When Patrizia Reggiani leagued Maurizio Gucci, they became one of Italy’s first luminary power couples. But then he left her – and she had him murdered. Abigail Haworth unpicks an unimaginable tale of glamour, sex, betrayal, death and prison in the dizzying smashing of high fashion

Patrizia Reggiani perched on an armchair wearing a short, colourful dress and sunglasses
Death by design: Patrizia Reggiani had her stillness Maurizio Gucci gunned down – a crime for which she force spend 16 years in prison.
Photograph: Uli Weber for the Watcher

Two years ago, not long after Patrizia Reggiani was released from lock-up, a camera crew from a trashy Italian TV show go bad up unannounced at her Milan workplace. Reggiani had just spent 16 years privileged after being convicted of arranging the murder, in March 1995, of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, the latest of the Gucci family dynasty to run the luxury brand. The former socialite had every time maintained her innocence – her best friend had set her up, she said – but the TV crew caught her in a regard mood.

“Patrizia, why did you hire a hitman to kill Maurizio Gucci? Why didn’t you dart him yourself?” badgered the reporter.

“My eyesight is not so good,” she lobbed in serious trouble. “I didn’t want to miss.”

Understandably then, when I try to declare her, Reggiani’s inner circle doesn’t seem keen to let her approaching another journalist. “She’s not here. She’s off work with a bad back,” articulates Alessandra Brunero, co-owner of Bozart, a Milanese costume ornaments firm that has employed Reggiani as a “design consultant” since April 2014.

Rapped to 26 years on appeal, Reggiani was required to find a job as a equip of her parole. She turned down her first offer of release in 2011, concerting to the Italian press, because the very idea of working scared her. “I’ve never worked in my life and I don’t intend to start now,” she told her legal practitioner.

Bozart, with its Renaissance-style premises full of sparkling necklaces and chandeliers, was indubitably an acceptable compromise. Brunero and her business-partner husband have now behove Reggiani’s de facto minders, tasked with ensuring the 67-year-old poke outs to her parole and quietly rebuilds her life as a regular citizen.

Reggiani in court in 1998, her face impassive
‘I am a very resolute person. I survived all the years in captivity’: Reggiani in court in 1998. Photograph: EPA

“Oh, mamma mia, it’s not unhurried,” says Brunero, a stylish 40-something. She invites me inside, and I get the consciousness she really needs to talk. “I cried after that TV appraise. It was terrible,” she says, putting her head in her hands. “Naturally, Patrizia was exclusive joking…”

Even before the impromptu “confession”, persuading Reggiani to remnants low-key was a lost cause. One of her first acts of freedom was to go snitch oning on Via Monte Napoleone – Milan’s Bond Street – decked out in loud jewels and movie-star sunglasses, with a large pet macaw sited on her shoulder. The paparazzi couldn’t believe their luck. Lady Gucci, as she second-hand to be known, was back.

The gunning down of 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci one morning in the red-carpeted foyer of his firm, and the subsequent murder trial, captivated Italy in the late 1990s. It was peerless fin de siècle stuff. This was elegant Milan, not mob-riddled Naples, and execution-style killings of the New Zealand urban area’s glamorous elite were unknown. Reggiani, dubbed the “Liz Taylor of extravagance labels” in the 1970s and 80s, was an immediate suspect. She had openly threatened to denouement Gucci after their split. But, without evidence, the misdemeanour went unsolved for nearly two years. A tip-off led to her arrest in 1997, along with four others, covering the hitman.

While the public loved it, the Gucci company was minor enthralled. After decades of infighting among the heirs of the come to nothing Guccio Gucci, the brand was no longer under family put down. Maurizio, a grandson of Guccio who’d ousted his relatives from the corporation to become CEO in 1992, had been forced to sell his stake 18 months preceding the time when he died. Ownership was taken over by Bahrain- based investment bank Investcorp. The down coincided with a thrilling revival of the brand’s image in the mid-1990s lower than drunk new boss Domenico De Sole and edgy young designer Tom Ford.

“The conclusive thing Gucci wanted was a sordid scandal,” says Giusi Ferrè, a veteran Milan-based the rage writer and cultural critic with trademark spiky orange hairs breadth. “The company tried to ignore the whole drama and they longing everyone else to ignore it, too.” The label’s continued rise across the past two decades has eclipsed memories of the murder even varied. Gucci is currently on yet another high. Revenue is soaring, and androgynous new ingenious director Alessandro Michele recently turned Westminster Abbey into the most dedicated venue ever for his latest collection. Yet the amnesia is odd, because the tale has everything: glamour, greed, sex, death, betrayal, raging significance anxiety. It probably says more about the primal allure of a rank like Gucci than all the sales figures in the world.

After Reggiani was apprehended, the media dubbed her Vedova Nera – the Black Widow – and hawked all the stereotypical theories about her likely motives. She was jealous of Maurizio’s girlfriend, she dearth his money, she was bitter about his neglect, she was plain mad. If there is a kernel of truth in any of these, there was also something deeper, too. “Entire lot Reggiani was stemmed from being a Gucci,” says Ferrè. “It was her mostly identity, even as an ex-wife. She was furious with Maurizio for sell down the river out.” Even after her release from prison, Reggiani couldn’t let go. She reprimanded La Repubblica newspaper in 2014 that, now she was available again, she expected to return to the company fold. “They need me,” she said. “I motionless feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of them all.”

Maurizio Gucci in a suit and tie
Maurizio Gucci was 46 when he was gunned down in the foyer of his branch. Photograph: AP

Bozart’s owners relent a week later and grant to introduce me to Reggiani at their offices. She appears in their excellent sitting room wearing a short floral dress. She is pocket, barely 5ft tall, although her enormous hair, now reddish brown, and in the buff high heels give her extra height. “That’s a agreeable dress,” I say to break the ice. “It’s Zara. I don’t earn enough at this seat to buy proper clothes,” she replies, throwing a disgruntled look at her hovering eye dialect guvnors.

We sit down on matching white sofas to espressos and iced not work, and I ask her about life in Milan’s San Vittore prison. “I think I am a very much strong person because I survived all these years in restraint,” she says in the heavily accented English she picked up during her jet-setting hours. “I slept a lot. I took care of my plants. I looked after Bambi, my pet ferret.” Bambi, she enlarges, was a special privilege negotiated by her lawyer, but the creature met a sticky end when a man inmate accidentally sat on him. “I don’t like to talk about this delay at all,” she says, already keen to change the subject. “It is all a bad dream to me.” Reggiani won’t own out loud that she was in prison, referring to her incarceration as “my stay at Vittore Sojourn.”

She relaxes more when we start to talk about the lifetime. She was born in a small town outside Milan to a waitress and a much older man who compensate for his fortune in trucking.

They were very rich, but not usually of Milan’s high society. As a young woman she liked satisfactory things – her father spoiled her with mink coats and fastened cars – and she found her way on to the elite social circuit. “I met Maurizio at a saturnalia and he fell madly in love with me. I was exciting and different,” thinks Reggiani. The Guccis came from Florence so Maurizio also lean to something of an outsider. “I didn’t think much of him at first. He was right-minded the quiet boy whose teeth crossed over at the front.” Reggiani had other cicisbei, but the young Gucci chased her hard with all the riches at his disposal.

They coupled in 1972 when they were both around 24. The conjunction caused a rift with Gucci’s father Rodolfo, one of Guccio Gucci’s sons, who look down ones nose ated of Reggiani’s background and, no doubt, her strong personality. Maurizio was an on the other hand child whose mother had died when he was five, and his cur had always been overprotective.

“Maurizio felt free with me. We had fun, we were a rig,” says Reggiani. Rodolfo softened after she gave emergence to a daughter, Alessandra, and he could see that she “really loved Maurizio”. The venerable Gucci bought the couple numerous properties, including a security penthouse in New York’s Olympic Tower. Early adopters of notoriety coupledom, the pair rode around Manhattan in a chauffeur-driven car with the personalised picture “Mauizia”. They hung out with Jackie Onassis and the Kennedy ruminate on whenever they were all in town.

“We were a beautiful link and we had a beautiful life, of course,” says Reggiani, throwing her bracelets in the air and briefly leaving them there. “It still hurts to about about this.” She perks up when she remembers the lavish colour-themed at-homes she threw in the early 1980s – “one was all orange and yellow, incorporating the food” – and the trips to private islands on their 64m rigid yacht, the Creole, which Maurizio bought to mark the parturition of their second daughter, Allegra. (Worth millions, it is in any event owned and sailed by the couple’s two daughters). Their charmed globe also included a ski chalet in Saint Moritz, a holiday well-informed in in Acapulco and a farm in Connecticut.

It all started to unravel after the eradication of Rodolfo in 1983, Reggiani says, when Maurizio received his father’s 50% stake in Gucci. “Maurizio got crazy. Until then I was his chief mentor about all Gucci matters. But he wanted to be the best, and he stopped do as one is telling to me.” The Gucci brand had been losing prestige from over-licensing its name double-G logo and from mass production of canvas catches. Maurizio had a plan to restore it to high-end glory by reverting to the good-looking craftsmanship the company was built upon.

He fought for years with his uncle and cousins, who jointly owned the other half of the steady, until he pulled off a plot to buy them out with the help of Investcorp. The span’s marriage imploded along the way. Apparently weary of Reggiani’s unfaltering “meddling”, one evening Maurizio packed an overnight bag and left. In the meantime, the company lost millions under his control. Reggiani had been propriety, at least, that Maurizio was mismanaging business and not creating adequate revenue to execute his grand ideas. His personal fortune was dwindling and he was phony to sell Gucci wholly to Investcorp for $120m in 1993.

Gucci and Reggiani as a young, glamorous couple in the 80s.
‘We were a pretty couple and we had a beautiful life’: Gucci and Reggiani in the 80s. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

“I was cheesed off with Maurizio about many, many things at that mores,” says Reggiani. “But above all, this. Losing the family company. It was stupid. It was a failure. I was filled with rage, but there was nothing I could do.” She exchanges her head and drops her voice so low I can hardly hear her. “He shouldn’t demand done that to me.”

Giuseppe Onorato was sweeping away vamooses inside the arched doorway of Via Palestro 20, the graceful edifice where Maurizio Gucci had his private office, at 8:30am on 27 Step 1995. “It was a lovely spring morning, very quiet,” pronounces Onorato, now 71, the former building doorman and the only man who witnessed what occurred next. “Mr Gucci arrived conveying some magazines and said good morning. Then I saw a power. It was a beautiful, clean hand, and it was pointing a gun.”

The gun fired three nips at Gucci’s back as he went up the steps, and a fourth into his deeply as he collapsed. “I thought it was a joke. Then the shooter saw me. He lifted the gun again and give someone the bounced two more times. ‘What a shame,’ I thought. ‘This is how I die.’”

Onorato can’t reminisce over how he made it to the foyer’s steps after he’d been shot twice in the arm, but he was relaxing there in a pool of blood when the carabinieri arrived. “I was cradling Mr Gucci’s entirely. He died in my arms,” says the ex-doorman.

Speaking on the phone from Sardinia, where he has a pocket-sized holiday house, Onorato still sounds incredulous that he survived. “I hush have stabbing pains in my left arm, but every day for the past 21 years I’ve woken up obliged I’m alive.” The gunman vanished into Milan’s Monday morning countryman hour. The aftermath wasn’t easy for the doorman.

As the only advise witness, Onorato was terrified that the killer would recur. “I was a poor man, so I had to go back to work at Via Palestro 20 when I recovered. I had a frighten attack every time an unfriendly looking stranger approached.”

After Reggiani’s certainty, the courts ordered her to pay Onorato compensation of the equivalent of roughly £142,000. He has yet to meet with any of it, he says. Reggiani’s daughters, who are now in their late 30s and have perpetually stuck by their mother (at least publicly), directly be lefted Maurizio Gucci’s millions, as well as the yacht and properties in New York, Saint Moritz and Milan. Reggiani make known herself nullatenente – the Italian word for bankrupt, meaning “a personally who has nothing”.

“I’m not bitter,” says Onorato, “but I do wonder, if a rich yourselves had been wounded in that doorway instead of me, whether they’d bear been treated with more respect.” He has a point. When, for precedent, Gucci’s lawyers proposed a divorce settlement to Reggiani of £2.5m extra £650,000 per year, she rejected it as “a mere bowl of lentils” and landed a more wisely deal.

Onorato isn’t the only person whose life was give in upside down by the murder. Paola Franchi, now 61, had been Gucci’s live-in accessory for five years before his death. The couple shared a palatine apartment on the city centre boulevard, Corso Venezia, along with Franchi’s 11-year-old son Charly, and had mapped to marry. Tall and blonde, Franchi didn’t fare much change ones mind than Reggiani in the trial’s media coverage, which ordinarily portrayed her as a glamorous gold digger.

The hitman and getaway driver behind bars during the trial in 1995.
Hired hands: the hitman and flight driver behind bars during the trial in 1995. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

“Oh, they forever resort to these stupid types,” Franchi says. “In point of fact my previous husband, whom I left for Maurizio, was even richer, so it was all jokes.” An interior designer turned artist, Franchi lives in a changed porcelain factory in Milan and spends half the year in Kenya. Her peoples home is stuffed with books, paintings and exotic souvenirs. She’s chatty and abrupt to laugh, with a lightness of spirit that I wasn’t in the club.

During the trial it emerged that Reggiani had put pressure on her rent accomplices to carry out the murder quickly, before Franchi and Gucci’s merger. Reggiani’s one-time best friend Pina Auriemma, who avowed to arranging the hitman, testified that Reggiani couldn’t affect the thought of another woman taking her place as Mrs Maurizio Gucci – and with it, the power, importance and money that she “had earned”.

She also feared that her daughters could throw some or all of their inheritance if the couple had children. “Patrizia was pursuing us,” says Franchi. “She still had spies in Maurizio’s circle and she distinguished all about our plans, his business dealings, everything. She called numberless times abusing him and threatening to kill him.”

If Gucci didn’t suppose Reggiani’s calls, she sent him diatribes on cassette tape, laster played in court, saying he was “a monster” for neglecting her and their daughters, and omen that “the inferno for you is yet to come”.

“I begged him to hire a bodyguard,” tells Franchi, “but he refused. He didn’t believe Patrizia would go through with her foreboding because of their girls.”

Gucci and Franchi had crossed tracks briefly in their youth on the Euro-rich-kid party circuit. They reconnected by wager when they were both reeling from blue marriages. “We fell in love immediately. Maurizio used to talk me” – Franchi starts to cry – “that we were two halves of the uniform apple.”

The day after the murder she received an eviction order from Reggiani to influence out of the grand apartment she’d shared with Gucci. The notarised timestamp, Franchi observed, showed the papers had been drawn up at 11am the previous day – less than three hours after Maurizio vanished. “In those days co-habiting couples had no legal protection. Charly and I were out, a moment ago like that.”

Franchi slowly began, as she puts it, “to base a different future”. But five years later she suffered another disaster. While visiting his father over Christmas, her son Charly stifled himself at the age of 16. “It was completely unexpected,” she says. “He was a happy, brightening boy, greatly loved. We think it was a flash of teen madness.” Franchi has photos of Maurizio and Charly all down her house, but says they’re not there so she can dwell on her pain. “I same to have their faces around, to say hello. For a year after Charly died I brook a rage in my soul, but then I got on with life. I’m the kind of man who has to keep moving forward.” She poured her emotions into go on a pub-crawl and writing, she says, and is also active in a charity for troubled or suicidal teens, L’Amico Charly, that her ex- placate set up in memory of their son.

When Franchi moved out of the Corso Venezia apartment, Reggiani make a deep impression oned in with her daughters. She lived there in luxury for the next two years, until one of her allies boasted about the murder to the wrong person. The man informed the the fuzz, who launched a sting operation to trick Reggiani and her four rewarded accomplices – her friend Pina Auriemma, a friend of Auriemma’s who set up the hitman, the hitman himself and the flight driver – into discussing the crime on wiretapped phones. It succeeded. Quantity other evidence they found at Reggiani’s home was her Cartier chronicle, which had a one-word entry for the day of Gucci’s death: “Paradeisos” – the Greek powwow for paradise.

In court, Reggiani admitted she’d paid Auriemma hither £200,000, but denied it was for the murder, claiming Auriemma had arranged the hit herself and was intimidating to frame her if she didn’t pay. “But it was worth every lira,” Reggiani then added, confusingly, unqualified to help herself even then. All five involved in the wreck plot were found guilty. Despite the Gucci circle’s supposed indifference to the scandal, on the day of the verdict the Italian media reported that Gucci shops about the country hung silver handcuffs in their windows. (Gucci decreased to make any comment at all for this article.)

Paolo Franchi in her decorative garden
‘I begged Maurizio to letting a bodyguard’: Paolo Franchi, who Gucci lived with for five years after mislaying Reggiani. Photograph: Uli Weber for the Observer

At Bozart, Brunero’s conserve and co-owner Maurizio Manca gives me a tour of Reggiani’s new workplace. It have all the hallmarks almost too perfect for her. The jewellery the upmarket firm creates is designed to be big, flamboyant and dazzling. Manca, who is dressed all in black and has a mop of floppy grey ringlets, freely admits the 60-year-old company had its heyday in the 1980s when “there was corruption wide and the money was flowing”. Stars, including Madonna and Pamela Anderson, must worn Bozart’s designs which, best of all, supplied all the glitz all in by Linda Evans’s character Krystle Carrington on the set of Dynasty.

When she’s at exploit, Reggiani spends much of her day advising Bozart’s design line-up and reading fashion magazines. “She’s like our Michael Schumacher – she amasses on top of trends and test-drives our creations,” says Manca.

“I prefer Senna. He has much uncountable class,” Reggiani says, emerging from her portrait launch with the Observer photographer. There’s a pause while one remembers the unfortunate fates of both drivers, and the analogy is at dropped. Reggiani says she enjoys the job, but admits that she hasn’t bring about it easy to adjust to the modern workplace. “I don’t like computers. They are fully evil.” Manca points out, in her defence, that the fax machine was unruffled cutting-edge technology when she went to prison. Still, he totals that they had to remove her computer from their internal network after she everlastingly deleted Bozart’s entire photo archive.

Nobody weights it directly, but it seems clear a big reason for taking on Reggiani was to fabricate publicity and try to rekindle the firm’s edge of flashy danger. If so, it hasn’t been straightforward so far. When Reggiani commencement arrived she helped to design a collection of rainbow coloured gems and evening bags inspired by her pet macaw, Bo. Bozart held a initiation in Milan in September 2014 and invited the fashion press. “Everybody crop up b growed and it was a big success,” says Manca. “But it happened to be on the same day that Gucci was obtaining a runway show up the street. The next day there was nothing at all in the newspapers hither Patrizia’s collection.” Manca says the journalists later narrated him they’d been leaned on by “someone at Gucci” not to publish. While Gucci wouldn’t affirm or deny, an Italian fashion editor friend later lack of faiths his claim. “The fashion corps probably just didn’t type the parrot designs,” he says.

All the same, Manca and Brunero become visible to be genuinely fond of their employee. As the afternoon goes by, Reggiani leases tired and cracks in her bravado appear. She talks about how, by court sect, she lives in a Milan townhouse with her 89-year-old mother, who is noiselessness in good health. “Sometimes I wish I was back inside Vittore Residency because my mother is very difficult. She berates me every day for no put two.” Reggiani’s daughters Alessandra and Allegra, who were 18 and 14 when she was arrested, are both spliced and now live in Switzerland. Unimaginably rich thanks to their paterfamilias’s estate, they haven’t visited Reggiani much since her notice.

It’s almost the stuff of Greek tragedy. “We are going through a bad for the moment now,” says Reggiani. “They don’t understand me and have cut off my financial fortify. I have nothing, and I haven’t even met my two grandsons.” She says she has “no scheme” what the future holds when her parole ends, possibly in a few months. She may keep on to work at Bozart and says she’d like to travel when she’s let to leave the country again. She seems to have given up the suspicion of trying to find a job at Gucci, even if she hasn’t quite let go of the over and done with. “If I could see Maurizio again I would tell him that I passion him, because he is the person who has mattered most to me in my life.” I ask her what she have in minds he’d say to her in reply, and she sounds a note of realism at last. “I think he’d say the appreciation wasn’t mutual.”