Gucci: Hell for leather

The name means flash, cash and black shiny bags. It also means violent family feuding, boardroom intrigue and now - with Patrizia Gucci's conviction for the contract killing of her former husband - murder

Maurizio Gucci gave his wife everything that a spoiled, thrustingly ambitious woman like her might crave: wealth, status, one of the classiest, most instantly recognisable names in fashion, an array of homes dotted from New York to St Moritz, and two beautiful daughters.

Well, not quite everything. He also cheated on her, messed up the family business, got a little tetchy when she told him his luxury yacht wasn't luxurious enough, and then divorced her in favour of a taller, blonder woman. Who wouldn't get a little mad under the circumstances? Who wouldn't be tempted to fly into a jealous rage and cook up a wild murder plot against such an errant husband? Who wouldn't want to put a bullet in his brain and have done with him once and for all?

Not a lot of people, perhaps. But then Patrizia Reggiani, for all her faults and her propensity for making enemies, could never be accused of being like a lot of people. As she was hauled off to jail to begin a 29- year murder sentence on Tuesday, she still clung to her protestations of innocence, and insisted that the emotion consuming her was not hatred for Maurizio, but overwhelming love.

From the outside, it was hard to know whether to feel Patrizia's pain, or laugh at the absurdity of it all. Here she was, an overtly respectable figure in Milan society, consorting with an assortment of oddballs and criminal lowlifes so incompetent that they probably couldn't fare-dodge on a bus without getting caught.

There, sitting next to her in the dock, was her erstwhile spiritual counsellor, a Neapolitan medium called Pina Auriemma whom she first asked to arrange the crime. Then there was Auriemma's friend Ivano Savioni, a hotel porter seemingly more interested in devil-worship and the occult than the mechanics of first-degree murder; Orazio Cicala, the driver of the getaway car, who pocketed most of the 600 million lire (pounds 226,000) bounty money offered by Patrizia, and promptly lost it all at the gaming tables; and finally, Benedetto Ceraulo, the gunman who cut Maurizio down in the foyer of his office building on the morning of 27 March 1995, and who subsequently so terrified the rest of the gang that they decided to confess to the police rather than risk his wrath.

Most incompetent of all, though, was Patrizia herself who, according to the trial testimony, was haughty enough to believe that she could let these lower-class minions take the fall for her. When her friend Pina Auriemma was already in custody, Patrizia sent her a note urging her not to name names. "Leave me out of it, and I'll shower you with gold," she wrote. Auriemma, shocked by her benefactor's utter lack of concern for her well-being, made a full confession that led straight to Patrizia's arrest.

The whole sordid affair seems a million miles from the comfortable, understated world of Gucci moccasins and bamboo-handled handbags. Then again, the Gucci family has a long history of self-destructive dysfunction, a weakness for feuding that Maurizio's and Patrizia's generation pushed to such a limit that they lost control of the company altogether.

The bitter rows became legendary long before Maurizio met his sticky end, and the ruthlessness with which rival scions have aired their dirty linen in public has been a never-ending source of gossip for the Italian press. One family ex-wife once remarked that being married to a Gucci was worse than going to dinner with the Borgias. Recent events have shown that she was not exaggerating.

This is a family whose members have been known to resort to physical violence in company board meetings. One of Maurizio's cousins, Giorgio, once provoked a family schism by setting up a rival Gucci company; Giorgio's late brother Paolo took a blunter tack during the ensuing chaos by shopping most of his relatives, including his own father, to the US authorities for tax evasion.

The story of Patrizia Reggiani, nee Martinelli, provides as instructive an insight as any into the decadence and vile emotions of the Gucci family. She is a classic example of the poor girl made good - or rich beyond her wildest dreams - whose total fascination with her new lifestyle made her selfish, vindictive and unfathomably crazy.

She owed her first encounter with serious wealth to her mother, who ditched her impoverished first husband in favour of an Italian transport magnate called Fernando Reggiani. Patrizia conveniently managed to have herself adopted and included in Reggiani's will just before the old man died in 1973 - a manoeuvre that her half-brother Vincenzo is convinced she accomplished through foul play.

The Reggiani social set soon netted her another catch, the highly eligible Maurizio Gucci, who did not lack for money or status, but was not yet in an obvious position to take over the family firm. The couple had two children, and then, with the help of Maurizio's father Rodolfo, set about claiming the Gucci succession for themselves. By the mid-Eighties they had succeeded, scattering Maurizio's cousins to the four corners of the globe and booting the most distinguished chairman in the company's history, Aldo Gucci, out of his office without giving him so much as a chance to clear his desk.

All this was not enough for Patrizia, who felt excluded from many of Maurizio's power games, and furious at the string of mistresses he insisted on parading around New York, Milan, Rome and St Moritz. Insisting that he prove his love for her, she forced him to buy a fabulous three-masted schooner he could not afford, the Creole, and then made him spend millions of dollars redecorating it according to her extravagant tastes.

Shortly afterwards she left him anyway, complaining that he was consumed by a "paranoid exultation of power". Over the next decade, she played the role of carping bitch, poisoning her children against their own father and complaining endlessly about the intolerably puny terms of her divorce settlement. "How I am supposed to live, with only three trillion lire in the bank, a house in Rome, and one in New York?" she once lamented on an Italian chat show. "I do have two daughters to take care of, you know."

When Maurizio was murdered, her reaction was less than tender. "On a human level, I'm sorry, but from a personal point of view I can't really say the same thing," she told reporters besieging her at her sumptuous home in Milan. She then beat a path to Maurizio's house to ask his fiancee, Paola Franchi, for the return of a sweater belonging to her daughter Alessandra.

The idea of killing Maurizio had evidently been haunting Patrizia for some time. Her lawyer said that, several months before the crime, she had asked him some very strange questions about the maximum sentence for murder. The joke

in family circles was that Patrizia's head had been scrambled by an operation she had to remove a brain tumour. Nobody seriously believed that she would hire professional killers to turn her thoughts into action.

Were it not for her friendship with Auriemma, whom she had met years earlier on the island of Ischia, and effectively put on her payroll to act as her spiritual adviser and necromancer, she probably wouldn't have found the means to go through with her plan. Fooling around with professional killers proved an unwise social manoeuvre, however, as the conspirators first decided they wanted more money and then, according to the police informants who eventually netted them, hatched a plot to kill her, too.

Patrizia barely noticed what they were up to as she put the finishing touches to a rambling, almost unreadable memoir of more than 500 pages about her life with Maurizio. Her trial lawyers subsequently described it as a moving testament to her love for her ex-husband. But she devoted whole pages to a demolition of Maurizio's character, calling him selfish, inconsiderate, mediocre and, in the early part of their marriage, sexually impotent. "The classic weakling who decides to play the bad guy and becomes insufferable", is how she summed him up.

In her dealings with the police and the courts, Patrizia has been unwaveringly cold and emotionless. "You've come because of my husband's murder, haven't you?" she murmured through the entry-phone when the police came to arrest her 18 month ago. She packed her things in a Gucci suitcase and drove to San Vittore prison in a fur coat - she later swapped it for a dirty rain-jacket on the advice of her arresting officer.

During the trial, she showed no convincing signs of regret or grief. Much of the talk in the courtroom revolved instead around money. Her family stayed well away from the proceedings, showing such rage to any journalist who interviewed them that they appeared to be in a state of near-total denial.

Patrizia once remarked how the Guccis have followed the pattern of many family dynasties: the first generation builds, the second consolidates, and the third destroys. Sure enough, the company is now in the hands of a Bahraini-led consortium of investors, and the family is a basket case caught in the full glare of publicity.

On the day of Patrizia's conviction, the flagship Gucci store in Florence had the spirit to put a pair of silver handcuffs on display in its window - a sign, if one were needed, that the world of high fashion has no use for ugly family feuds, except as a source of dark, sardonic humour.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence