Even before it became a buzzy Ridley Scott production starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, the Gucci family story was the stuff of Hollywood. The brand’s founder—the flamboyantly named Guccio Gucci—built his empire in Florence with luggage, inspired by a period working at London’s Savoy Hotel as a bellhop. He raised several sons, who competed throughout adulthood with a ferocity that would raise eyebrows in the Succession writers room. But it was one of Gucci’s grandsons, the mild-mannered Maurizio, who somehow ended up in the eye of this dynastic storm. He fell in love with a beautiful if ostentatious Elizabeth Taylor lookalike, named Patrizia Reggiani, who was conveniently on a mission to marry Italian royalty. With his father’s encouragement, Maurizio began plotting his own domination of the company—outdoing even the ambitions of his Uncle Aldo, the company’s blustery de facto heir apparent, who helped make Gucci part of the Wall Street uniform and was eventually jailed for tax evasion in the United States. Maurizio had plans to make Gucci the most modern luxury business in the world. But instead, his plotting ended with him losing the whole company—and several of the figures Maurizio installed, along with Gucci’s new owners, took over the business and made it one of the 1990s’ most successful fashion comeback stories.
And then one morning a few years later, as Maurizio walked into his post-Gucci office, he was murdered in broad daylight. And it appeared that Patrizia—by that time his ex-wife—hired the hit man who did it.
Of course it would make an awesome movie—and, indeed, it quickly made for a great book. “I think this was a story where life is stranger than fiction,” said Sara Gay Forden, whose 2001 The House of Gucci is the basis for the film, in a recent phone interview. “And I often thought if I had tried to write a novel and put all these elements in, nobody would have found it believable.” Her WWD coverage of Gucci’s troubled turnaround in the 1980s, under Maurizio, was the genesis of the project. “The story was just so sad. The company was going down, and Maurizio was forced out, and then he was murdered. And it was this story of angst and tragedy,” she said. “But it wasn’t until Tom Ford took off, and he had his wild collection in 1995, and then the company came back with a vengeance” that she saw the story as a book. “It was like this rise and fall, and the rise again.”
The House of Gucci covers a time before luxury conglomerates, when many fashion companies were still family businesses. Forden compares the Gucci family to the Rockefellers or the Kennedys, one of those clans who “have that blend of family mystique and business.” Gucci was not yet a part of PPR, which was renamed Kering in 2013 and now includes Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and Bottega Veneta. Indeed, what Maurizio was attempting to do with Gucci—install a designer who would allow Gucci to compete with Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace, but with the elevated pricepoint and exclusivity of Hermes—is in essence what would eventually happen once he was removed. Domenico De Sole, who joined Gucci in the 1980s, took the reins after Maurizio and oversaw Gucci’s revival as a sex-driven brand with major red carpet appeal under Tom Ford. Forden’s book focuses for the most part on Maurizio’s failed turnaround attempt and eventual exit; you’ll spend much of the 300-plus pages wondering if Lady Gaga will have enough to do in the big-screen adaptation. But when Reggiani appears, she dominates. Though devoted to “her Mau,” as she calls Maurizio, she is an almost destructively glamorous presence. Forden corresponded with Reggiani while she was in prison, where she wrote about “how she first met her Mau and how she did love him, but she also thought he was weak,” Forden says. After she was released, in 2014, she was occasionally seen shopping in Milan with a parrot on her shoulder. “I think I am a very strong person because I survived all these years in captivity,” she told the Guardian in 2016 of her time served.
Fashion companies, ever protective of their image, are usually wary about projects like Forden’s—you can count on one hand the number of dishy fashion projects conducted with the participation of their subjects. (There was much ado about whether Donatella Versace endorsed Ryan Murphy’s 2018 American Crime Story focused on her brother’s murder, for example. The family eventually said shortly before the show’s release that it was unauthorized and should therefore be considered a work of fiction, though Donatella gave her friend Penelope Cruz her blessing to portray her.) Gucci kept what Forden called “a respectful distance” from the project. While she interviewed former staffers, she explained, the brand was eager to move past the scandals and tragedy that had defined the company in the ’80s and early ’90s. The book—plus the film adaptation opportunities that immediately followed—raised their suspicions, but ultimately provided a means for the brand to move past its rocky history. She noted that she once saw a stack of the books in the Gucci press office.
Forden describes the family’s reaction to the book as “mixed, but honest.”
“I think that they appreciated the context and the history,” she said. “You know, how their family came to create this brand, which is now in its third renaissance in a hundred years.”
(Reggiani, too, seems to be miffed. Gaga has not met her—“The producers were very aware of not wanting to endorse or support the awful crime that Patrizia carried out,” a source told the Mirror back in March—which Reggiani perceived as a snub. “It is a question of good sense and respect,” she said in early March.)
But the house of Gucci—the brand itself—is offering something more like cooperation. Earlier this year, CEO Marco Bizarri told WWD that the company had made its archives available to the production; in a statement, the brand told GQ that “Gucci is collaborating with MGM and Scott Free Productions by providing access to the House’s historical archive for wardrobe and props and allowing for the filming of a scene at its Rome, Via Condotti flagship store.” Salma Hayek, who has been married to Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault since 2009, is also starring in the film a clairvoyant friend of Reggiani, suggesting a more overt corporate approval of the film. It is, after all, the brand’s 100th birthday this year. Wouldn’t a 1980s-themed collection—modeled by Lady Gaga—make a nice celebratory note?
Conveniently, the film, which began production in late February, is slated to come out in November of 2021, with just enough time left to mark that anniversary. And production is moving along, if the pace at which Lady Gaga seems to change outfits is any indication—in fact, it was announced that filming wrapped this week. (As we learned with A Star Is Born, Gaga cannily builds a narrative around her films.)
The family was less pleased when it became apparent the book was juicy cinematic material. Shortly after Forden published the book, Martin Scorsese expressed interest in making an adaptation, and the family immediately expressed objections, the New York Post reported at the time. More recently, the family spoke out against Scott’s production and the paparazzi images flooding the internet. “We are truly disappointed,” Patrizia Gucci, a second cousin to Maurizio, told the AP last month. “I speak on behalf of the family. They are stealing the identity of a family to make a profit, to increase the income of the Hollywood system.”
More specifically, the family seems concerned about the film’s focus on Reggiani, but also the casting choices. “My grandfather was a very handsome man, like all the Guccis, and very tall, blue eyes and very elegant,” Patrizia Gucci said to the AP. “He is being played by Al Pacino, who is not very tall already, and this photo shows him as fat, short, with sideburns, really ugly. Shameful, because he doesn’t resemble him at all.”
In March, an Italian photographer who has sold several images of the filmmaking told me by email that while film crews typically try to keep paparazzi away, this crew has not been “particularly ‘severe’” about the presence of photographers. Moreover, he explained that Scott has shot on location in several areas in Rome, like Piazza di Spagna and Via Condotti, which are almost impossible to fully close to the public. The photographer said the images aren’t commanding a much higher price than usual, “but hope is the last to die,” and added, “The interest of this set undoubtedly is the big cast, Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino….” In other words, major American movie stars, one of our country’s greatest exports. Like Gucci, the film knows exactly what it’s selling.