The first time Sara Forden interviewed Italian socialite Patrizia Reggiani, she was in her penthouse, climbing the walls. It was 1993, and Reggiani had invited Forden—then the Milan Bureau Chief for Women’s Wear Daily—to sit down with her at her luxury apartment overlooking the fashion capital’s Piazza San Babila. “Patrizia was on a personal campaign to discredit and destroy Maurizio and had reached out to various media outlets for interviews,” Forden said, referring to Reggiani’s ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, who was head of the famed fashion house at the time. “The interview was pure vitriol: Patrizia was in a phase where she was worried that Maurizio was going to lose the company. She attacked him up and down. It was pretty intense.”
The next time Forden communicated with Reggiani, she was behind bars in the city’s San Vittore Prison. It was early 1999, about a year after Reggiani had been convicted and sentenced to 29 years in prison for commissioning Maurizio Gucci’s murder. On the morning of March 27, 1995, the 46-year-old Gucci was killed by a gunman in the lobby of his company headquarters on Via Palestro 20, just steps from Milan’s fashion district.
When Forden and Reggiani reacquainted, Forden was working on a book on the family dynasty and Gucci’s murder. “I tried to get an interview with Patrizia in person but the prison authorities were worried about her having access to the media,” Forden told me from her office at Bloomberg News in Washington, D.C. where she now leads a team of reporters covering tech policy and lobbying. Despite repeated attempts, the Justice Department officials kept turning her down, so she did the next best thing: “I wrote letters to her and she answered a lot of my questions this way, Forden said. “A lot of it was about her early relationship with Maurizio and how he had changed.”
Twenty years later, Forden’s 2001 book, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, is the basis of the much-anticipated film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Lady Gaga as Reggiani and Adam Driver as Gucci. “When I wrote it, I always envisioned the book as a movie,” said Forden, who acted as a consultant for the film and also worked with the screenplay writer. “I tried to set the scenes in such a way because I could visualize them on the screen. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would become a film of this caliber with this director and cast.”
To Reggiani, the idea of marrying a Gucci must have seemed like something from a movie. The petite-framed, violet-eyed beauty, who was often compared to Elizabeth Taylor, came from a far less distinctive background. Her mother grew up helping out in the family restaurant, while her father owned a successful transport company. “Despite being on the fringes of the elite Milanese industrial class’s inner circle, Patrizia was very much on the social circuit and would rendezvous with the young industrial set in Santa Margherita on the Ligurian coast,” said Forden. With the help of her mother, Reggiani would also host her own parties. “She was going to school at the time, but she was also this very active young socialite,” Forden said.
It was at the debutante party of a mutual friend one November night in 1970 that Reggiani, then 21, first met Gucci. He spotted her from across the room wearing a bright red dress that showed off her curves. “Maurizio was crazy about her from the start,” Forden said. “I do believe that Patrizia fell in love with him as well, but I also think she was being groomed by her mother to get on the inside of this top tier society.” Gucci, who would one day inherit his father’s 50 percent stake in the company, was indeed top tier: “He was the eligible bachelor with the big name,” Forden added.
Their relationship quickly progressed, but Gucci’s father, Rodolfo, did not approve. He believed Reggiani was a social climber and demanded his son break things off. But the younger and usually much more timid Gucci stood his ground, and Rodolfo was left stupefied when the confrontation concluded with his son storming off to pack his bags. “Weeks before the wedding, Rodolfo went as far as trying to get the Cardinal to prohibit the nuptials,” Forden said.
Tension inside the couple began when Reggiani started to weigh in more on the family business. By this point, Gucci had inherited his father’s 50 percent stake and took over leadership of the company. “In the letters she wrote to me, Patrizia described how he gradually changed from being someone who looked to her for guidance to someone who wanted to have his own way and do his own thing,” Forden said. As Gucci became more annoyed with Reggiani’s attempts at influencing him, he started to push her away. “Patrizia thought he was getting a big ego,” said Forden. “He was a big guy now but not in the way she wanted him to be.”
Forden has tried to better understand Gucci’s side of things more recently. “He was finally starting to be his own person and was putting a lot of pressure on himself in regards to the company,” she said. “He really wanted to prove to both his late father and grandfather’s memories that he could lead the family firm—he wanted to be the one to do it. That made him less willing to take input from others, including Patrizia.”
In 1985, Gucci shut Reggiani out completely and walked out of the marriage. She was outraged at the separation, but there was more indignation in store once Gucci managed to push his uncle and cousins out of the company. “The money was just gushing out,” Forden said. “He dropped hundreds of thousands of lira on a boat and a luxury apartment in Milan, and was racking up all this debt.” Reggiani became afraid for her daughters’ futures, worrying that their inheritance would be gone. “She was terrified that there would be nothing left for them,” Forden said. “She often talked about putting them first.”
Of course, Reggiani herself was used to a very expensive lifestyle, and the prestige of being a Gucci—even as an estranged, and later ex-wife—was still crucial to her sense of self, Forden added. Reggiani felt that she needed to keep tabs on Gucci and had mutual friends report back to her about what he was up to. One such “spy” was the cook for Gucci’s new girlfriend, Paola Franchi. “They were all her eyes and ears,” Forden said.
Reggiani called on psychics for deeper insight. “She felt that there was nobody she could really talk to about her problems and it wasn’t uncommon in the fashion industry to consult psychics for guidance,” Forden said. “I recall interviewing a psychic that Maurizio would see. She was more like a therapist that he felt he could be completely open with.” Reggiani, on the other hand, asked the mediums to take on a more active role. “She would regularly have spells and things done against him in attempts to get him to come crawling back,” Forden said. “Maurizio was even convinced that she had put a hex on him.”
Reggiani’s attachment and animosity towards Gucci became all-consuming. “She began to record every contact she had with her ‘Mau’ as she still referred to him, in what would become an obsession,” Forden wrote in the book. A Neopolitan clairvoyant named Pina Auriemma (played by Salma Hayek in the film) became an influential person in her life. “Patrizia didn’t trust the Milanese social circle she was in and didn’t really feel like she could be herself with them,” Forden said. Auriemma was the only person with whom Reggiani could truly unburden herself. “When Patrizia was distraught enough to contemplate suicide after Gucci abandoned the marriage, it was Auriemma who talked her out of it,” she said.
In 1993, when Gucci was forced to surrender his own 50 percent stake in the company—ending the family’s affiliation with the fashion house once and for all—it was the latest blow in a line of disappointments Reggiani was already seething about. “It was a personal affront and the last straw,” Forden said.
Two years after the murder, the crime was connected back to Reggiani and she was taken into custody for having hired a hitman to kill her ex-husband. Auriemma, who was arrested as an accomplice, later confessed to having arranged for the assassin. “In the beginning, the investigating magistrate didn’t even consider Patrizia a suspect despite the fact that her phone was tapped and there was a recording of conversations with Pina,” Forden said. “The calls were cleverly disguised: they talked about the payoff money in code as if they were talking about meters of fabric for reupholstering curtains. It wasn’t until someone who knew one of the actual killers gave a tip to the police that they put the focus on Patrizia.”
Was Reggiani responsible for orchestrating the murder, or did Auriemma take matters into her own hands? It’s a question that is still reverberating in fashion circles the world over more than 25 years later. “I’ve asked myself this even recently and have talked to people about it,” Forden said. “Ultimately, I believe the judge in the case correctly convicted Patrizia of the murder, but I do believe that there was a big dose of Pina in there too.” Forden said Reggiani maintained her innocence. “Patrizia’s position at the time she was corresponding with me was that Pina took it upon herself to do the deed and then blackmailed her about it afterwards,” Forden said. Auriemma was convicted and given a slightly lesser sentence of 25 years in prison.
Reggiani’s defense lawyer, Giovanni Maria Dedola, said he would have liked a full confession from Reggiani at the time of the trial. “She was difficult to work with and had an inability to be critical of her actions,” he told me from his offices in Milan where he continues to practice criminal law. Dedola believed that Reggiani was mentally disturbed and if his request for a medical expert had been accepted, it would have been possible to get a lesser charge because of some extenuating circumstances. “I wish she would have had more trust in the psychiatric expertise,” he said.
In 1992, not long after her divorce from Gucci, Reggiani began suffering from debilitating headaches. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and underwent surgery to remove it—but the tumor turned out to be benign. Dedola consulted with a neuroscientist and professor at Yale University who believed that had Reggiani’s condition been correctly diagnosed and the surgery performed with the purpose of removing a benign tumor, her brain wouldn’t have been exposed to radiation, so it wouldn’t have damaged the frontal lobes—the parts of the brain that give the ability to reason and use judgement.
But this wasn’t her legal team’s only line of defense. “On the one hand, they were stating that Patrizia wasn’t fully cognizant because of the brain tumor operation,” Forden pointed out, “but at the same time they also had this other defense saying that even though she may have wanted Maurizio dead, that she was manipulated by Pina, who was the one who hired the hitman.”
A psychiatric evaluation of Reggiani, commissioned by the judge in the case, posited a different theory. “They did a detailed analysis of her personality and they basically said that she had a narcissistic personality disorder,” Forden said. “Patrizia had an exaggerated perspective and put herself at the center of things. She perceived things being done against her, so when Maurizio started to take, and then lose control of, the company, Patrizia felt like it was a slight against her personally. That was her personality and how she read things as happening in her world.” Forden said Reggiani was very lucid at trial and quick on her feet in response to questioning. “She danced around interrogations very well,” she said. “There were times where she even appeared to be sharper than the prosecutor.”
One thing Forden can personally attest to is that Reggiani is not someone who can be easily examined. “Before I sat down with Patrizia, I interviewed Maurizio during the period leading to his loss of the company in 1993,” she said. “It was Maurizio who got me into writing a book in the first place. But I found Patrizia to be much more complex, and I spent a lot of time trying to sort out all of the different facets to her personality.”
Reggiani declined an interview with ELLE.com, and Forden hasn’t heard from her since their correspondence more than two decades ago. For his part, Dedola says that he has only had two casual encounters with Reggiani on the street since her release from prison in 2016—11 years early—for good behavior. But there are indirect signs that Reggiani’s thought process is shifting. “I believe she is trying to make amends,” said Forden. She noted that in an Italian television interview two years ago, Reggiani said she used money she inherited from her mother to compensate Maurizio’s doorman, Giuseppe Onorato, who was shot in the arm during the attack, and she also gave some to Gucci’s partner Paola Franchi, who she had kicked out of Maurizio’s penthouse just after the murder. “She has said that she wants to do what is right,” Forden said. While the movie puts the focus on her past, Reggiani has her sights set on her second act.
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