The cold-blooded murder of fashion scion Maurizio Gucci in 1995 shocked the world – especially when his glamorous ex-wife Patrizia was found guilty of arranging it. Ella Alexander looks back at their doomed romance.
Maurizio Gucci had been on his way to work one sunny spring morning when he was shot dead. The former Gucci boss, then a self-employed businessman, was walking up the steps to his elegant Milanese offices on 27 March 1995 when a dark-haired man appeared behind him, pulled out a gun and started firing.
Maurizio, impeccably dressed and in a Gucci silk tie, was left in a pool of blood on the marble entryway. The assailant turned to see the doorman, Giuseppe Onorato, standing in horror and fired twice at him before running off.
Onorato survived, the two shots perforating just his arm, and managed to climb the steps. He cradled Maurizio’s head as the police arrived. ‘Is he dead?’ asked Onorato. One officer held his fingers to the businessman’s pulse and nodded.
The Gucci murder became the subject of international news. How could a member of one of fashion’s most famous dynasties be assassinated in the middle of a busy city? For two years, the police had reached dead ends. But a tip-off eventually culminated in the conviction of Maurizio’s ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, who was found guilty of arranging his murder through a hitman. Both the press and public were captivated by this unfurling tale of death, vengeance, glamour, love-fuelled madness and by the irrepressible, morally ambivalent figure of Patrizia.
Married in 1972, the pair – often referred to as Italy’s first celebrity couple – shared an impossibly rich, international lifestyle before Maurizio’s poor business dealings lost the Gucci brand millions in the 80s. Their marriage began to unravel too: Maurizio walked out on Patrizia in 1985 and asked her for a divorce in 1991.
Branded the Black Widow by the press following her conviction, one piece of evidence stood out. Patrizia wrote a one-word entry in her Cartier diary on the day of his death – ‘Paradeisos’, the Greek word for paradise. She spent 16 years of her 26-year sentence in prison for the crime, but has always claimed innocence, alleging that her clairvoyant Pina Auriemma took her impassioned comments about wanting to kill her husband seriously and organised Maurizio’s murder as a gift for her. According to Patrizia, the psychic then blackmailed her into paying the equivalent of £240,000 for the murder. She later said it ‘was worth every lira’.
The ex-socialite, formerly known as the ‘Liz Taylor of luxury labels’ on account of her shopping habits and visual likeness to the screen icon, couldn’t help but play up to the press. After her release from prison, she was asked why she hadn’t killed her ex-husband herself. ‘My eyesight is not so good,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to miss.’
Such scandal and attention-grabbing quips enticed Ridley Scott to tell Patrizia’s story in a forthcoming film, which will be in cinemas later this month. Based on author and journalist Sara Gay Forden’s book, House of Gucci, the movie stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia, while Adam Driver plays ill-fated Maurizio. In the months leading up to Maurizio’s death, Patrizia placed herself as the aggrieved ex-wife, jealous of her former husband’s current relationship with interior designer Paola Franchi.
Patrizia told anyone who would listen that she wanted Gucci dead, even asking her then lawyer, ‘What would happen if I got rid of him?’ According to Forden’s book, she sent Maurizio dramatic cassette tapes telling him she would never give him ‘a minute of peace… You area painful appendage that we all want to forget… Maurizio, the inferno for you is yet to come.’
The day after her ex’s death, she sent an eviction notice to remove Paola and her son from the three-storey luxury apartment they had shared with Maurizio. Patrizia and the daughters she had with Maurizio, Allegra and Alessandra, moved in not long after. ‘He may have died, but I have just begun to live,’ she reportedly told a friend.
The Gucci family, who had already experienced decades of in-fighting, were none too pleased with the scandal surrounding Maurizio’s death. A charismatic visionary with little business acumen, Maurizio, had been forced to sign away his ownership of the brand in 1993 after leading the company into mountains of debt. The firm was finally getting back on its feet with Tom Ford at its creative helm. No one wanted the attention caused by Patrizia and the murder case, yet the week she was convicted, Gucci stores around the world are said to have displayed sterling silver handcuffs in their windows – as a sign of support for the family.
Maurizio and Patrizia first met on 23 November 1970 at a debutante party in Milan when he was 22 and she was 21. For him, it was love – or at least lust – at first sight. He told her she looked like Elizabeth Taylor. ‘I can assure you I am much better,’ she replied.
Patrizia’s attraction to Maurizio was sparked by his assets and social standing. Born to a waitress and a man who had made his fortune in trucking, nouveau-riche Patrizia lacked the lineage that Maurizio’s father Rodolfo wanted in a partner for his son. He made his disapproval well known, but his son was set on his exciting new girlfriend and distanced himself from Rodolfo.
On 28 October 1972, the two got married in what was one of the biggest social events of the year, eventually moving to New York where Maurizio’s uncle Aldo was training him to be his business successor.
They shared an extravagant penthouse and partied with Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The couple loved spending money; they travelled around New York in a chauffeur-driven car with a personalised plate ‘Mauizia’, and Patrizia dressed almost exclusively in diamonds, minks and Chanel suits. They had homes in Milan, St Moritz, Connecticut and Acapulco. Their two daughters were born into unspeakable wealth. Patrizia once said, ‘I would rather weep in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.’ Known as Lady Gucci, Patrizia became her husband’s advisor, encouraging him to be a leading figure in the family business. ‘I pushed him so hard he became the president of Gucci,’ she says in Forden’s book. ‘I was social; he didn’t like to socialise; I was always out; he was always in the house. I was the representative of Maurizio Gucci, and that was enough. He was like a child, a thing called Gucci that had to be washed and dressed.’
Unfortunately for Patrizia, she created a monster. When Maurizio’s father died in 1983, he inherited a 50 per cent stake in the business and bought out his family in order to gain company control. Around the same time, his marriage hit the rocks. Patrizia says he became arrogant and badly dressed, and was absent in his daughters’ lives. He said he felt ‘castrated’ by her constant criticism and bossiness. In May 1985, he packed a suitcase in their Milan penthouse and never returned, sending a friend to tell her the marriage was over.
In 1991, Maurizio filed for divorce. He had begun dating Paola, which sent Patrizia into a jealous rage. She dismissed the initial divorce settlement of £2.5 million plus £650,000 per year as ‘a mere bowl of lentils’ and secured a better deal of £900,000 a year instead. She threatened to burn down one of the St Moritz properties, but settled on enlisting a psychic to cast a dark spell over it. ‘Patrizia felt that she had a right to his assets – not on a legal basis, but on a romantic basis,’ says Giuseppe Parodi, one of Maurizio’s lawyers. ‘She felt Gucci’s success was due in large part to her advice.’
The situation grew even more acrimonious when, in May 1992, Patrizia was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of a billiard ball. Doctors told her that chances of survival were not high but she underwent surgery and had it removed. Maurizio didn’t visit her in hospital, or offer to help with childcare, which enraged her further. In 1993, he sold his remaining Gucci shares, which became another cause of pain for Patrizia, who – according to her clairvoyant Pina Auriemma – thought that the Gucci label ‘represented everything. It was money, it was power, it was an identity for her and the girls.’
As rumours grew that Maurizio and Paola were to marry, Patrizia ramped up plans to have her ex killed, fearing her alimony would shrink. ‘I was asking everyone. I would have even asked the butcher; it was a mania with me,’ she told the court. ‘But I didn’t mean it.’
In January 1997, Patrizia was arrested– along with four others– at her home. An informant had befriended a hotel doorman called Ivano Savioni, who had boasted that he had been contacted by Pina Auriemma to help him arrange Maurizio’s death.
Savioni had involved two others, Orazio Circala, a debt-saddled pizzeria owner, and Benedetto Ceraulo, a former mechanic who lived behind Circala’s restaurant. The latter was sentenced to life in prison, the only member of the ragtag gang to be given such lengthy imprisonment.
Patrizia never gave up on luxury, even in prison. Once a week, her hairdresser attended to her hair implant that covered her brain surgery scar, while her mother Silvana brought her home-cooked food such as veal roast, treated her to expensive lingerie and even took home her dirty laundry. Patrizia was allowed to keep her pet ferret in her cell, although the animal meta sad demise after it was sat on by an inmate. She also instructed prison guards not to wake her until 10am.
‘Patrizia never called it jail, she called it “my Victor Residence”,’ says Maurizio Manca, who co-owns the luxury Milanese fashion label Bozart that she went on to work for after she left prison. ‘She kept up to date with fashion by spending a lot of money on magazines– she always knew about new designers and collections. She was a queen in jail; the other prisoners would come to her for styling and beauty advice. Her life could have been difficult, but it was quite comfortable.’
In 2011, she was offered an early release if she secured a job. Patrizia was furious, telling a judge, ‘I’ve never worked in my life and I’m certainly not going to start now.’ After rejecting six different roles, she finally deigned to become a design consultant at Bozart after her lawyer called in a favour from a friend. ‘She would have preferred to remain in jail rather than work,’ explains Manca. ‘Eventually, she came to the store in 2014 and loved the brand’s connection with the 80s when the label was very popular. Patrizia loved the 80s, she was happy then. She probably liked the fact that my name was Maurizio and that it was a luxury fashion company. Eventually she said, “OK”.’
Manca’s first challenge was training Patrizia how to work –a new activity for her – but in time she consulted on a line of bags. Her design skills were limited (‘a nine-year-old could have done better,’ said Manca), but her flair for grandeur was firmly intact. Every day, she would arrive dressed to the nines with her pet macaw. ‘The parrot was a problem,’ recalls Manca. ‘Thank god we have a small garden where we could leave it.’
As soon as her work-parole was up in 2017, Patrizia went back to her normal life. ‘That is to do nothing,’ laughs Manca. Free from prison, she immediately went shopping on Milan’s equivalent of Bond Street, decked in jewellery and sunglasses with her macaw on her shoulder.
Today, she gets by with the £900,000 a year divorce settlement made prior to her husband’s murder – plus the inheritance she received from her mother following her death in 2019 – and is said to live in Milan. Her daughters, who stood by her during the trial, no longer speak to her. ‘They don’t understand me,’ Patrizia has said.
Patrizia still goes by the name of Mrs Gucci. ‘They need me,’ she told Italian newspaper La Repubblica in 2014. ‘I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, [I am] the most Gucci of them all.’
House of Gucci will be in cinemas from 26 November
Photography: Rex/Shutterstock, Backgrid, PA News, Getty Images, AP, Fabio Living