In Italy, the Gucci family was as famous for its highly public quarrels as it was for the leather goods that made its fortune. It was a bitter fight with his own father that inspired Guccio Gucci, the founder of the family firm, born in 1881, to leave Florence for London, where he found work as a waiter at the Savoy Hotel. The elegant suitcases and trunks of the hotel's rich patrons made a lasting impression on the young Guccio, who upon his return to Florence in 1904 opened a workshop in Via della Bigna producing saddles, riding boots and luggage.
Guccio's son and Paolo's father, Aldo, moved to New York in 1953 and played a leading role in improving the family's fortunes by persuading rich Americans to appreciate the understated elegance of the firm's handbags and, above all, of its loafers. By the end of the Fifties, the Gucci intertwined double-G trademark had become a firm favourite of film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
In 1977, Aldo made Paolo vice-president and managing director of Gucci Shops Inc and of Gucci Parfums of America. But, after a period of expansion in the Seventies, bad times befell the Guccis in the early Eighties. The family disputes first became public when Paolo fell out with his uncle Rodolfo over the American subsidiaries. According to Paolo, all his troubles stemmed from his attempts to expand and modernise the Gucci empire by marketing the name "Gucci" with a licensing operation. He claimed that the family, especially his uncle Rodolfo, who had fired him from the Italian parent company in 1978, wanted to keep the business small, exclusive and old-fashioned. In 1983, Rodolfo died, leaving his shares in the company to his son Maurizio, then 25. Inevitably this led Maurizio into conflict with his uncle and his three cousins.
More trouble erupted when Paolo decided he wanted to sell his own range of goods under the name "Paolo Gucci" and filed a lawsuit for compensation from the family business. After Aldo fired him from his jobs with Gucci in America, Paolo turned against his father, and produced documents showing that Aldo had siphoned off profits to offshore companies to avoid paying taxes. In 1986, Aldo Gucci pleaded guilty in a US court to evading $7m in taxes and was jailed for a year and a day.
Ironically, Paolo was landed in jail himself by his own matrimonial misadventures. Last year, he spent five weeks behind bars in New York on contempt charges for failing to pay his estranged English-born second wife, Jenny Garwood, almost half a million dollars in back alimony and child support for their daughter, Gemma. Paolo already had two other daughters, Elisabetta and Patrizia, from his first wedding with Yvonne Moschetto, who still lives in Florence. Paolo had broken up with Jenny in 1990, after he took up with Penny Armstrong, a stable-girl at the stud farm adjoining his mansion in Rusper, Sussex, with whom he went on to have two children.
Paolo, who in 1987 reportedly received around $41m from Investcorp for his share in the family firm, recently sought bankruptcy protection in the United States, citing debts of $90m. One week before his death, he signed a restructuring plan to pay back his creditors. Paolo's death has left Penny Armstrong and his estranged wife Jenny Garwood to carry on the battle over his money. According to one estimate, his British assets of a mansion and stables in Sussex, and a string of prize thoroughbred Arab horses, are worth some pounds 3m.
Paolo Gucci, businessman: born 1931; vice-president and managing director, Gucci Shops Inc and Gucci Parfums of America 1977-82; married first Yvonne Moschetto (two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1977 Jenny Garwood (one daughter; and one son, one daughter by Penny Armstrong); died London 10 October 1995.