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 on their tragic romance.

Maurizio Gucci and Patrizia Reggiani in the 70s

Patrizia and Maurizio Reggiani during the 1970s

 Maurizio Gucci had been on his way to work one sunny spring morning when he was shot dead. Gucci, the former boss of Gucci, was a self employed businessman when, on March 27, 1995, a dark-haired, unidentified man appeared behind Gucci and began firing.

Maurizio, dressed impeccably in a Gucci silk tie was found in a pool in the marble entryway. Giuseppe Onorato stood in terror and shot twice at the attacker before fleeing.

The story was full of vengeance, death and glamorous glamour. 

Onorato was able to survive, with only one bullet piercing his arm. 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.

International news was made about the Gucci assassination. How could a member of one of fashion’s most famous dynasties be assassinated in the middle of a busy city? Two years later, police reached no conclusion. 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.

On their wedding day in 1972

They were married in 1972.

The unfurling story of death, vengeance and glamour as well as love-fueled madness was captivating for both the public and the media.

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. The marriage fell apart too. Maurizio left Patrizia for him in 1985, and asked her to divorce him in 1991.

After her conviction she was called “Black Widow” by the media. However, one piece 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’.

With their daughters Allegra and Alessandra in the mid-80s

Their daughters Allegra, and Alessandra with them in the mid-80s

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 are a painful appendage that we all want to forget… Maurizio, the inferno for you is yet to come.’

Patrizia in her 80s heyday

Patrizia during her 80s glory days

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, Allegra, and Alessandra, the two daughters she shared with Maurizio moved in shortly 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. After leading the company to massive amounts of debt and being a visionary, Maurizio had to surrender his share of ownership in 1993. Tom Ford was the creative force behind the company’s revival. 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.

The photograph taken on her arrest in January 1997; Maurizio’s body is taken away after the shooting

The photograph taken on her arrest in January 1997; Maurizio’s body is taken away after the shooting

Maurizio met Patrizia for the first time on 23/11/70 at a debutante event in Milan. He was 22 years old and she was 21. For him, it was love – or at least lust – at first sight. He said that she looked just 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. His disapproval was well-known, but his son set his sights on the exciting girlfriend and distanced him from Rodolfo.

In jail, she was the queen of styling; inmates would visit her to get style advice. 

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. The couple shared an enormous penthouse, and they 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. Their homes were in Milan, St Moritz and Connecticut.

The photograph taken on her arrest in 1997

Photograph taken at her arrest in 1997 

They were the parents of two beautiful daughters. 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. That was all I did. He was like a child, a thing called Gucci that had to be washed and dressed.’

Unfortunately, Patrizia 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. At the same moment, his marriage was in trouble. 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. After packing a suitcase into their Milan penthouse, in May 1985, he sent a friend to inform her that the marriage had ended.

Maurizio was granted divorce in 1991. He was already dating Paola and this 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. Instead of threatening to set fire to one of St Moritz’s properties, she settled for a better deal that included PS900,000.000 per year. ‘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.’

Maurizio at home in the 80s

Maurizio, at home in 80s

The crisis became more severe when Patrizia was found to have a brain tumor the size of a billiardball in May 1992. Although doctors told her she had little chance of survival, she went under the knife 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 rumors grew about Maurizio’s marriage to Paola, Patrizia began to plan to kill her ex, in fear that her alimony might 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. He was the sole member of the group to receive a life sentence.

With Patrizia at their daughters’ communion

With Patrizia at their daughters’ communion

Patrizia did not give up luxury even while in prison. One week, her hairdresser looked after her head, covering the scar from her brain surgery. Silvana took her shopping, cooked her dinner, and gave her expensive clothes. Patrizia allowed her ferret to stay in her cell. However, the pet died after being sat upon 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. Her beauty and styling skills were unmatched by any other prisoner. Her life could have been difficult, but it was quite comfortable.’

In Milan with her macaw Bo

Milano with Bo, her macaw Bo

She was granted an offer of early release in 2011 if she found 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 80s music and was content in those times. My name, Maurizio, was a plus as it was a high-end fashion brand. Eventually she said, “OK”.’

Patrizia with her psychic Pina Auriemma in St Moritz and in Milan with her macaw Bo, 2014

2014: Patrizia (with her psychic Pina auriemma in St Moritz, and with her macaw Bo in Milan).

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. She would always arrive at work dressed up with her macaw. ‘The parrot was a problem,’ recalls Manca. ‘Thank god we have a small garden where we could leave it.’

Patrizia returned to her regular life as soon her 2017 work-parole expired. ‘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.

Adam Driver and Lady Gaga star as the couple in Ridley Scott’s new film House of Gucci

Adam Driver and Lady Gaga star as the couple in Ridley Scott’s new film House of Gucci

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 two daughters stood beside her through the trial but no longer talk to her. ‘They don’t understand me,’ Patrizia has said. 

Patrizia is still known as 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 appear in cinemas beginning 26 November