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Glamor, scandal and murder at the house of Gucci

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 25, 2021 6:00 am

”It’s Zara.” It almost pained Patrizia Reggiani to admit when complimented on her dress by Abigail Haworth, who interviewed her for a 2016 article in The Guardian

She was, after all, once called “The Liz Taylor of luxury labels,” the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci of the luxury fashion house, and together they were a celebrity power couple partying in New York with the likes of Jackie Kennedy while living a jet-setting lifestyle that included spending 8,000 British pounds a month on orchids in the early ’80s.

“I don’t earn enough at this place to buy proper clothes,” she qualified, referring to Bozart, a Milanese jewelry boutique that took her in as a consultant as part of her parole after serving prison time for the murder of her husband. It’s a wonder she accepted the job since she turned down the first offer for release in 2011, declaring that “I’ve never worked in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”

Her story was too good to pass up for a film that Ridley Scott wanted to direct as early as 2006. The film finally pushed through filming in 2020 and now has the world abuzz after the recent release of the trailer for House of Gucci, which will come out in November.

Boutique owner Alessandra Brunero was actually reluctant to grant the interview because of Patrizia’s one-liners that could endanger her parole. Earlier, when asked by Italian TV why she asked a hitman to kill her husband instead of doing it herself, she answered, “My eyesight is not so good. I didn’t want to miss.”

Keeping quiet and going low-profile was certainly not in her nature — one of her first outings was to go shopping on Via Montenapoleone wearing gaudy jewelry, diva sunglasses, and a pet macaw on her shoulder.

This was nothing, of course, compared to her glory days as a Gucci, which is why her story was too good to pass up for a film that Ridley Scott wanted to direct as early as 2006. The film finally pushed through filming in 2020 and now has the world abuzz after the recent release of the trailer for House of Gucci, which will come out in November.

With Gucci giving access to their archives and Lady Gaga starring as Patrizia, it promises to be the fashion and cinema event for 2021.

The trailer opens with the star wrapped in mink and heavy gold jewelry, looking at the façade of a Gucci boutique, reminiscing: “It was a name that sounded so sweet, so seductive, synonymous with worth, style, power, but their name was a curse too,” while scenes of Lamborghinis, villas in Lake Como, a penthouse in New York and ski chalets in St. Moritz give a glimpse of the glamorous world she inhabited and fought for even if it meant murdering her own husband.  She once said, “I’d rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.”

She knows poverty only too well.  Born Patrizia Martinelli in 1948 in Vignola, Italy, to a waitress and truck driver, her life only improved at age 12 when her mother married a wealthy entrepreneur, Ferdinando Reggiani.

In 1970 she met Maurizio, the grandson of fashion house founder Guccio Gucci. Captivated by her resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, he pursued her until they got married in 1972 despite the disapproval of his father, Rodolfo, who considered her a gold-digging social climber. He was overprotective of his only child, whose mother had died when he was only five.

He warmed up to her only when she gave birth to a daughter and proceeded to spoil the couple, buying them numerous properties in Europe and America from where they would live the extravagant lifestyle that included riding around in a chauffeur-driven limousine with the personalized plate “Mauizia,” lavish color-themed parties in Manhattan where even the color of the food matched the décor, and cruises to private islands aboard their 64-meter yacht. 

Their happy days ended, however, when Rodolfo died and Maurizio inherited his father’s 50-percent stake in the company.  Gucci’s luxury status then was suffering after over-licensing their logo and there was a lot of family infighting, prompting Maurizio to launch a legal war with his uncle Aldo and his cousins in 1983 and later buy them out with the help of Investcorp. 

Insisting on her innocence all throughout the trial, she said: ‘I didn’t hate Maurizio. He irritated me.’

Their marriage was also on the rocks: he packed his bag and left for Florence in 1985 for a supposed business trip but never came back. As chairman in 1989, Maurizio mismanaged the company until 1993 when Gucci’s finances were in the red and he was forced to sell his stock to Investcorp, sadly ending the Gucci family’s association with the firm.

“I was angry with Maurizio about many things then,” Patrizia related. One of them was his dating Paola Franchi, whom he planned to marry after finalizing the divorce in 1994.  But more than the affair it was “losing the family business. It was stupid. It was a failure.” 

Added to that, Maurizio’s remarrying would reduce her daughters’ inheritance significantly, not to mention her alimony, which would be halved to $860,000 a year, which she said “amounted to a bowl of lentils.” 

She repeatedly called him, “abusing him and threatening to kill him,” according to Franchi. Gucci was everything to her, after all — she actually helped to build and nurture it. It was her identity, and Maurizio’s losing the name and the business meant she would lose everything that defined her world.

On March 27, 1995, Maurizio was gunned down outside his office.  Patrizia was naturally a prime suspect, but no solid evidence could be found until two years later when information surfaced that a debt-ridden pizzeria owner, Benedetto Ceraulo, was hired by Patrizia to kill Maurizio through her psychic, who acted as intermediary. One piece of evidence was her Cartier diary, where she wrote “Paradeisos,” the Greek word for paradise, on the day of the murder.

Insisting on her innocence all throughout the trial, she said, “I didn’t hate Maurizio. He irritated me.” 

In 1998 she was sentenced to 29 years in prison and with good behavior was released after 18 years in 2016.  Interviewed then, she announced that she was now available to work for Gucci: “They need me. I still feel like a Gucci — in fact, the most Gucci of them all.” 

Banner photo from @thehouseofgucci