The call that would change everything came late in the evening of January 8, 1997. The anonymous caller asked to speak to Filippo Ninni, the head of police for the Italian region of Lombardia, and demanded a meeting. The caller did not want to say too much over the phone: “I’m going to say just one name: Gucci.”
Ninni was one of the main detectives of what had seemed destined to become yet another unresolved Italian mystery: the assassination of Maurizio Gucci, scion to and once head of the eponymous fashion house.
Two years earlier, on the morning of March 27, 1995, Gucci was fatally shot by an unknown gunman as he entered the building where he worked on via Palestro 20 in Milan—a stone’s throw from the city’s fashion district. Various lines of investigations—Had Gucci been embroiled in shady transactions? Had there being a rupture within the family, infamous for its history of internal feuds?—led nowhere.
Upon meeting Ninni, the informant introduced himself and explained that he was staying at a one-star hotel in Milan, where he had heard the night porter boast about having recruited Gucci’s killer. The revelation led the authorities down a winding path that eventually unraveled an assassination plot that placed, in the center of it all—in a plot twist too trite even for soap operas—Gucci’s ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani. (Interview requests from Forbes to Reggiani went unanswered.)
Reggiani’s alleged role in the murder would make the Elizabeth Taylor look-alike a scandalous figure in Italy and in the fashion world. Her notoriety lives on, with the woman nicknamed by the press “Lady Gucci” to be portrayed by Lady Gaga in a planned Ridley Scott film about the murder—a cinematic event first rumored nearly two decades ago, when the project was associated with director Martin Scorsese. What made the grisly story so shocking is that it had such a fairy-tale beginning.
‘For you, hell is yet to come’
Reggiani and Gucci were both in their early 20s when they met at a party of the Milan elite. The grandson of the House of Gucci founder was reportedly struck by Reggiani’s beauty and asked a friend: “Who is that beautiful girl dressed in red who looks like Elizabeth Taylor?”
The two were married in 1972, despite the opposition of Gucci’s father, Rodolfo, to the union, and they looked—to quote a popular Italian song of the time—like the world’s most beautiful couple. The bliss lasted just over a decade. The marriage broke down in 1985, but the divorce dragged on for nearly a decade through a protracted legal battle.
The Gucci family in happier times (from left: Maurizio Gucci, Allegra Gucci, Alessandra Gucci and Patrizia Reggiani).
Armando Rotoletti / LUZphoto
Later, in an interview with the TV show Storie Maledette, Reggiani said Gucci had left her suddenly, departing for what was supposed to be a short business trip to Florence. He never came back. She learned of the abandonment, she said, from a family doctor.
On another TV show, Harem, she said that a key moment that changed their relationship was the death of Rodolfo Gucci in 1983. The death of his father changed her husband, she said, as he began to act as if he no longer had to care for anything or anyone. She complained on Storie Maledette that, in 1992, as she underwent surgery for a brain tumor, Gucci had not offered her any support.
But Gucci clearly cared for his role with the family business, where he had started to work at 15 in the package room. He inherited a 50% stake after his father’s death, became the company’s chairman and began to consolidate his control. Gucci became involved in various court battles in an apparent bid to drive his family members from the board—their stakes would eventually be bought by Bahrain-based investment banking firm Investcorp for a reported $135 million.
By 1993, Gucci had sold his remaining stake in the fashion house to Investcorp for somewhere between $150 million and $200 million, putting an end to Gucci’s Italian ownership and making Maurizio Gucci a very wealthy man. (Gucci now is part of the portfolio of French luxury group Kering.) At roughly the same time, Reggiani was awarded about $1 million a year in a divorce settlement.
But Reggiani was far from content. She was upset at how Gucci had handled the company’s affairs, recalling in another interview at the time: “He recently told me: ‘Do you know why our marriage failed? Because you fancied yourself the president, and here there is only one president.’”
Patrizia Reggiani (center) attends the funeral of her ex husband Maurizio Gucci along with their daughters.
Armando Rotoletti / LUZphoto
It also couldn’t have helped matters that Gucci had found a new, younger partner, Paola Franchi, and the two were rumored to be planning a wedding.
The extent of Reggiani’s resentment became explicit during the eventual trial, when a recording of a phone message Reggiani left for Gucci was played in court. “You’ve reached the extreme limit of making yourself despised by your daughters who no longer want to see you to forget the trauma. You are a deformed outgrowth, you are a painful appendix that all of us want to forget,” Reggiani’s voice, full of spite and emotion, could be heard saying. “For you, hell is yet to come.”
‘A moment of weakness’
Reggiani’s bitterness towards her ex-husband was well known—as was the fact that she was looking for a hit man. She had twice asked her cleaner to help her and even consulted a lawyer over what would happen if she had gotten rid of her ex-husband. She admitted as much in court and in several 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. But my intentions ended there—a mere obsession, a mere desire,” she told Storie Maledette. “What wife has never said, ‘I’d kill that guy?’”
No one knew of Reggiani’s obsession more than Giuseppina (Pina) Auriemma, a woman who was described as a sort of self-styled sorcerer—a role she denied—in media reports and had been a confidante to Reggiani since their first meeting in Ischia in 1976. In 1994, Pina moved in with her to help write a book about her relationship with Gucci because Reggiani felt her memory had been adversely impacted by the brain surgery and needed help recalling certain events.
What happened next has been bitterly disputed in court, with the two women’s stories fundamentally diverging on the circumstances of the assassination—and their roles in it. Auriemma, who had been struggling with debts, claimed she gave in to one of Reggiani’s requests to find a killer “in a moment of weakness.”
Reggiani claimed she had no idea Auriemma had gone and found a killer, and that she was blackmailed into agreeing to pay 600 million lire (the equivalent of $365,000) for the assassination, starting with a down payment of 150 million lire.
Patrizia Reggiani’s confidante Pina Auriemma at the time of her arrest, in the early morning of January 31, 1997.
Armando Rotoletti / LUZphoto
What isn’t disputed is that Auriemma got in touch with Ivano Savioni, the night porter at the hotel were she stayed whenever she visited Milan whom she knew had been struggling financially. She inquired about hiring a killer. Savioni then negotiated the price tag on Gucci’s life with Orazio Cicala, who agreed to find and hire the killer.
Following the anonymous phone call in the night of January 8, 1997, the police began investigating Savioni. The porter had been looking, once again, for a hit man—the goal, this time, was to threaten Reggiani into paying the rest of the agreed money, even to kill her if necessary.
An undercover police officer pretended to be interested in the job and secretly taped their conversation. In the early morning of January 31, Reggiani, Auriemma, Savioni, Cicala and Benedetto Ceraulo—the hit man accused of carrying out Gucci’s muder—were all detained and charged. The investigation established it was Cicala who drove the green Renault Clio from which Ceraulo would fatally shoot Gucci as well as injuring the porter of the building, Giuseppe Onorato, who survived.
The evidence against Reggiani included an entry in her diary dated March 27, 1995—the day of Gucci’s murder—containing a single word: “Paradeisos,” the Greek word for “paradise.” Reggiani later disputed the idea that it meant a form of celebration, although she admitted feeling “relief” at news of her ex-husband’s killing. “Paradeisos,” she said, was a word she had written down because she liked it so much that she wanted to use it as the name for her next villa.
But while the media renamed “Lady Gucci” the “Black Widow,” Reggiani never admitted to having ordered the murder. Ceraulo, too, always maintained his innocence. But in November 1998, Ceraulo was given a life sentence, Reggiani and Cicala were each sentenced to 29 years, while Auriemma and Savioni received 25- and 26-year sentences respectively, though all were eventually reduced somewhat. In November 2000, Italian media reported Reggiani attempted suicide the day after being transferred from San Vittore, a jail in the heart of Milan, to the Opera prison on the outskirts of the city.
Reflecting on the events that led to her incarceration years later, Reggiani still didn’t fully 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, speaking to Storie Maledette in 2002.
Back in the fashion business
Reggiani began a work release program in 2014, after serving 16 years in prison, which involved having a job and performing volunteer work. That allowed Reggiani to take a part-time position at the jewelry firm Bozart. Her job, the firm owner Maurizio Manca tells Forbes, was that of a stylist—matching jewelry to outfits—as well as overseeing the design of a bag collection.
Manca says the job placement suited Reggiani because it put her back in touch with the world of fashion.
Benedetto Ceraulo and Orazio Cicala at the trial for the murder of Maurizio Gucci.
Armando Rotoletti / LUZphoto
“We had a relationship overall pleasant. You could tell she was a woman used to giving orders,” he says. “We have certain processes here in the firm. … But we clarified that in the beginning, and afterwards we established a good relationship.”
Reggiani worked there for about three years, sometimes sharing old memories with her new colleagues, “at times with regret, at times with sorrow, at times with nostalgia,” Manca says. “She would talk about the time she met the Trumps and the Kennedys, what she wore at the time and what she’d wear now instead.”
Manca says they didn’t expect the backlash the firm eventually received for having hired Reggiani—they hardly thought anyone would care about something that happened nearly two decades ago. But Reggiani, who eventually regained her status as a free citizen in 2017, had never fully been forgotten or stepped out of the spotlight—either through her interviews to the press or her latest actions in court.
Reggiani now faced financial claims put forward by Onorato, the doorman injured by Gucci’s killers, and Franchi, Gucci’s partner at the time of his murder. And she also struggled to retain her annual settlement from the Gucci family secured through her divorce.
When her daughters—Alessandra, 42 and Allegra, 38—having inherited their father’s money, refused to pay their mother her divorce settlement, the matter ended up in court, where an appeals court found in 2017 that Reggiani was entitled to the annuity. That decision was appealed, and the matter is now due to land in Italy’s Supreme Court.
According to Reggiani, her mother Silvana Barbieri, who had come to administer her finances, was opposed to any payout to Franchi and Onorato. Barbieri died in April, and Reggiani has said she intends to honor those payments. “I am turning a new leaf,” she told the Italian TV show in November. “I want to do what is right.”
As for her lasting fame, at least in a recent interview, she claimed to wish it would finally fade, at least for her daughters’ sake. Asked last month on the Italian TV show Storie Italiane about Lady Gaga’s portraying her, she said she learned about it from media reports and was dismayed. “I have two daughters, and I don’t like that they relive their father’s situation.”
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