Once Maurizio Gucci married Patrizia Reggiani in 1972, it didn’t take long for them to become Italy’s celebrity power couple. Gucci, the grandson of the House of Gucci founder, and Reggiani were only in their early 20s when they first laid eyes on each other at a party of the Milan elite. He was struck by her beauty and reportedly asked a friend, “Who is that beautiful girl dressed in red who looks like Elizabeth Taylor?”
They lived happily ever after… for a decade. And then he left her, and she got her revenge. And the way she retaliated was in true gangster style. The dark tale of Gucci is one of glamor, lust, betrayal, death and prison – all occurring within the world of high fashion.
Late in the evening of January 8, 1997, a call was made that essentially changed everything. An anonymous caller phoned the police of Italy’s Lombardia region, asking to speak with Filippo Ninni, the head of police. The caller demanded a meeting with Ninni but didn’t reveal very much over the phone. He did say this: “I’m going to say just one name: Gucci.”
Ninni was one of the key detectives of what became yet another unsolved Italian mystery: the assassination of Maurizio Gucci, heir to (and once head of) the famed fashion house. Two years before that call to Ninni, on the morning of March 27, 1995, Gucci was fatally shot by an unknown gunman.
It happened as Gucci was entering the building he worked in at Via Palestro 20 in Milan, which was a mere stone’s throw away from the city’s fashion district. The unexpected assassination led to many questions. Was Gucci involved in shady transactions? Was something going on within the notoriously feuding family – which remained unanswered?
Fast forward two years and Ninni met with the anonymous informant. He told Ninni that he was staying at a one-star hotel in Milan, where he heard the night concierge brag about having recruited Gucci’s killer. The man’s tip led the authorities down a twisting path that eventually unraveled a sinister plot that placed Gucci’s ex-wife at the center of it all.
It was a plot twist too clichéd for even the soap operas of the era, yet Patrizia Reggiani found herself smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest scandals in the history of fashion. Reggiani’s alleged role in her ex-husband’s death would make the Elizabeth Taylor look-alike a disgrace in Italy and in the fashion world.
The woman the press nicknamed “Lady Gucci” is being portrayed by Lady Gaga in the upcoming (as of April 2021) Ridley Scott film about the murder. (The film was first rumored to be in the works nearly two decades ago when the project was in the hands of director Martin Scorsese).
What can be as shocking or predictable, depending on who you ask, is that this dark tale actually began in a fairytale setting. So how did the happily married couple go from partying with Milan’s elite to murder in the name of revenge? What happened in between?
Maurizio Gucci and Patrizia Reggiani were married in 1972, despite the fact that Gucci’s father Rodolfo disputed his son’s choice of bride. Rodolfo, one of Guccio Gucci’s sons, disapproved of Reggiani’s background and definitely didn’t approve of her strong personality. It wasn’t like Maurizio to go against his father’s wishes, especially considering that he was an only child whose mother had died when he was five. Ever since, Rodolfo was overprotective of his only son.
Reggiani was born in a town outside Milan to a young waitress and a much older wealthy man who made his fortune in trucking. Although the family was rich, they still weren’t part of Milan’s high society. As a young woman, Reggiani typically liked fine things.
Her father spoiled her with fast cars and mink coats. Eventually, she made her way to the elite social circle. “I met Maurizio at a party, and he fell madly in love with me. I was exciting and different,” she said. The Guccis had also come from outside of Florence, so Maurizio also felt like a bit 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 admitted. She said she had other suitors at the time, but the young man chased her with all the riches at his disposal. The couple, both 24 years old, fell in love and walked down the aisle in typical Italian high fashion style.
“Maurizio felt free with me. We had fun; we were a team,” Reggiani later recalled. Rodolfo eventually softened to her after she gave birth to a baby girl, Alessandra. The new grandfather could finally see that his daughter-in-law really did love his Maurizio. Rodolfo bought the young couple several properties, including a luxury penthouse in New York’s Olympic Tower. New to the life of celebrity coupledom, the pair rode around Manhattan in chauffeur-driven fancy cars with a personalized plate that read “Maurizia.”
Gucci and Reggiani would hang out with Jackie Onassis and the Kennedy family when they were in town. Reggiani said they were a “beautiful couple” with “a beautiful life, of course.” She then stated in an interview with The Guardian that “it still hurts to think about this.” Even after everything that happened, Reggiani still perks up when she remembers all the lavish themed parties she threw in the early ‘80s.
The Gucci mansion was known for its color-themed parties, and the power couple was known for their trips to private islands on their massive wooden yacht, the Creole, which Maurizio bought after their second daughter Allegra was born.
The Gucci bliss lasted just over a decade. According to Reggiani, everything started to unravel when Rodolfo passed away in 1983, when Maurizio inherited his father’s 50% stake in the Gucci empire. “Maurizio got crazy,” she said.
The death of his father changed him, as Reggiani pointed out. He started acting as though he no longer had to care for anything or anyone. Up until that point, she was his chief adviser about all business matters. But after his father died, “he wanted to be the best” and stopped listening to her.
At the time, the Gucci brand was losing its standing from over-licensing its famous double-G logo and after mass production of canvas bags. Maurizio’s plan was to restore the brand to its high-end status by reverting to the rich craftsmanship the company was built upon in the first place.
He fought for years with his uncle and cousins, who together owned the other half of the company. Eventually, Maurizio pulled off a plot to buy them out, thanks to the help of Investcorp. Along the way, his and Reggiani’s marriage imploded. Apparently, he was tired of her constant “meddling,” and one evening, he packed an overnight bag and just walked out.
After a decade, the Gucci marriage broke down in 1985, but their divorce dragged on for another decade in court. Meanwhile, the company had lost millions under Maurizio’s control. Reggiani was right that he was mismanaging the business and not creating enough revenue to carry out his grand plans.
His personal fortune was also diminishing, and he was soon forced to sell Gucci in its entirety to Investcorp in 1993 for somewhere between $150 million and $200 million. “I was angry with Maurizio about many, many things at that time,” Reggiani admitted.
She added: “Above all, this. Losing the family business. It was stupid. It was a failure.” The sale of the business marked the end of Gucci’s Italian ownership, but it made Maurizio Gucci a very, very wealthy man. As for Reggiani, she was awarded nearly $1 million a year in their divorce settlement.
Still, she was “filled with rage,” but she claimed that there was nothing she could have done. In her interview with The Guardian, she turned her head, dropped her voice very low, and said, “He shouldn’t have done that to me.”
In another interview (with the TV show Storie Maledette), Reggiani said her husband left her unexpectedly, for what he said was going to be a short business trip to Florence. But then he never came back. She only discovered that he abandoned her from a family doctor.
When she had to undergo surgery for a brain tumor in 1992, he apparently offered her no support. She was receiving alimony but was far from content. She was livid, actually, and couldn’t believe how poorly her ex-husband was handling the company’s affairs.
In one interview at the time, she said that he told her, “Do you know why our marriage failed? Because you fancied yourself the president, and here there is only one president.” A number of things angered Reggiani, one of them being that her ex-husband was now flaunting his new, younger girlfriend, Paola Franchi.
Reggiani heard that they were rumored to be planning a wedding. The extent of Reggiani’s hatred became clear as day when the eventual murder trial took place. In it, a recording of a phone message she left for Gucci was played in court…
In her voicemail for her ex-husband, she said: “You’ve reached the extreme limit of making yourself despised by your daughters who no longer want to see you forget the trauma. You are a deformed outgrowth; you are a painful appendix that all of us want to forget.”
The spite and emotion in Reggiani’s voice were palpable. She was also heard saying, “For you, hell is yet to come.” Her bitterness towards her ex-husband was as well-known (at the time) as it was well-documented later in court. What was also known was the fact that she was looking for a hitman.
It was later revealed that Reggiani twice asked her house cleaner to help her, and she even consulted with a lawyer about what would happen if she were to potentially “get rid” of her ex-husband. In fact, she admitted to it in court and in interviews.
“I have to admit that for a time, I truly wanted to get rid of him. I wanted to do it, and so I was going around asking for people to do it,” she confessed. But she insisted that her intentions ended there — that it was a “mere obsession, a mere desire.” After all, she added, “What wife has never said, ‘I’d kill that guy?’” (She has a point there, am I right, ladies?)
If anyone understood Reggiani’s “mere obsession,” it was Giuseppina (Pina) Auriemma, a woman whom the press described as a “sorcerer.” While Pina denied such a role, she had, indeed, been a confidante to Reggiani since they first met in 1976.
In 1994, a year before Gucci’s assassination, Pina moved in with Reggiani to help her write a book about her relationship with Gucci. Reggiani felt that her memory was negatively impacted by her brain surgery, and she needed help recalling specific events. But the events that followed were bitterly disputed in court.
The two women’s stories were fundamentally different and diverged when they got to the circumstances surrounding the assassination — and their roles in it. Pina, who had been struggling with her own financial debt, claimed she gave in to Reggiani’s request to find a killer.
According to Pina, it was “in a moment of weakness.” Reggiani, however, claimed that she had no idea Pina actually found a killer. She claimed that she was blackmailed into agreeing to pay 600 million lire ($365,000) for the assassination. There is, though, one detail that was not disputed in court.
What wasn’t disputed was the fact that Pina got in touch with Ivano Savioni, the night concierge at the hotel she stayed in whenever she visited Milan. Savioni knew that Pina had been struggling financially. She then asked him about hiring a hitman.
Savioni negotiated the price of taking Gucci’s life with Orazio Cicala, who then agreed to find and hire a killer. When Ninni got that anonymous tip about the hotel concierge, the police started investigating Savioni. They learned that the concierge was once again looking for a hitman – something he apparently had a knack for.
An undercover cop pretended to be interested in the job and taped their conversation. Then, on the early morning of January 31, 1997, Reggiani, Pina, Savioni, Cicala and Benedetto Ceraulo (the hitman accused of Gucci’s murder) were all arrested and charged.
The investigation was able to establish that it was indeed Ceraulo who carried out the deed. He was the one who drove a green Renault Clio and shot Gucci and injured the concierge of the building, Giuseppe Onorato, who survived the ordeal and ended up being the only direct witness of the assassination.
It was 8:30 a.m. on March 27, 1995, and Giuseppe Onorato was sweeping leaves away inside the doorway of Via Palestro 20, an elegant building where 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci worked in his private office. “It was a lovely spring morning, very quiet,” Onorato, now in his 70s, recalled of that day.
As the only person who witnessed the event, he said, “Mr. Gucci arrived carrying some magazines and said good morning. Then I saw a hand. It was a beautiful, clean hand, and it was pointing a gun.”
Three shots were fired at Gucci’s back as he was walking up the steps before a fourth went into his head, and he collapsed. “I thought it was a joke. Then the shooter saw me,” Onorato recalled. The shooter lifted the gun again and fired two more shots. “What a shame,” he remembered thinking at that moment. “This is how I die.”
Onorato doesn’t remember how he ever made it to the foyer’s steps after being shot twice in the arm. He was sitting in a pool of blood when the police arrived. “I was cradling Mr. Gucci’s head. He died in my arms,” the elderly man said.
Onorato still has stabbing pains in his left arm, but “every day for the past 21 years, I’ve woken up thankful I’m alive.” As for the Ceraulo, the gunman, he just vanished into the city’s Monday morning rush hour. As the only direct eyewitness, Onorato was absolutely terrified that the shooter would look for him.
“I was a poor man, so I had to go back to work at Via Palestro 20 when I recovered. I had a panic attack every time an unfriendly-looking stranger approached,” Onorato admitted.
The situation wasn’t looking good for Reggiani. All signs were pointing to her as the mastermind. The evidence was stacked against her, including an entry in her diary dated March 27, 1995 — the day of Gucci’s murder. Her entry contained one single word: “Paradeisos.”
It’s the Greek word for “paradise.” In court, Reggiani disputed the idea that it meant she was celebrating his death. She did, however, admit to feeling “relief” at the news of her ex-husband’s death. “Paradeisos,” she said, was a word she chose to write down because she liked it so much. She asserted that she wanted to use it as the name for her next villa.
The media dubbed her “Lady Gucci” or the “Black Widow.” Reggiani never truly admitted to having arranged the murder. Hitman Ceraulo also continued to maintain his innocence. But, in November 1998, he was given a life sentence. As for Reggiani and Cicala (who found Ceraulo), they were each sentenced to 29 years.
Pina and Savioni (the concierge) received 25 and 26 years respectively, though all the sentences were eventually somewhat reduced. In November 2000, the Italian media reported that Reggiani attempted suicide the day after being transferred from San Vittore, in the heart of Milan, to Opera, a prison on the outskirts of the city.
Years later, Reggiani still didn’t admit guilt. “I don’t think of myself as innocent; I think of myself as not guilty. But in the ‘not guilty,’ I have to admit I have made too many mistakes,” she said. Not long after she was released from prison in 2016, after serving 18 years, a camera crew from a tabloid-style Italian TV show turned up unannounced at her work in Milan.
Reggiani, who always insisted her best friend set her up, was caught in a reckless mood as the camera crew pestered her with questions. The reporter asked: “Patrizia, why did you hire a hitman to kill Maurizio Gucci? Why didn’t you shoot him yourself?”
“My eyesight is not so good,” she threw back. “I didn’t want to miss.” It comes as no surprise that after that incident, Reggiani’s inner circle doesn’t want to let her near other journalists. It also isn’t surprising that the media still wants to get their hands on any piece of the Gucci madness they can get, even after all these years.
After all, it was a huge scandal at the time. The murder, the trial, the suspects – it captivated Italy in the late ‘90s. This was the stylish and graceful city of Milan – not a place where mafia-style killings were commonplace.
Before being called the Black Widow in the media, Reggiani was once dubbed the “Liz Taylor of luxury labels” in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then, suddenly, the public hears that she’s a suspect in Gucci’s killing. Yet, without any evidence, the crime went unsolved for about two years.
That is until that anonymous call came in. For the public, it was like a real-life soap opera. All the stereotypical theories about her motives poured in – that she was jealous of the new girlfriend, that she wanted his money, or that she was bitter or just plain mad.
Even if one of those were true, the story was deeper than those superficial theories. “Everything Reggiani was stemmed from being a Gucci,” a fashion critic wrote at the time. “It was her whole identity, even as an ex-wife. She was furious with Maurizio for selling out.”
Even after prison, Reggiani couldn’t let go. She told a newspaper in 2014 that now that she was available, she would like to return to the company. “They need me,” she stated. “I still feel like a Gucci. In fact, the most Gucci of them all.”
In that interview with The Guardian, Reggiani said she thinks she’s a strong person because she survived “all these years in captivity.” What was it like in prison? Well, she slept a lot, took care of her plants, and cared for Bambi, her pet ferret. Bambi was actually a special privilege negotiated by her lawyer. Her pet served her well as company until a fellow inmate accidentally sat on him.
But the Gucci queen turned prisoner doesn’t like to think about that period of her life. In fact, she won’t even admit out loud that she was in prison; she chose to refer to her incarceration as her “stay at Vittore Residence.”
After her conviction, she was ordered to pay Onorato (the injured eye witness) compensation in the amountof roughly $168,000. According to Onorato, he has yet to receive any of it. “I’m not bitter,” Onorato insisted, “but I do wonder if a rich person had been wounded in that doorway instead of me, whether they’d have been treated with more respect.”
To prove his point, during the divorce, Gucci’s lawyers proposed a divorce settlement to Reggiani of nearly $3 million, plus $769,000 per year, which she rejected as “a mere bowl of lentils” and landed herself a better deal.
Onorato isn’t the only one whose life was forever changed by the murder. Paola Franchi, now 61, was Gucci’s girlfriend at the time of his death. In fact, they had been living together for five years with Franchi’s 11-year-old son Charly and were planning on getting married.
The tall blonde didn’t fare much better than Reggiani in the media coverage of the trial, which more or less portrayed her as a glamorous gold digger. “Oh, they always resort to these stupid types,” Franchi said later. “Actually, my previous husband, whom I left for Maurizio, was even richer, so it was all nonsense.”
During the trial, it was revealed that Reggiani put pressure on her hired accomplices to execute the murder quickly before Franchi and Gucci had the chance to get married. Reggiani’s former best friend Pina, who indeed confessed to arranging the hitman, testified against Reggiani.
According to Pina, Reggiani just couldn’t bear the thought of another woman replacing her as Mrs. Gucci – and with that name, the power, status and money that she believed she “had earned.” Reggiani didn’t want her daughters to lose some (or all) of their inheritance if Maurizio and Franchi were to have children.
According to Franchi, Reggiani stalked them. “She still had spies in Maurizio’s circle, and she knew all about our plans, his business dealings, everything,” Franchi explained. “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.” Franchi disclosed that she begged Maurizio to hire a bodyguard, but he refused to. Apparently, he didn’t believe his ex-wife would go through with her threat” because of their girls.”
Maurizio and Franchi actually knew each other from their youth. They met once on the European rich kid party circuit, but they only reconnected after they were both divorced. “We fell in love immediately,” teary-eyed Franchi recalled. “Maurizio used to tell me that we were two halves of the same apple.”
The day after the assassination, she received an eviction notice from Reggiani to move out of their grand apartment. A critical detail in that notice was the notarized timestamp. Franchi noticed the time the papers were drawn up was at 11 a.m. the previous day… less than three hours after Maurizio was killed.
As Franchi explained, in those days, there was no legal protection for cohabiting couples. “Charly and I were out, just like that.” Unfortunately, her boyfriend’s murder wasn’t the only tragedy she would have to face. Five years later, while 16-year-old Charly was visiting his father over Christmas, the teenager killed himself.
“It was completely unexpected,” Franchi uttered. “He was a happy, shining boy, greatly loved. We think it was a flash of teen madness.” Franchi has photos of both Maurizio and Charly all over her house, but it isn’t to mourn their deaths. She says she likes to have their faces around, “to say hello.”
When Franchi moved out after Maurizio’s death, Reggiani and her daughters moved in. She lived another two years in luxury until one of her accomplices – the concierge – bragged about the murder to the wrong person. In court, Reggiani admitted she had paid Pina around about $236,000 but denied that it was for the murder.
She claimed that Pina arranged the hit herself and threatened to frame her if she didn’t pay up. “But it was worth every lira,” Reggiani added.
After decades of the Guccio Gucci heirs’s infighting, the brand was no longer under the family’s control. The Gucci company seemed indifferent to the scandal at the time, but on the day of the verdict, the Italian media reported that all their shops around the country hung handcuffs in their windows.
Maurizio, who ousted his relatives from the business to become CEO in 1992, was forced to sell his stake 18 months before his death. The murder coincided with a revival of the brand’s image in the mid – ‘90s under the company’s new boss Domenico De Sole and young, edgy designer Tom Ford.
The last thing Gucci wanted was a scandal, so they tried to ignore all the drama and hoped (naively) that everyone else would ignore it, too. Luckily for the brand, Gucci’s rise over the past two decades has eclipsed the murder.
Reggiani declared herself bankrupt, but not technically, in financial terms. She meant it more as “a person who has nothing.” After being released, Reggiani needed to find a job as a condition of her parole. She reportedly turned down her first opportunity of release in 2011 because the very idea of working terrified her.
“I’ve never worked in my life, and I don’t intend to start now,” is what she told her lawyer. Reggiani has been working for Bozart as a “design consultant” in a costume jewelry firm in Milan. She’s been working there since 2014 on a work-release program.
The firm’s owners said they didn’t expect the backlash they received for having hired the ex-convict, despite the two decades that had passed. Reggiani, who regained her status as a free citizen in 2017, has never fully been forgotten, nor has she stepped out of the spotlight.
Her daughters, Alessandra (42) and Allegra (38), have always stuck by their mother publicly. The daughters directly inherited their father’s millions, as well as the yacht and some properties in New York, Saint Moritz and Milan.
The heiresses may support their mother publicly, but they haven’t been helping her financially. They refused to pay her divorce settlement, which meant that the matter ended up in court, where an appeal found that Reggiani was indeed entitle to the annuity. That decision was then appealed and is due to land in Italy’s Supreme Court.
Reggiani’s mother, Silvana Barbieri, who managed her daughter’s finances, was opposed to paying either Franchi or Onorato. Barbieri passed away recently, and Reggiani said she intends to honor those payments. “I am turning a new leaf,” she declared. “I want to do what is right.”
As for her lasting legacy, she said she wants it to fade away, at least for her daughters’ sake. When asked about Lady Gaga portraying her in the new film, she said she only heard about it from media reports and was disappointed. “I have two daughters, and I don’t like that they relive their father’s situation.”