even speculated that a long-simmering family feud
have finally exploded. Police investigating the murder said late Monday they had no motive and no suspect.
Gucci had cut a colorful and controversial swath through the luxury goods business for years, first capturing the family firm from a hostile consortium of relatives and then becoming embroiled in a bitter battle with his financial partner — the Bahrain-based investment bank Investcorp — over his efforts to restructure and revitalize the company.
That battle ended in September 1993 when, with debts and losses mounting and the firm virtually on its knees, Maurizio resigned as chairman of Guccio Gucci SpA and sold his 50 percent stake to Investcorp for a reported $100 million. He was the last Gucci to run the business that had been in the family since 1922.
After the Investcorp battle, Maurizio Gucci simply dropped out of public life altogether. Acquaintances reported he kept busy managing his assets, including his beloved three-masted yacht, Creole. They said he had bought a second boat and was examining new businesses to invest in, all unrelated to the fashion sector. He had been seen walking and biking around Milan, and as recently as last week was spotted on a flight to New York. Those who had seen him said he appeared tranquil, carefree and confident.
“He had finally let go of it all, put the battles behind him and found a kind of peace in his life,” said a longtime former employee.
Apparently, things were not as tranquil as they seemed. As Gucci entered the doorway at 20 Via Palestro — just a few paces from the apartment on Corso Venezia that he was sharing with his companion of more than four years, Paola Franchi Colombo — and started up the stairs to his offices at 8:30 a.m. Monday, a gunman stepped behind him and fired three times.
The first two shots hit Gucci from the rear, in the hip and the shoulder. As he turned to face his attacker, a third shot hit Gucci in the temple, killing him immediately. The shooter also fired at the building’s doorman, wounding him in the arm, before fleeing.
Major Paolo La Forgia, of the carabinieri (Italy’s paramilitary police) unit that is handling the case, said that so far there were no suspects and no clear motive for the shooting.
Although the shooting was initially characterized as a mob-style hit, police later said they were not convinced the gunman was a professional.
“The range of the investigation is very wide right now,” La Forgia said, noting that the authorities had received no indications of threats against Gucci before the shooting.
“They don’t know where to start,” said a former Gucci consultant who stayed in touch with Maurizio Gucci in recent years. “It’s one thing if he had bought out Investcorp and accumulated massive debts, but he was the one who was paid out.”
Speculation in the financial community, however, has centered around old, unpaid debts Gucci is said to have left behind.
One incident observers remember in particular happened in the summer of 1993, in the midst of his battle with Investcorp. At the last moment, the former Gucci chief averted a bank auction of his shares in the company, which he had secretly put up as collateral against personal loans. According to court papers filed by Investcorp that summer, Gucci later told them he found the money to pay back the loans “under the floorboards of his house in St. Moritz, Switzerland, after a visit in a dream by his father’s ghost.”
Whether or not that was his way of telling Investcorp officials his personal financial affairs were none of their business, as Maurizio claimed it was, the episode stuck in people’s minds.
Gucci’s former wife, Patrizia, later confided to WWD that she had helped arrange a bailout for her estranged husband. She did it, she claimed, in order to insure he would be able to continue his alimony and child support payments.
The exact source of the funds Maurizio used to pay off the banks never was revealed.
Gucci executives declined to comment on the murder Monday, but expressed their “shock and pain at the news” and extended their condolences to the family.
Growing up in the midst of a spirited and litigious family, whose members at various points attacked and sued and incriminated each other over disagreements concerning the family business, Maurizio Gucci must have gotten used to the dramatic tenor of life within the Gucci empire. It was a tone and pace he managed to keep up as he got involved in the Gucci operation himself. His own life started to take extraordinary twists and turns as he launched into efforts first to regain, and then retain, his hold on the leather goods empire founded by his grandfather, Guccio Gucci.
Maurizio Gucci inherited 50 percent of the company — along with real estate in Milan, St. Moritz, New York and Mexico — when his father, Rodolfo, a former actor who had starred in several silent movies in Hollywood, died in 1983. The troubles began when his cousins accused him of falsifying his father’s signature on certain documents in order to avoid millions of lire in inheritance taxes. After a slew of court battles, which he initially lost, Gucci spent 1987 in hiding in Switzerland, under threat of arrest by Italian authorities for tax evasion.
Maurizio was finally cleared of tax charges on appeal in 1989, when he regained control over his shares and entered into a partnership with Investcorp, which had acquired the other 50 percent in the company from his cousins: Roberto, Paolo and Giorgio Gucci.
Despite all the problems, it was Maurizio Gucci who is credited with piloting the Gucci name back to the top of the luxury goods market during the early 1990s, when he embarked on an ambitious restructuring, closing down businesses and stores that weren’t consistent with his vision of what the Gucci name should be. He argued that the Gucci name has been cheapened by being attached to too many inexpensive and less than tasteful products, including coffee mugs and key chains.
“Maurizio was a true visionary. He understood what was necessary to restore the trademark to its former glory,” said Bergdorf Goodman president Dawn Mello, who was hired by Gucci as creative director in 1989 and stayed on until the spring of 1994.
But the restructuring was apparently too tumultuous for Investcorp’s taste. In August 1993, the company was so short of ready cash that Gucci employees did not receive their paychecks. At one point, Maurizio Gucci even filed a $63 million lawsuit against Gucci’s U.S. subsidiary, alleging nonpayment for goods. Investcorp ultimately filed suit to force Gucci out.
“Quality was his venue, and he imparted this constantly to everyone in the company,” Mello remembered Monday. “He kept a sign on his desk, a slogan initiated by his uncle, Aldo Gucci: ‘Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.’
“His life was filled with tragedy — not the least of which was his inability to run the company he had fought so hard to regain. How sad that he missed out on the extraordinary success Gucci now enjoys very much as a result of his initial direction,” Mello added.
A date for the funeral has not yet been set. Gucci is survived by his daughters, Alessandra, 19, and Allegra, 14; their mother and his former wife, Patrizia Gucci, and his cousins: Roberto Gucci, 63, who has opened his own luxury goods shop in Florence under the name House of Florence; Paolo Gucci, 64, who is living in Sussex, England, and Giorgio Gucci, 67, who is thought to be in Argentina, where he owns property.