In her first major role since A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga is set to play Patrizia ‘Black Widow’ Reggiani - the infamous ex-wife of a Gucci heir, convicted of hiring a hitman to kill him - and here’s why you’ll be hooked on a murder trial that gripped a nation…
Words Michelle Davies
Long before the Kimyes of this world existed there was Mauizia, the self-titled first power couple of Italian fashion. He was the handsome but shy Maurizio Gucci, heir to the Florence-based eponymous fashion label, and she was Patrizia Reggiani, a Milan society favourite known for her innate sense of style. They met at a party in Milan and instantly fell in love. For Maurizio the relationship offered the opportunity to escape his family’s shadow. ‘Maurizio felt free with me,’ Reggiani remarked. ‘We had fun, we were a team.’
Married in 1973 when they were both 24, Maurizio and Reggiani quickly became the couple to top everyone’s guest list. ‘We were a beautiful couple and we had a beautiful life, of course,’ she bragged. That included homes in St Moritz, Manhattan, Acapulco and Connecticut, a best friend in Jackie Onassis Kennedy, and a chauffeur-driven car with a ‘Mauizia’ registration plate.
Yet the fairytale wasn’t to last. In March 1995, Maurizio, then 46, was shot dead by a mystery gunman on the steps of his office building in Milan – and it emerged Reggiani was the one who had ordered the hit. Now director Ridley Scott is bringing the couple’s fascinating tale of fashion, murder and intrigue to cinemas, with Lady Gaga slated to star as Reggiani in her first dramatic role since her Oscar-nominated turn in A Star Is Born. The film, which doesn’t have a release date yet, will be adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s book, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, which details events leading up to the headline-grabbing trial.
It’s a gift of a role for Gaga, 33. Nicknamed Black Widow (Vedova Nera) by the Italian media, Reggiani was one of fashion’s most flamboyant characters in her heyday, known for her prolific spending habits – she would splash out thousands on orchids and throw colour-themed parties at a whim – and for making outlandish statements such as ‘I would rather be sad in a Rolls Royce than happy on a bicycle’. In fashion circles she became known as ‘Lady Gucci’.
Ten years after they married, Maurizio inherited a 50% stake in the fashion house founded by his grandfather, Guccio Gucci, and subsequently forced out other family members to take over the company entirely. Reggiani declared herself his consultant – ‘I was his chief advisor about all Gucci matters’ – but increasingly he refused to listen to her advice. Then, in May 1985, after 12 years of marriage, Maurizio suddenly left. He told Reggiani he was going on a short business trip, taking only an overnight bag with him, but never came home. It emerged he was having an affair with a younger woman, Paola Franchi, and Reggiani, with whom he had two daughters, Alessandra and Allegra, was devastated and furious.
Their divorce was finalised in 1991, but around the same time Maurizio’s business interests had begun to implode. Lacking the necessary skills to run such a vast and prestigious fashion brand, Gucci lost tens of millions under his control and in 1993 he sold his shares to a Bahrain-based investment group for £132 million. Under the creative direction of designer Tom Ford, Gucci went on to become the global conglomerate worth billons we know today.
After selling his shares, Maurizio was living with Franchi and her son, Charly, in a luxury apartment in Milan and they planned to marry – which prosecutors later said in court was the tipping point for jealous Reggiani, because she feared her daughters would no longer stand to inherit their father’s wealth in the event of a second marriage and, more importantly, her status in Italian society would be diminished if another woman became Mrs Maurizio Gucci. She also described the divorce settlement he’d offered her as being as worthless as ‘a plate of lentils’.
At 8.30am on 27 March 1995, Maurizio, then 46, was shot three times in the back and once in the head as he walked up the steps outside Via Palestro 20, a building in Milan where he had a private office. A doorman rushed to his aid but the gunman escaped.
Within three hours of the killing, Reggiani shockingly issued Franchi with an eviction notice to leave the luxurious Cros Venezia apartment she and Maurizio shared; because they’d never married, under Italian law every penny of his fortune would go to his teenage daughters. Reggiani then moved herself and the girls into the apartment.
Immediately she was a suspect in the killing but it was a further two years before there was evidence to prove her involvement – and that only happened because one of her associates involved in the assassination bragged to a third party and they tipped off the police. Officers were then able to wiretap a conversation of Reggiani discussing the murder with the three people she paid to organise it: a debt-ridden pizzeria owner who acted as the hitman; her personal psychic Pina Auriemma, who hired him on Reggiani’s behalf; and the getaway driver, a gambling addict and small-time mobster.
Reggiani’s trial in 1998 was naturally a fashion spectacle. Every day she arrived in court dressed head-to-toe in Gucci, accessories included, and when she was found guilty and sentenced to 29 years in prison, Gucci stores across Italy reportedly displayed Tom Ford-designed silver handcuffs in their windows. Refusing to admit her guilt, Reggiani argued that she couldn’t possibly have orchestrated such a heinous crime because at the time she had been recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumour, and the £240,000 she was found to have paid Auriemma was simply her trying to stop her friend framing her for the murder she in fact had organised herself. Then she couldn’t help herself, blurting out to the court, ‘It was worth every lira.’ The comment incriminated her as much as a line she wrote in her diary before the murder: ‘There is no crime that money can’t buy.’
Her sentence was reduced to 26 years on appeal and she served 18 in total. Reggiani’s incarceration did nothing to dampen her extravagant tendencies – one of her first acts of freedom on being released in October 2016 was to go shopping on Milan’s answer to Bond Street, Via Monte Napoleone, dressed to the nines with her pet macaw, Boh, on her shoulder. (Her previous pet, a ferret called Bambi, had been given special dispensation to stay with her in prison but unfortunately died when another inmate sat on him.) When a reporter confronted her in the street and asked why she paid someone to shoot her husband and didn’t do it herself, she’d quipped: ‘My eyesight is not so good. I didn’t want to miss.’
In a sensational twist to the tale, in 2017 Reggiani was awarded an annuity of £900,000 and a backdated payment of £16million from her ex-husband’s estate thanks to a document he signed two years before his death promising her the allowance. She was forced to go to court after their daughters, who now control his estate, withheld the payments. Despite Reggiani saying ‘their love for me never stopped’ while she was jailed, they became estranged and a year before her court action she admitted she had never met her grandchildren.
Now 70, she has yet to comment on Lady Gaga’s casting, but one can imagine her satisfaction at being played by a performer whose flair for the dramatic matches her own. She now lives in a townhouse in Milan where immediately after her release she worked as a style consultant for jeweller Bozart, earning €600 a month, as a condition of her parole. But her real ambition remains to work for Gucci again. ‘I still feel like a Gucci,’ she said. ‘The most Gucci of all.’