– “The Story of Gucci’s Family. As the glamorous fashion label turns 90, we look at the history of a luxury brand so big that it is opening its own museum – and meets the people behind its prosperity” ..
The incredible tale of glamour, sex, betrayal, black magic, death and prison in the dizzying world of high fashion.
There have been a great number of famous Tuscan people throughout history, and many of these are known for their contribution to Italian fashion and style. One of these famous Italians is Guccio Gucci.
The humble beginnings of Gucci are well known throughout the fashion community, but many people who own Gucci products aren’t familiar with the man in the background – or his catchy first name! The story of Gucci and the famous fashion house is an interesting one, so read on for some interesting Guccio Gucci facts…Gucci might even be the first fashion-oriented word you heard when you were young, but do you know the real story behind the G’s?
Guccio Gucci’s childhood and teenage years were humble. Guccio Gucci was born in 1881, in Florence, Italy. He was the son of an Italian leather goods maker who originated from the north. Guccio was not too keen on taking the same occupational route as his father, so when he was a teen, he traveled to places like London and Paris, where he worked as a waiter, dishwasher and concierge.
Guccio Gucci’s childhood and teenage years were humble. Guccio Gucci was born in 1881, in Florence, Italy. He was the son of an Italian leather goods maker who originated from the north. Guccio was not too keen on taking the same occupational route as his father, so when he was a teen, he traveled to places like London and Paris, where he worked as a waiter, dishwasher and concierge. In London, he worked at the prestigiousSavoy Hotel as a lift attendant, and it was during this time that he observed the style and elegance of many wealthy and famous people. In particular, he took note of the beautiful luggage styles that he saw.
Funnily enough, on his return to Florence when he was about 40 years old, his appreciation of fashion and style was so great, that he did follow in his father’s footsteps, and went on to revolutionize the leather goods industry with a collection of high-quality goods.
The first Gucci shop was founded in Florence in 1921, and it is from here that the legendary history of Guccio Gucci and his company really took off.. Many of his designs were inspired by horseracing, and his company quickly became known for its incredible level of craftsmanship. Specializing in leather goods, and quickly built a reputation for quality, hiring skilled craftsmen to work in his shop. This is how the House of Gucci was founded.
During the 1930s, Gucci became inspired by horse racing, a popular pastime, and started designing the hardware for his leather goods to resemble horse bits and stirrups.
In 1932 Guccio created the first loafer shoe with a gilded snaffle, as well as a wonderful selection of luggage ties, shoes and the famous handbags with a bamboo handle, that was seen on the arms of plenty of high profile celebrities. The loafer shoe with a gilded snaffle. To date, these shoes are the only footwear on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In 1947, Gucci introduced the brand’s first iconic bag, the “Bamboo bag”, a saddlebag featuring bamboo handles, which is still a company mainstay.
The following decades brought about near bankruptcy and family problems.. Guccio and his wife Aida Calvelli had a large family, six children in all, though only his sons – Aldo, Ugo, Vasco, and Rodolfo – would later take roles in leading the company toward popularity – and a LOT of drama!
The year 1953 is famous for two reasons: the death of Guccio Gucci and the opening of the first Gucci store overseas. Boutiques started to spring up everywhere, and the glamorous ‘GG’ symbol that is still used today, was created in the 1960s.
When Guccio died, Aldo – the oldest of the three sons took control of the business. Aldo internationalized the brand. He knew that people didn’t necessarily want to travel to Italy to buy their products, preferring instead to purchase them in New York, Paris, Tokyo or London.
The year 1953 is famous for two reasons: the death of Guccio Gucci, and the opening of the first Gucci store overseas. Boutiques started to spring up everywhere, and the glamorous ‘GG’ symbol that is still used today, was created in the 1960s. When Guccio died, Aldo – the oldest of the three sons took control of the business.
Aldo internationalised the brand. He knew that people didn’t necessarily want to travel to Italy to buy their products, preferring instead to purchase them in New York, Paris, Tokyo or London. This kind of rapid expansion would sink some companies but Gucci thrived. In fact, President John F. Kennedy referred to Aldo Gucci as the first ambassador of fashion.
As the “Made in Italy” trend took hold, Gucci leveraged their popular loafer to enter into additional key markets like London, Palm Beach, Paris and Beverly Hills.
While Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive have come to represent a decadent lifestyle, Gucci was actually the second major luxury brand to set down roots on the street – alongside the Giorgio Beverly Hills boutique with its iconic yellow-and-white-striped awning.
When Aldo’s brother, Vasco Gucci, died childless in 1974, the company was split 50-50 between Aldo and his other brother, Rodolfo. Aldo gave each of his three sons 3.3%, leaving him with 40% while his brother retained 50%. Despite the imbalance, Aldo maintained control of the company and kept it stable and profitable during his reign.
Trouble started when the third generation began to take more of an active role in running the family business. Aldo’s son, Paolo, had visions of creating his own fashion line. When his father and uncle rebuffed him, he went behind their backs and launched it anyway. They fired him and cut off all ties.
In a 1982 interview with People Magazine, Paolo explained, “I wanted to expand, to bring in other financial backers and make the business run on more modern lines. But the Guccis have medieval concepts of business. So I became the black sheep.”
Paolo would seek his revenge by exposing Aldo’s tax evasion, for which Aldo served time in federal prison. When Rodolfo died in 1983, his 50% stake went to his son Maurizio, who teamed up with Paolo to take control of the company. This arrangement, however, didn’t last long. Soon, the cousins turned on one another and when Maurizio found himself in trouble with the authorities over tax troubles, he was forced to flee to Switzerland. Once again, Paulo was responsible for tipping off the authorities.
In the early ‘90s, Gucci’s image was tarnished when copies of its wares began popping up everywhere.In the end, both cousins got what they wanted but with disastrous results.
Paolo eventually launched his own fashion line, which was enormously unsuccessful. Maurizio almost destroyed the Gucci empire in his tenure at the helm through the late 80s and early 90s. Ultimately, Paolo won the right to market a Paolo Gucci line, but he ended up cashing out in 1987 for a $45 million USD stake in the company.
However, he wouldn’t leave without seeking retribution against his father after tipping off authorities that the Gucci chairman had been conspiring to evade more than $7.4 million USD in U.S. income taxes. A weeping Aldo Gucci, then 81 years old, was sentenced in 1986 to serve a year and a day in federal prison. By 1991, Gucci had a negative net worth of $17.3 million. With more than $40 million in personal debt, Mauricio was finally forced out of the company by Investcorp, the company that now owns the majority stake in Gucci and was able to restore the brand to its former glory.
To restore the company’s luxury image, the company appointed. American designer Tom Ford as Artistic Director in 1994, a position he kept until 2005. Ford is largely credited with turning the Gucci brand around.
‘We were a beautiful couple and we had a beautiful life’: Gucci and Reggiani in the 80s. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock
Maurizio came to an especially unhappy ending: In 1995, he was tragically gunned down in a mafia hit in Milan, a crime for which his ex-wife was tried and sentenced to 29 years…
When Patrizia Reggiani married Maurizio Gucci, they became one of Italy’s first celebrity power couples. But then he left her – and she had him murdered.
They married in 1972 when they were both around 24. The union caused a rift with Gucci’s father Rodolfo, one of Guccio Gucci’s sons, who disapproved of Reggiani’s background and, no doubt, her strong personality. Maurizio was an only child whose mother had died when he was five, and his father had always been overprotective. They were very rich, but not part of Milan’s high society. As a young woman, she liked fine things – her father spoiled her with mink coats and fast cars – and she found her way on to the elite social circuit. As a young woman, she liked fine things – her father spoiled her with mink coats and fast cars – and she found her way on to the elite social circuit. “I met Maurizio at a party and he fell madly in love with me. I was exciting and different,” says Reggiani. The Guccis came from Florence so Maurizio also felt something of an outsider.
“I didn’t think much of him at first. He was just the quiet boy whose teeth crossed over at the front.” Reggiani had other suitors, but the young Gucci chased her hard with all the riches at his disposal. “Maurizio felt free with me. We had fun, we were a team,” says Reggiani. Rodolfo softened after she gave birth to a daughter, Alessandra, and he could see that she “really loved Maurizio”. The elder Gucci bought the couple numerous properties, including a luxury penthouse in New York’s Olympic Tower. Early adopters of celebrity coupledom, the pair rode around Manhattan in a chauffeur-driven car with the personalised plate “Mauizia”. They hung out with Jackie Onassis and the Kennedy brood whenever they were all in town.It all started to unravel after the death of Rodolfo in 1983, Reggiani says, when Maurizio inherited his father’s 50% stake in Gucci. “Maurizio got crazy. Until then I was his chief adviser about all Gucci matters. But he wanted to be the best, and he stopped listening to me.” The Gucci brand had been losing prestige from over-licensing its famed double-G logo and frommass production of canvas bags. Maurizio had a plan to restore it to high-end glory by reverting to the exquisite craftsmanship the company was built upon. He fought for years with his uncle and cousins, who jointly owned the other half of the firm, until he pulled off a plot to buy them out with the help of Investcorp. Apparently weary of Reggiani’s constant “meddling”, one evening Maurizio packed an overnight bag and left. Meanwhile, the company lost millions under his control. Reggiani had been right, at least, that Maurizio was mismanaging business and not creating enough revenue to execute his grand ideas. His personal fortune was dwindling and he was forced to sell Gucci wholly to Investcorp for $120m in 1993.
‘I begged Maurizio to hire a bodyguard’: Paolo Franchi, who Gucci lived with for five years after leaving Reggiani. Photograph: Uli Weber for the Observer
During his days of indulging in seemingly everything, Maurizio began dating Paola Franchi, an interior designer and childhood friend of his, after he had separated from his wife of 15 years, Patrizia Reggiani, in 1992. The two eventually moved in together in the two top floors of a four-story, 18th-century Milan palazzo with her 10-year-old son. “I begged him to hire a bodyguard,” says Franchi, “but he refused. He didn’t believe Patrizia would go through with her threat because of their girls.”
Gucci and Franchi had crossed paths briefly in their youth on the Euro-rich-kid party circuit. They reconnected by chance when they were both reeling from unhappy marriages. “We fell in love immediately. Maurizio used to tell me” – Franchi starts to cry – “that we were two halves of the same apple”… The day after the murder she received an eviction order from Reggiani to move out of the grand apartment she’d shared with Gucci. The notarised timestamp, Franchi noticed, showed the papers had been drawn up at 11 am the previous day – less than three hours after Maurizio died. “In those days co-habiting couples had no legal protection.”
Franchi slowly began, as she puts it, “to build a different future”. But five years later she suffered another tragedy. While visiting his father over Christmas, her son Charly killed himself at the age of 16. “It was completely unexpected,” she says. “He was a happy, shining boy, greatly loved. We think it was a flash of teen madness.” Franchi has photos of Maurizio and Charly all over her house, but says they’re not there so she can dwell on her pain. “I like to have their faces around, to say hello. For a year after Charly died, I felt a rage in my soul, but then I got on with life. I’m the kind of person who has to keep moving forward.” She poured her emotions into painting and writing, she says, and is also active in a charity for troubled or suicidal teens, L’Amico Charly, that her ex-husband set up in memory of their son.
Maurizio Gucci was 46 when he was gunned down in the foyer of his office. Photograph: AP
When Franchi moved out of the Corso Venezia apartment, Reggiani moved in with her daughters. She lived there in luxury for the next two years, until one of her accomplices boasted about the murder to the wrong person. The man informed the police, who launched a sting operation to trick Reggiani and her four paid accomplices – her friend Pina Auriemma, a friend of Auriemma’s who set up the hitman, the hitman himself and the getaway driver – into discussing the crime on wiretapped phones. It succeeded. Among other evidence they found at Reggiani’s home was her Cartier diary, which had a one-word entry for the day of Gucci’s death: “Paradeisos” – the Greek word for paradise.
Following his death, police initially suspected that a member of the Gucci family was involved. As they peeled back the layers, they uncovered that Maurizio had planned to marry Paola, and had publicly stated that he would reduce his ex-wife’s alimony to $860,000 USD a year Patrizia viewed this sum as an insult, calling it “a bowl of lentils.” During the trial, investigators got Patrizia to freely admit that she had dreamt of getting someone to kill her ex-husband, but she insisted that they were just fantasies. “Patrizia was stalking us,” says Franchi. “She still had spies in Maurizio’s circle and she knew all about our plans, his business dealings, everything. She called many times abusing him and threatening to kill him.” If Gucci didn’t take Reggiani’s calls, she sent him diatribes on cassette tape, later played in court, saying he was “a monster” for neglecting her and their daughters, and warning that “the inferno for you is yet to come”. So, the gunning down of 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci one morning in the red-carpeted foyer of his office, and the subsequent murder trial, captivated Italy in the late 1990s. It was sensational fin de siècle stuff. This was elegant Milan, not mob-riddled Naples, and execution-style killings of the city’s glamorous elite were unknown. Reggiani, dubbed the “Liz Taylor of luxury labels” in the 1970s and 80s, was an immediate suspect. She had openly threatened to kill Gucci after their split. But, without evidence, the crime went unsolved for nearly two years. A tip-off led to her arrest in 1997, along with four others, including the hitman.
“We were a beautiful couple and we had a beautiful life, of course,” says Reggiani, throwing her hands in the air and briefly leaving them there. “It still hurts to think about this.”
Prosecutors also knew that Patrizia had enlisted the help of a woman, Auriemma, a self-titled witch, who had befriended her after learning of her belief in the supernatural which seemed to mirror Maurizio’s own belief that his ex-wife was leaving no stone unturned when it came to seeing that he was ruined.
Among the evidence prosecutors presented in court was Patrizia’s diary. In it she wrote, “There is no crime that money cannot buy.” On the day Maurizio was shot, there was a single word entry: “Paradeisos,” the Greek word for “paradise.” A year after the hit, police continued to struggle to find any tangible evidence or financial paper trails that tied Patrizia to Maurizio’s death. While many in Maurizio’s inner-circle probably found him to be a bit paranoid after he had turned to “magic” of sorts to cleanse his life of Patrizia, it was, in fact, black magic that proved to be a vital clue in cracking the case.
Death by design: Patrizia Reggiani had her husband Maurizio Gucci gunned down – a crime for which she would spend 16 years in prison. Photograph: Uli Weber for the Observer
During the trial, it emerged that Reggiani had put pressure on her hired accomplices to carry out the murder quickly, before Franchi and Gucci’s wedding. Reggiani’s one-time best friend Pina Auriemma, who confessed to arranging the hitman, testified that Reggiani couldn’t bear the thought of another woman taking her place as Mrs. Maurizio Gucci – and with it, the power, status, and money that she “had earned”.
Investigators believe, via a Neapolitan fortune-teller-cum- “adviser” called Giuseppina Auriema, that Patrizia Gucci hired two killers. They also believe they can prove that Patrizia paid the two men about $350,000 to kill her ex-husband.
When police officers knocked on the door of Patrizia Gucci’s central Milan apartment, they asked her if she could guess why they had come to arrest her. “You’ve come because of my husband’s death,” she replied. Note that she said “husband”, not “ex-husband”.After Reggiani was arrested, the media dubbed her Vedova Nera – the Black Widow – and touted all the stereotypical theories about her likely motives.
I came from the world of jewels and it is to that world that I want to return.” She famously once said, “I’d rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.”
After Reggiani was arrested, the media dubbed her Vedova Nera – the Black Widow – and touted all the stereotypical theories about her likely motives. She was jealous of Maurizio’s girlfriend, she wanted his money, she was bitter about his neglect, she was plain mad. If there is a grain of truth in any of these, there was also something deeper, too. “Everything Reggiani was stemmed from being a Gucci,” says Ferrè. “It was her whole identity, even as an ex-wife. She was furious with Maurizio for selling out.”Even after her release from prison, Reggiani couldn’t let go. She told La Repubblica newspaper in 2014 that, now she was available again, she hoped to return to the company fold.
“They need me,” she said. “I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of them all.” “I dream of returning to Gucci,” she said. “I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of all. I have the qualifications – for years I went shopping around the world. Perhaps that best embodies her plans moving forward; one she hopes will still closely be tied to the Gucci empire which is worth a reported $12 billion USD as of May 2016. Two years ago, not long after Patrizia Reggiani was released from prison, a camera crew from a trashy Italian TV show turned up unannounced at her Milan workplace. Reggiani had just spent 16 years inside after being convicted of arranging the murder, in March 1995, of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, the last of the Gucci family dynasty to run the luxury brand. The former socialite had always maintained her innocence – her best friend had set her up, she said – but the TV crew caught her in a reckless mood.
“Patrizia, why did you hire a hitman to kill Maurizio Gucci? Why didn’t you shoot him yourself?” badgered the reporter.
“My eyesight is not so good,” she lobbed back. “I didn’t want to miss” …
IT’S the curse of the Gucci family that even when they’re dead they make those left behind suffer. That comment on the troubled life and times of the famous Florentine family . At the centre of the feuding has been one thing – the family fortune, or its divvying-up among the heirs of Guccio Gucci, the man who founded the dynasty in Florence in 1904.
Where the third generation of Guccis failed, the brand’s corporate ownership (now PPR, the French conglomerate) has been hugely successful. Soon after Maurizio’s demise, Gucci was viable once again. Gucci’s international appeal is much wider than even Aldo may have anticipated – the luxury fashion boutique enjoys immense popularity in Asia. The rise of Asia’s upper-middle-class means that the Gucci’s client base is rapidly expanding, adding further momentum to a seemingly unstoppable brand.
Today, Gucci is run by Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci, and designs are by Alessandro Michele, the Creative Director. In 2018, the brand is focused on attracting the attention of the millennial generation with a formidable social media presence – a powerful marketing tool in a post-digital world. Their association with Instagram stars and other digital strategies have made Gucci relevant to a whole new generation.
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