OBITUARY:Maurizio Gucci

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Maurizio Gucci, the former chairman of the Gucci leather goods and fashion empire, was the last of the Guccis to be involved with the company bearing the family name.

In Italy, the Gucci family was just as famous for its highly public quarrels as it was for the leather goods that made its fortune. Indeed, it seems that the whole success story was sparked off by a quarrel. As the story goes, Guccio Gucci, the founder of the family firm, born in 1881, left Florence after a bitter fight with his father. In London he worked as a waiter at the Savoy Hotel, where he was inspired by the elegant suitcases and trunks of the hotel's rich patrons. Returning to Florence in 1904, he opened a workshop in Via della Vigna, producing saddles, riding boots, and luggage.

Guccio had four sons, Ugo, Vasco, Rodolfo and Aldo, and a daughter, Grimalda. The four sons cut skins in the workshop and, according to all accounts, spent a lot of time quarrelling. The family business prospered, but Rodolfo left to become a film actor. He appeared in 50 films and married a German woman, Alessandra Winkelhausen, Maurizio's mother.

The family workshop was destroyed during the Second World War, but the Guccis set up again and by the early Fifties the business was prospering, opening outlets in Rome, Milan, London, Paris and New York. By the time Guccio died, in 1953, two of the brothers had sold their shares in the company and Grimalda had married a Florentine gentleman. This left Rodolfo and Aldo to quarrel about who should be in charge of the family business.

Aldo moved to New York and played a key role in improving the family's fortunes by getting rich Americans to appreciate the understated elegance of the firm's handbags and, above all, the loafers. By the end of the Fifties, the Gucci intertwined gold G trademark had become a favourite of film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.

After a period of expansion in the Seventies, the bad times arrived in the early Eighties, and with them an extraordinary series of lawsuits. Paolo fell out with his uncle Rodolfo over the American subsidiaries. In return, Rodolfo fired Paolo from the Italian company. In 1983, Rodolfo died, leaving his shares in the company to Maurizio, then 25. Inevitably, this led Maurizio into conflict with his uncle and his three cousins.

The next row was between Paolo, who wanted to sell his own range of goods, and the rest of the family. Paolo also turned against his father, after discovering that Aldo had siphoned off profits to offshore companies to avoid paying taxes. Soon after, Maurizio was involved in litigation by his uncle and his cousin Roberto, who claimed he had forged his father's signature to avoid paying inheritance tax.

Eventually Aldo and his sons sold their share to the huge Arab investment bank Investcorp. After Maurizio had happily solved his own judicial problems, he found himself in charge of the company that, by then, was out of control and in great financial trouble. The Gucci brand had been too widely spread and its name devalued, losing its appeal with upmarket customers.

Maurizio Gucci attempted to solve the company's woes by hiring Dawn Mello, one of the idols of US fashion. They had initial successes, but world- wide economic recession condemned Maurizio Gucci's efforts to failure. "I feel like Rocky Marciano," he said, describing the battles with his Arab partners, in 1993. "Each time he fought, his face was covered in blood, but he always won." One month later Maurizio Gucci lost his own battle, selling out to Investcorp for close to $200m.

"I greatly admired Maurizio, because he fought to save the family firm," said Stefano Dominella, a manager at the Italian fashion house Gattinoni. "Gucci, with Ferragamo, were the first names to present fashion `made in Italy' all around the world."

But in the end the Guccis were unable to contradict the old adage that so well describes most Italian industrial families: "The first generation creates the firm, the second consolidates it and the third destroys it".

Wolfgang Achtner

Maurizio Gucci, businessman: born Florence 26 September 1949; married (two daughters); died Milan 27 March 1995.

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