We break down everything you need to know about this infamous true-crime case.
Real Stories is an ongoing column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This installment focuses on the true story behind the crime drama House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga.
“It was a name that sounded so sweet, so seductive, synonymous with wealth, style, power. But then there was a curse, too.”
So begins the trailer for House of Gucci, the biographical crime drama from Ridley Scott inspired by a true story. The film is based on a book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden. The voice one hears at the outset of the trailer belongs to Lady Gaga, who plays Patrizia Reggiani. In 1995, Reggiani hired a hitman to kill her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, the former head of the Gucci fashion house. Adam Driver plays Maurizio.
This marks one of two upcoming collaborations between Driver and Scott. The Last Duel, the true story of the last trial by combat in 14th century France, hits theaters next month. House of Gucci arrives in November and also stars Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, and Al Pacino in supporting roles.
Here’s a look at the true story that inspired House of Gucci:
The Years Before the Assassination
Even if one has never seen or owned a Gucci product, one knows, as Reggiani says in the trailer, of the Italian brand’s associations with “wealth, style, power.” The first Gucci stores opened in Florence in 1921. The company — founded by Guccio Gucci, Maurizio’s grandfather — became a global brand, designing apparel and bags for fashion icons of the 20th century, including First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace [Kelly] of Monaco. According to Women’s Wear Daily, the brand began to really grow in the 1970s, when Gucci opened a store in New York City and released its first fragrance.
Maurizio Takes Control of House of Gucci
In 1983, Maurizio gained control of the company from his father, Rodolfo (played by Jeremy Irons in House of Gucci). Maurizio worked to reinvigorate the brand, which had become “associated with cheap duty-free bags.” Maurizio brought on a series of investors as part of his effort.
But after the company faced challenges in a changing retail market, he transferred his ownership stake to an investment firm, thus ending the family’s association with their namesake. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, new leadership worked to reshape Gucci. At the heart of the effort were people like CEO Domenico De Sole (played by Jack Huston) and designer Tom Ford (played by Reeve Carney). In 2019, the company’s revenue exceeded six billion euros.
Maurizio Marries Reggiani
More than a decade before he became head of the Gucci empire, Maurizio married Patrizia Reggiani, both then age twenty-four. The two moved to New York City later that year and Reggiani worked as an advisor to Gucci. Reggiani became a well-known socialite and was often referred to as the “Liz Taylor of luxury labels.”
In 1985, Maurizio left their home for what he told Reggiani would be a short business trip. But he never returned and instead ended their marriage. Five years later, Maurizio began dating Italian designer Paola Franchi (played in the film by Camille Cottin). Reggiani and Maurizio finally divorced in 1994.
The Sensational Case Behind House of Gucci
In recent years, Reggiani, who is still alive and currently seventy-two years old, has admitted that she was “heartbroken and bitter” in the wake of the divorce. But no one could have predicted what happened next.
As Maurizio planned to marry Franchi, Reggiani hired someone to murder her ex-husband. On March 27, 1995, the hitman shot and killed Maurizio outside his office in Milan. The hitman struck him three times in the back and once in the face. The investigation into the killing lasted for more than a year, in part because, according to The Daily Beast, “so many people wanted to see the Gucci heir dead.”
Eventually, the investigation led to Reggiani. In 1998, she was convicted for her role in Maurizio’s murder and sentenced to twenty-six years in prison. Reggiani’s “personal astrologer,” Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma (played by Hayek in the movie) served as an instrumental figure in the plot. She had hired the hitman, a getaway driver, and a doorman to execute the murder.
Auriemma served nineteen years of her own twenty-six-year sentence. The doorman and getaway driver were given twenty-six years and twenty-nine years, respectively. The hitman, Benedetto Ceraulo from Sicily, received a life sentence.
In the midst of the highly publicized trial, Reggiani received a new nickname: “Vedova Nera” – the Black Widow. Gucci, then outside of the family’s control, even displayed silver handcuffs in store windows in Milan and Florence.
According to a New York Times report from 1998, Reggiani was motivated to kill Maurizio because of the threat his new marriage posed to her alimony. The payment, according to The Daily Beast, would be cut in half, to $860,000 a year. Reggiani likened the amount to “a bowl of lentils.” The New York Times report called the trial and case “even by Italian standards, sensational.”
A Violent and Vindictive Family
Like the more recent article in The Daily Beast, the New York Times article from 1998 notes that Maurizio “had many enemies.” Police initially suspected that someone from the Gucci family tree or a past business associate ordered the hit. The Gucci family by that point was famous for their infighting.
In the 1980s, Paolo Gucci, Maurizio’s cousin (played in the film by Leto), attempted to start his own company using the family name. This enraged his father Aldo (played in the film by Pacino), who twice fired him from the company. As retaliation, Paolo produced documents proving that his own father had evaded taxes. In 1986, Aldo pleaded guilty and served a year and a day in jail.
After a Gucci board meeting turned violent in 1982, Paolo brought assault charges against his two brothers and cousin Maurizio. While his New York Times obituary notes that he played a large role in the famous family feuds, he was also instrumental to the success of the brand, and at one point “claimed design credit for eighty percent of the items in the Gucci catalog.” He died in October 1995, six months after the murder of Maurizio.
With a family like this, it seems like Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna had more than enough to work with, in creating the film. House of Gucci hits theaters on November 24, 2021.
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Will DiGravio began writing for Film School Rejects in 2018. He also hosts The Video Essay Podcast and owns a TV.