"The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed," by Sara Gay Forden. William Morrow. 351 pages. $26.
"Gucci" is not just a commercial trademark. The name has become an icon for luxury. Sara Gay Forden, former Milan bureau chief for Women's Wear Daily, presents a story worthy of the Gucci label that is also affixed to a classy killing.
On March 27, 1995, Maurizio Gucci, grandson of the founder and last Gucci in the business, was gunned down while going into his elegant office in Milan. Discoverying the identity of the corpse, an investigating officer said: "We were going to have to take his life in our hands and open it like a book." Two years and 275 pages later, we get back to the universally alluring topic of murder. The intervening text, covering the jet-set family and its splashy dealings in the world of high fashion and finance, is near equally riveting. All told, a very good book.
The House was founded in 1921 when 40-year-old Guccio Gucci, a cosmopolitan descendant of Florentine craftsmen, invested his modest savings to become sole proprietor of a leather-goods shop catering to the carriage trade. Spurred by his sons, principally Aldo and Rodolfo, the business prospered exponentially. Everywhere, Gucci fashions became the earmark of the elite.
As Guccio's grandchildren arrived on the scene, entrepreneurial relations degenerated into disasterous conflict, with the balance of power perpetually realigning between Aldo and his three sons and Rodolfo and his only child -- Maurizio.
Frustrated in his attempts to market cheaper goods under the Guicci label, Aldo's son Paolo supplied the IRS with evidence that sent his 81-year-old father to jail for income tax evasion. Paolo's incessant litigation included a claim for personal injuries when a board meeting degenerated from fiscal to physical brawling. Aldo's side forced Maurizio into exile to escape charges of forging Rodolfo's signature on stock certificates. Maurizio's shares were impounded by the Italian courts.
Maurizio tentatively recovered and successfully plotted to force Aldo to sell-out to the investment conglomerate that in 1993 took over the entire Gucci business.
Nevertheless, the vengeance exacted upon Maurizio derives from the personal part of his life. It was Patrizia Reggiani who orchestrated the execution of her former husband, because, as the judge sententiously put it: "Maurizio Gucci stripped her, through their divorce, of a formidable patrimony and an internationally recognized name -- and the accompanying status, benefits, luxuries and prerogatives."
She almost got away with it. After two years of pursuing acrimonious business entanglements, the Milan authorities were about to close the books when a phone call from a vagrant named Gabriele Carpanese broke the case.
While living in a flophouse, Carbonese befriended the doorman, Ivano Savioni, who boasted that he had arranged the murder through Patrizia's confidant, Pina Auriemma. Savioni enlisted Orazio Cicala, who procured the hitman, Benedetto Ceraulo. Their exploits cost Patrizia $375,000 plus a monthly stipend for Pina.
The six-month trial of Patrizia and her confederates has been called "the Italian equivalent of the O.J. Simpson case in the United States."
Confessing from the stand, Cicala nailed Patrizia, whose witless defense was that it was all Pina's doing. Pina said she turned down Patrizia's offer "to shower her cell with gold" if she took all the blame. "What good are two billion lire to me in jail?"
Patrizia is serving 29 years of life without luxury. Taken over by a corporate colossus, the House of Gucci looks more imposing than ever.
Elsbeth L. Bothe retired from Baltimore Circuit Court after 18 years as a judge trying capital cases. She does occasionally still sit on the bench. As a lawyer, Bothe represented a number of death row inmates. An active member of the Society of Connoisseurs in Murder for 40 years, Bothe has been collecting books on crime (mostly murder) since age 10.