Paola Franchi Denied False Claims Of Her Marriage With Maurizio Gucci

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Paola Franchi Denied False Claims Of Her Marriage With Maurizio Gucci: Patrizia Reggiani was working in Milan when a camera team from a trashy Italian TV show showed up unannounced two years ago, shortly after she was freed from prison.

Reggiani had just been released from prison after serving sixteen years for orchestrating the March 1995 murder of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, the last member of the Gucci family dynasty to head the luxury firm. The ex-socialite always claimed to be innocent, claiming that her best friend had set her up, but the TV crew caught her in a particularly carefree mood.

Paola Franchi Denied False Claims Of Her Marriage With Maurizio Gucci

What prompted you to hire a hitman to eliminate Maurizio Gucci, Patrizia? The reporter harassed the protagonist, asking why he didn’t just shoot the man himself.

“My eyesight is not very good,” she lobbed back. I was afraid of being late.

It’s no surprise that when I try to track her down, nobody in Reggiani’s inner circle is eager to have her get close to another journalist. I can’t find her. Alessandra Brunero, co-owner of Bozart, a Milanese costume jewelry manufacturer that has employed Reggiani as a “creative consultant” since April 2014, says that Reggiani is now out of the office due to a back injury.

Paola Franchi Denied False Claims About Her Marriage

Reggiani’s parole conditions included finding gainful employment after she was sentenced to 26 years on appeal. According to the Italian media, she rejected her initial offer of release in 2011 since the thought of working made her feel sick. She informed her lawyer, “I’ve never worked in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”

Bozart’s Renaissance-style decor, complete with dazzling necklaces and chandeliers, was certainly a good middle ground. Brunero and her husband, who is also her business partner, have taken on the job of de facto minders for 67-year-old Reggiani, making sure she remains in compliance with her parole and rebuilds her life without attracting attention.

Brunero, a fashionable middle-aged man, says, “Oh, mamma mia, it’s not simple.” It seems she has something important to say, so she invites me inside. As soon as that TV interview ended, I broke down in tears. She puts her head in her hands and cries, “It was horrible.” Obviously, Patrizia was only kidding…

Persuading Reggiani to keep a low profile was hopeless even before the impromptu “confession.” A giant pet macaw perched on her shoulder, she went shopping on Via Monte Napoleone, Milan’s Bond Street, as one of her first acts of freedom.

Astonished, the paparazzi tried to process their good fortune. Formerly recognized for her taste in Gucci fashion, “Lady Gucci” has returned.

The murder trial of 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci, who was shot dead one morning in the red-carpeted foyer of his office, riveted Italy in the late 1990s. That stuff was unbelievable for the turn of the century. Unlike in mob-ridden Naples, execution-style assassinations of the city’s glamorous elite were unheard of in chic Milan.

Reggiani was a prime suspect since she was known as the “Liz Taylor of premium labels” in the ’70s and ’80s. Following their breakup, she made explicit threats against Gucci’s life. The incident went unsolved for over two years because of a lack of evidence. In 1997, she was one of five people arrested thanks to a tip, including the alleged hitman.

Despite widespread acclaim, internal Gucci buzz wasn’t as high. A protracted period of feuding between Guccio Gucci’s descendants led to the company being taken out of the family’s hands. Grandson of Guccio and CEO since 1992, Maurizio was compelled to sell his share of the company 18 months before his death.

The investing firm Investcorp of Bahrain acquired full control. In the mid-1990s, under the leadership of new boss, Domenico De Sole and edgy young designer Tom Ford, the brand’s image was thrillingly revitalized, coinciding with the murder.

“The last thing Gucci wanted was a disgusting controversy,” says Giusi Ferrè, a seasoned fashion writer and cultural critic based in Milan with distinctive spiky orange hair. “They wanted everyone to disregard the whole incident, and the firm sought to ignore it.” The success of the label over the previous two decades has made the murder seem like ancient history.

Right now, Gucci is riding high. Alessandro Michele, the brand’s new androgynous creative director, showcased his newest collection at Westminster Abbey, the most revered fashion venue in the world. Sales have skyrocketed. And yet, the forgetfulness is peculiar, given that the narrative includes everything: glitz, avarice, sex, murder, treachery, and a seething fear of falling from grace.

The fact that a label like Gucci can command such attention says more about its timeless allure than any amount of money ever could.

After Reggiani’s arrest, the media began referring to her as Vedova Nera, or the Black Widow, and spreading cliches about her possible motivations. She was angry, spiteful, and jealous of Maurizio’s girlfriend, as well as his wealth, his neglect, and his absence. There may have been some truth to some of these, but there was also likely something more.

According to Ferrè, “Reggiani’s entire identity was rooted in his status as a Gucci.” Even as a former spouse, it constituted her entire sense of self. She couldn’t believe Maurizio had sold them out. Reggiani was still holding on even after being released from jail.

In 2014, she said to La Repubblica that she was once again accepting job offers and was eager to rejoin the organization. She affirmed, “They need me.” As the old adage goes, “I still feel like a Gucci — in fact, the most Gucci of them all.”

A week later, the Bozart owners give in and invite me to their headquarters to see Reggiani. In their formal living room, she walks in wearing a cute little flowery dress. She stands at only about 5 feet tall, but her massive mane of reddish-brown hair and bare feet in high heels make her appear taller.

To break the ice, I comment, “That’s a gorgeous dress.” To wit: “It’s Zara. She answers with a scowl, “I don’t earn enough at this location to buy good clothes,” referring to the constant presence of her bosses.

I ask her about her time spent in Milan’s San Vittore jail as we relax on identical white sofas with espressos and iced water. She speaks English with a thick British accent that she acquired throughout her time on the road. “I think I am a very strong person since I survived all these years in captivity,” she says.

I did a lot of sleep. I watered and tended to my plants. My pet ferret, Bambi, had me as a caregiver. She explains that her lawyer was able to secure Bambi as a special privilege for her, but that the animal tragically perished when another inmate sat on him.

The moment she mentions the present, she seems eager to shift the conversation elsewhere. “I feel like I’m in a nightmare.” Reggiani avoids direct confession by calling her detention “my stay at Vittore Residence” instead of “jail.”

When we start talking about the past, she seems to loosen up a bit more. She was born to a waitress and a considerably older man who got rich in trucking in a little town outside of Milan.

Though they had a lot of money, they weren’t considered to be part of Milan’s elite. As a young lady, she developed a taste for the finer things in life—her father showered her with mink coats and fast cars—and she joined the exclusive social scene.

The night I met Maurizio, he was already head over heels in love with me. So I was interesting and unique,” says Reggiani. Since the Guccis were originally from Florence, Maurizio too felt like an outsider there. For a while, I had low expectations for him. He was a shy kid with crooked front teeth. There were other suitors for Reggiani, but the young Gucci pursued her with all his resources.

In 1972, when they were both about 24 years old, they tied the knot. However, Gucci’s father Rodolfo, one of Guccio Gucci’s sons, was not pleased with the union because he did not approve of Reggiani’s upbringing or, more likely, her assertive nature. Maurizio’s mother passed away when he was five, and his father was a helicopter parent from then on.

It was clear that Maurizio was comfortable around me. “We were a fun, cohesive unit,” says Reggiani. Having seen that she “really loved Maurizio,” Rodolfo mellowed after the birth of their daughter Alessandra.

The older Gucci provided the couple with a comfortable lifestyle by purchasing a number of properties, including a lavish apartment in New York’s Olympic Tower.

They were among the first celebrity couples to have their own chauffeur-driven car, which they used to cruise around Manhattan with the personalized license plate “Mauizia.” When the entire Kennedy family was in town, they spent time with Jackie Onassis and the children.

“We were a beautiful pair and we had a beautiful life, of course,” adds Reggiani, flinging her hands in the air and leaving them there for a moment. “It hurts even now to remember this.” Remembering the extravagant color-themed parties she threw in the early 1980s—”one was all orange and yellow, including the food”—and the trips to private islands on their 64-meter wooden yacht, the Creole, which Maurizio bought to celebrate the birth of their second daughter, Allegra, make her smile.

The couple’s two daughters continue to own and sail the boat, which is now worth millions. They also had a farm in Connecticut, a vacation property in Acapulco, and a ski chalet in Saint Moritz.

According to Reggiani, everything went downhill after Rodolfo’s death in 1983, when Maurizio inherited his father’s 50% ownership in Gucci. A mad Maurizio: Before that, I was his go-to expert on anything Gucci-related. But in his pursuit of excellence, he stopped taking my advice.

Over-licensing of the label’s iconic double-G emblem and the factory manufacture of cheap canvas bags have damaged Gucci’s reputation. Using the same high standards of craftsmanship on which the company was founded, Maurizio intended to return it to its former grandeur.

For years, he feuded with his uncle and cousins, who held the other half of the business until he finally plotted to buy them out with the help of Investcorp.

Along the process, the couple’s marriage began to fall apart. Apparently fed up with Reggiani’s “meddling,” Maurizio went for the night with an overnight bag one evening. Meanwhile, under his leadership, the corporation lost millions of dollars.

At least Reggiani was correct in his assessment that Maurizio was inefficiently running the company and thus not generating enough money to carry out his ambitious plans. When his own wealth began to dwindle, he sold Gucci to Investcorp for $120 million in 1993.

According to Reggiani, “I was unhappy with Maurizio over many, many things.” To top it all off though, this. Having the family business go under. That was just a dumb thing to do.

There was no success. I wanted to do something, anything, to show my anger, but I couldn’t. She shifts her head and speaks much more softly, making it difficult for me to hear her. “He had no right to treat me that way.”

At 8:30 on the morning of March 27, 1995, Giuseppe Onorato could be seen brushing leaves from within the arched entryway of Via Palestro 20, the elegant structure that housed Maurizio Gucci’s private office.

Onorato, now 71 years old, the previous building doorman, recalls, “It was a nice spring morning, quite quiet.” Mr. Gucci strolled in with his morning publications and a pleasant greeting. Soon after, I noticed a hand. A clean, attractive hand pointed a gun at me.

Three shots hit Gucci in the back as he climbed the stairs, and a fourth hit him in the head before he collapsed. When I first heard it, I thought someone was making a joke. The gunman finally noticed me. He reloaded the gun and fired it twice more. Ugh, I thought, that’s too bad. “This is my death,” he said.

Despite being wounded twice in the arm, Onorato managed to make it to the foyer’s steps, where he was sitting in a pool of blood when the carabinieri arrived. I was holding Mr. Gucci’s head gently in my arms. He passed away in my arms,” the former doorman recalls.

Onorato, calling from his vacation home in Sardinia, seems shocked to this day that he is still alive. The stabbing pains in my left arm continue, but I’ve been grateful for another day of life for the past 21 years. Following the shooting, the suspect disappeared into the Monday morning Milan traffic. The doorman had a tough time dealing with the fallout.

As the only eyewitness, Onorato was frightened that the murderer would strike again. I had to go back to work at number 20 on Via Palestro since I was a poor man. I’d have a panic attack whenever a stranger with a hostile expression got close.

Reggiani was fined the equivalent of almost $190,000 after she was found guilty of damaging Onorato’s reputation. He claims he hasn’t gotten any of it yet. Reggiani’s daughters, who are now in their late 30s and have always stuck by their mother (at least publicly), directly inherited Maurizio Gucci’s millions, as well as the yacht and houses in New York, Saint Moritz, and Milan. Reggiani claimed bankruptcy or nullatenente (Italian for “one who has nothing”) status.

Onorato insists he is not bitter, but he does question if a wealthy person would have been accorded greater respect had they been injured in the same doorway as he was. Indeed, he makes a valid case.

When Gucci’s attorneys offered Reggiani a divorce settlement of £2.5 million plus £650,000 per year, she rejected it as “a little bowl of lentils” and went on to negotiate a much greater payout.

The murder affected more than just Onorato’s life. A 61-year-old woman named Paola Franchi was Gucci’s live-in girlfriend for the last five years of his life. They lived together in a lavish apartment on the central street of Corso Venezia and were engaged to be married.

Paola Franchi’s son Charly was 11 at the time. Paola Franchi, who like Reggiani is tall and blonde, was widely characterized as a gorgeous gold digger in media coverage of the trial.

Paola Franchi adds, “Oh, they always go for these foolish sorts.” In reality, my ex-husband, whom I left for Maurizio, was even wealthier.

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Paola Franchi, a former interior designer turned artist, divides his time between his home in a Milanese porcelain factory and Kenya. Her house is crammed to the gills with art, books, and trinkets from faraway lands. She has an unexpected levity about her since she is gregarious and ready to laugh.

Reggiani’s pressure on her hired assassins to kill Paola Franchi and Gucci before their wedding was revealed during the trial. Former best friend and admitted hit-woman arranger Pina Auriemma testified that Reggiani was distraught at the prospect of another woman becoming Mrs. Maurizio Gucci and inheriting the wealth, prestige, and power that she “had earned.”

She was worried that if the couple had kids, her daughters might not receive any of their inheritance. Patrizia “was stalking us,” as Paola Franchi puts it. She still had spies embedded within Maurizio’s inner circle, and she was well apprised of our schemes and his commercial operations. She called him repeatedly to verbally abuse him and make death threats.

If Gucci didn’t pick up when Reggiani called, she’d record rants about how he was “a monster” for ignoring her and their girls and how “the inferno for you is still to come,” which she’d play in court.

Paola Franchi said, “I implored him to get a bodyguard, but he refused. With their daughters there, he didn’t think Patrizia would actually carry out her threat.

During their formative years, Gucci and Paola Franchi briefly crossed paths on the party circuit frequented by Euro-rich kids. As fate would have it, they ran across each other again after their respective marriages had ended badly. We were both smitten at first sight. Paola Franchi sobs, “Maurizio always told me that we were like two sides of the same apple.”

Reggiani served her with an eviction notice the day after the murder, ordering her to leave the luxurious apartment she and Gucci had shared.

When Paola Franchi looked at the notarized timestamp, he saw that the documents had been drafted at 11 a.m. the day before, less than three hours after Maurizio had passed away. There was no such thing as legal protection for cohabiting spouses back then. After that, Charly and I were gone.

“To establish a different future,” as Paola Franchi puts it, was something that Paola Franchi progressively set out to do. However, another tragedy struck her family five years later. Her 16-year-old son, Charly, committed suicide while spending the holidays with his dad.

“It came out of the blue,” she exclaims. His family said, “He shone brightly; he was a loved and cherished little boy. We attribute it to a brief episode of teenage hysteria. Paola Franchi claims the images of her late husband Maurizio and her late daughter Charly have been removed so that she can focus on her sorrow. I enjoy being in the company of their smiling smiles and exchanging greetings.

When Charly died, I was filled with hatred for over a year, but eventually, I was able to move on with my life. For someone like myself, stagnation isn’t an option. She claims she expressed herself through writing and art, and she is also involved with L’Amico Charly, a charity for depressed and suicidal young people that was founded in memory of the couple’s son.

Paola Franchi’s departure from the Corso Venezia apartment allowed Reggiani to relocate there with her daughters. She stayed there in comfort for two years until one of her conspirators made a misguided brag about the murder.

A guy tipped off the police, who then set up a sting operation to record conversations between Reggiani and her five monetary accomplices (her friend Pina Auriemma, Auriemma’s acquaintance who arranged up the hitman, the hitman, and the getaway driver).

That goal was met with success. The Greek term for paradise, “paradises,” was written in Reggiani’s Cartier notebook on the day Gucci died. This was one among the many pieces of evidence discovered in her home.

Reggiani testified that she had paid Auriemma about £200,000, but denied it was for the murder. She claimed that Auriemma had organized the hit herself and was threatening to accuse her if she didn’t pay. “But it was worth every lire,” Reggiani said befuddled, still unable to stop herself. The five suspects in the murder plan were all determined to be responsible.

Paola Franchi Denied False Claims Of Her Marriage With Maurizio Gucci
Paola Franchi Denied False Claims Of Her Marriage With Maurizio Gucci

On the day of the decision, Italian media stated that Gucci stores around the country hung silver handcuffs in their windows, despite the company’s alleged apathy to the controversy.

Brunero’s spouse and business partner, Maurizio Manca, shows me around Reggiani’s new office space at Bozart. It almost seems ideal for her, but not quite. The luxury brand’s jewelry is meant to draw attention to itself by being large and elaborate.

The 60-year-old corporation enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s, when “there was corruption everywhere and the money was pouring,” as Manca, dressed in all black, freely admits. Even better, Bozart supplied all the dazzle worn by Linda Evans’s character Krystle Carrington on the set of Dynasty, which has been worn by stars like Madonna and Pamela Anderson.

Reggiani spends most of her time at work providing guidance to Bozart’s design staff and perusing fashion publications. Manca compares her to Michael Schumacher, saying, “She’s like our Michael Schumacher — she stays on top of trends and test-drives our creations.”

“Senna is the driver I root for. Reggiani exclaims as she leaves her photo session with the Observer photographer, “He has much more class.” After a moment of silence during which everyone recalls the tragic endings for both drivers, the comparison is quickly abandoned.

Though Reggiani claims to appreciate her employment, she has struggled with the complexities of the 21st-century office. “Computers aren’t my thing. That group is seriously bad news. Defending herself, Manca says that fax machines were state-of-the-art even after she went to jail.

He continues, though, saying that after she irretrievably erased Bozart’s entire photo archive, they had to disconnect her computer from the company’s internal network.

Although it is never stated explicitly, it is evident that one of the main motivations for taking on Reggiani was to increase exposure and revive the firm’s aura of showy danger. If that’s the case, it hasn’t been easy thus far. When Reggiani initially came, she collaborated on a line of jewelry and evening bags in rainbow hues inspired by her pet parrot, Bo.

Bozart introduced its new line to the fashion world in September 2014 in Milan. Manca claims that “everyone arrived” and the event was a smashing success. However, the runway event was held on the same day as the Gucci runway showed up on the street. No mention of Patrizia’s collection appeared in the papers the following day.

According to Manca, the reporters later revealed that “someone at Gucci” had pressured them to keep the story under wraps. An Italian fashion journalist friend of his afterward expressed skepticism about his assertion, which Gucci had refused to confirm or refute. He speculates that the parrot designs were met with disapproval from the fashion establishment.

Nevertheless, both Manca and Brunero seem rather fond of their worker. Reggiani’s facade of confidence begins to crumble as the afternoon wears on. She describes how she and her mother, who is 89 but in good health, share a home in Milan since the court ordered it.

My mother is incredibly demanding, and there are times when I wish I were back in Vittore Residence. She gives me daily unwarranted criticism. Both of Reggiani’s daughters, Alessandra (18) and Allegra (14), are now married and living in Switzerland.

Their father’s fortune has made them unimaginably wealthy, so they haven’t made many trips to see Reggiani since she was set free.

Almost like a plot from a Greek tragedy. “We are going through a tough situation today,” Reggiani says. They don’t get me, therefore they cut off my funding. Nothing has come my way, and I haven’t even had the pleasure of meeting my two grandchildren. She is unsure of what will happen after her parole expires in a few months.

She may stay on at Bozart, and once she’s able to leave the country again, she plans to do some traveling. Although she hasn’t fully moved on from the past, she no longer looks interested in working for Gucci. To put it simply, “Maurizio is the most important person in my life, and if I could see him again, I would tell him that I love him.”

I try to get her to sound more realistic by asking her what she thinks he would say to her in response. “If I had to guess, I’d say he’d say it wasn’t a mutual feeling.”