Browse all

A Gucci Murder Story - The Rise E01

The first episode of the double G true crime story

A Gucci Murder Story - The Rise E01 The first episode of the double G true crime story
Three weekly drops are going to be the stage of Maurizio Gucci's murder story and all the events that led it. To do so, we have divided the story into three episodes, which will focus respectively on the rise of Maurizio Gucci to the top of the company, his murder and the investigations that followed. For the convenience of the exhibition, we present below a synthetic family tree of the Gucci family in which we have highlighted the main protagonists of the facts.

****

Gucci is a name that, nowadays, is exclusively associated with fashion. Yet there was a time when the name recurred more on the news pages than in the fashion magazines and the family that gave the brand its name had become more famous than the brand itself. Scrolling through the headlines of the 80s, the most used terms of the story are called a "soap opera" or a "Dinasty", in reference to the train of scandals, betrayals, double crossings, financial crimes and power struggles that swept the Gucci family over fifteen years, almost bankrupted the company founded by Patriarch Guccio and, finally, culminated in the murder of Maurizio Gucci in 1995. 

For over a decade, the bitter struggles within the complicated Gucci family took place before the astonished eyes of the whole world, across an ocean and two continents, in a story that, in hindsight, became an emblem of an era in which fashion brands went from being family-run companies to multinationals run by groups of foreign investors. At the center of this huge painting is a woman who, at the time, captured the imagination of half of Italy: Patrizia Reggiani, aka Lady Gucci, aka the Black Widow. She was the woman behind the murder of the former president of the brand and, although the events of the company touched her only marginally, the process that led to her arrest and imprisonment made her the face and heart of the chaotic Gucci saga. 

A Quarrelsome Family

Maurizio Gucci was one of the four grandchildren of founder Guccio Gucci, founder of the brand, who had entrusted the family business to three of his six children: Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo. The instinct to quarrel flowed in everyone's veins. Paolo Gucci, Guccio's nephew and Aldo's son, once remembered:

«My grandfather Guccio kept everyone on edge, he didn't admit objections. When he could, he used put his children up against each other too to see who was the toughest». 

And in fact the quarrels had already begun when Aldo Gucci had opened the Rome boutique in Via Condotti, eliciting his father's ire. Rodolfo, on the other hand, had initially distanced himself from his family to become an actor in the cinema, but had returned to running the company after Guccio's death in 1953. The two brothers, however, made the success of Gucci, with Aldo representing the entrepreneurial strength and Rodolfo the creative one. His third brother, Vasco, died in '74 and ownership of the company was divided 50/50 between the two remaining brothers.

There were four heirs appointed at this point: Maurizio Gucci, Rodolfo's son, and his sons Aldo, Roberto, Giorgio and Paolo Gucci. Maurizio had quarrelled with Rodolfo when he married his wife, Patrizia Reggiani, while Paolo had quarrelled with everyone when, in '78, after designing the brand's leather goods collections for years, he tried first to claim 15 million damages and compensation for being excluded from the company's profits, and then tried to open a brand independent from Gucci but using its name, Gucci Plus – his adventure had ended, in to use La Repubblica 's word, in a «blitz of lawyers, judicial officers and even a patent technician from a Turin company» who had interrupted the Roman presentation of his collection ruining his dreams forever. 

 

"Until death do us part"

By the early 1980s, Aldo and Rodolfo had made the brand an international giant with a turnover of 200 billion lire – but with Rodolfo's death in 1983 the balance of power shifted and the family descended into chaos. Maurizio Gucci, Rodolfo's son, had in fact inherited half of the empire and, now that he had gained power, began to see his relatives as an obstacle. Until then, Maurizio had worked with his uncle Aldo in New York, amassing a huge fortune that included apartments in San Babila and villas in St. Mortiz, as well as a 66-meter schooner named Crèole that was purchased and restored for over 6 billion and which, in 1987, would be seized by the Guardia di Finanza. His wife Patrizia, married in October 1972 despite the disapproval of his father Rodolfo, had shared with him an opulent lifestyle to say the least, collecting jewelry and becoming one of the protagonists of the European jet-set of the time.

 

After the marriage between the two, Rodolfo Gucci had tried to exclude Maurizio from the family business but Patrizia herself, on the occasion of the birth of their first daughter Alessandra, had pushed for a reconciliation between the two, telling him, among other things: «In any way, you are a Gucci. If we will have children, they must be Guccis». During twelve years of marriage, however, their relationship became increasingly stormy, culminating in May 1985 with a sudden abandonment: Maurizio left the house on the pretext of a business trip without ever being seen again by his wife. This was the first of many seeds of discord that led, a decade later, to Maurizio's murder. 

 

The struggle for power

Maurizio now owned 50% of Gucci, 40% remained in Aldo and 3.33% in each of Aldo's three children. Maurizio's plans for the brand were simple: bring modern and efficient management to the company, reduce the titanic catalog that included up to 22,000 products, and bring the brand's stores from 2000 to 1250. All this to restore the fame and prestige of Gucci, diluted out of all proportion by the company's licensing policy and the franchises that, in the 80s, had flooded the market ruining the brand's reputation for exclusivity. Years later, the brand's creative director from '89 to '94, Dawn Mello, could tell The New York Times: «By 1989, no one would dream of wearing Gucci». To realize these plans, the family had to disappear. The first pawn to fall was his uncle Aldo, the president of the brand, who was at the time the main driving force of the family empire. To do so, Maurizio made a pact with his cousin Paolo, Aldo's son, who owned 3.3% of the company like his brothers Roberto and Giorgio - a tiny but crucial share, especially given the bad blood that ran between him and his father.

Maurizio convinced Paolo to give him his vote to remove Aldo from the position of president, in return he promised him his long-awaited creative independence, putting him in charge of a new division of the brand – a promise that was never kept. Within days of the vote, Aldo Gucci's desk was emptied and even office locks were changed. Maurizio had become the new president: his first mission was to dismantle his uncle's legacy starting from the Gucci Gallery, a sort of museum-boutique inaugurated in 1977 and ancestor of the VIP rooms, in which paintings by Modigliani and De Chirico were displayed along with bags and jewels. For Aldo Gucci, it was a public humiliation. To throw more salt on his wounds, Paolo Gucci ratted out his own father (then 81 years old) denouncing him with a $7.4 million tax evasion, causing him to end up in prison for a year and a day.

An unreserved legal battle began. Meanwhile Maurizio did not keep the promises made to his cousin Paolo, who returned to side with his father: the two denounced Maurizio claiming that the entrepreneur had falsified the signature of his father Rodolfo to sell some of his shares in the company and escape a series of debts accumulated over years of crazy expenses. A 1987 article in La Repubblica reads:

«Maurizio is accused of falsifying his father's signature to avoid having to pay huge inheritance taxes. The charges [...] are those of fraud against the state and corporate crimes. [...] On 16 May 1983, two days after the death of the old Rodolfo, his son Maurice and his right-hand man Gianvittorio Pilone had asked her to falsify Rodolfo's signature on the company's titles. It was 50% of the company, and it would have ended up bequeathed to Maurizio, the only child. But the son, evidently, wanted to avoid paying several billion inheritance taxes by having shown that he had already received those securities from his father in 1982».

Maurizio Gucci's response was not long in coming: he fled to Switzerland, where there was no extradition for financial crimes. Meanwhile in Milan the social position of his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, was weakening and the woman did not care to mask the hatred she had towards him. When news of Maurizio's fraud conviction spread, Reggiani was interviewed by the news and, without blinking, said publicly that she believed her ex-husband to be guilty and deserving of going to prison. Maurizio lost the presidency of Gucci in Italy, seeing his shares seized while remaining president of the company Gucci America (which was distinct and separate from the company originally in Italy), but the battle had not ended, on the contrary, the internal conflict within the family was about to reach the next level: removing the company from the hands of the family.