What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in House of Gucci?

Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, an Italian fashion family epic, creates a wild soap opera from the tempestuous romance between fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his power-hungry bride, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). Based on the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden, the film covers 25 years in the couple’s life. We witness their first meeting and the moment when Maurizio’s skeptical father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) disowns him for marrying her. We see the dynasty-splitting spats between Maurizio’s free-spending uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) and his offish cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) and, finally, Maurizio’s own bloody downfall.

Scott adorns the Machiavellian world of the Guccis with lavish gowns, glittering jewelry, and comical accents. A television psychic by the name of Pina (Salma Hayek) plays a significant role. A fashion show gets raided. Maurizio escapes across the Swiss border on a motorcycle. Patrizia morphs from a (affectionate?) stalker into a crazed, bloodthirsty killer.

It’s a melodramatic tale about a family known for self-mythologizing; the Guccis kept the brand’s true origins secret for decades. With such a peculiar cast of characters, to what degree is the film’s story true? Using Forden’s book as a guide, along with an interview with the film’s screenwriter Roberto Bentivegna, here we’ll break down what is fact and fiction in House of Gucci.

Aldo worked early on to spread the legend of the Guccis as noble saddlemakers. In actuality, the company was founded by Guccio Gucci, Maurizio’s grandfather. Once a bellboy at the Savoy Hotel in London, Guccio was inspired by the luxurious luggage of the upper-class guests to craft his own leather bags. In 1921, he moved to Florence to start a small leather company. The business’ original emblem was a bellboy carrying luggage under one arm and a traveling bag under the other. As the company’s success grew, he eventually opened a store in Rome for his sons Rodolfo, Aldo, and Vasco to run. And he began to rebrand, changing the Gucci logo to a knight and leaving the family’s modest origins behind.

The real-life Maurizio did meet Patrizia by chance at a swinging disco birthday party thrown by his friend Vittoria Orlando on November 23, 1970. Maurizio was 22; Patrizia was 21. In House of Gucci, Patrizia comically mistakes the fashion heir for a bartender, exposing her lack of sophistication and ignorance of Italy’s elite. According to Forden’s book, however, their first meeting happened very differently. Patrizia instantly recognized Maurizio. She was also friends with Orlando, who had described the Gucci successor to her the previous night. Maurizio made the first move after exclaiming to a friend that Patrizia looked like Elizabeth Taylor. A love affair ensued.

No. In the movie, after the party, Patrizia stalks Maurizio, pretending to serendipitously bump into him at his law-school library. These scenes depict Patrizia as an out-of-her-depth gold digger; she tries to make small talk with Maurizio but struggles to keep up when the conversation veers to something academic (you almost wonder what they ever talked about). The fashion heir, nevertheless, finds her attractive. Before he can leave her sights, Patrizia scrawls her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of his Vespa. It’s forward of her, yet somehow touching. It unfortunately, however, did not happen.

Yes. Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo, never trusted Patrizia. In House of Gucci, Jeremy Irons-as-Rodolfo growls in a low voice, “I am told she is vulgar and ambitious, a social climber who has nothing in mind but money.” Those sentiments matched the real-life Gucci head’s, causing a rift between father and son. After Rodolfo disinherited Maurizio, the son packed his bags, eventually going to work for Patrizia’s father’s trucking company.

Paolo’s catchphrase in the movie, used to express any dissatisfaction and uttered like a light tap to the gut, is a short “Boof!” There’s no indication Paolo ever used the phrase. Rather, it’s a very good invention by Leto and will probably become a mainstay pop-culture reference.

Scott makes Paolo’s fashion taste a running joke. Both Rodolfo and Aldo consider the younger Gucci’s designs — which favor pastels on browns, among other bold combinations — to be crass, cheap, and aesthetically displeasing. But in real life, per Forden’s book, Paolo’s sportswear collection was met with success. The younger Gucci wanted to create a line of cheaper products for a younger, hipper clientele. His vision led to creative differences with his family. In 1980, Aldo dismissed him from the company. Paolo then attempted to create his own fashion line using the Gucci name, spiraling the family into a decade of legal disputes. Despite the film’s lampooning, Paolo did help create Gucci’s signature double-G logo, his longest-lasting and best-known contribution to the brand.

Yes, much to Paolo’s heartbreak. In the film, pushed by a manipulative Patrizia, Maurizio makes a pact with Paolo: If his cousin throws in his support, the pair will push Aldo out of the company and take over Gucci under the name Gucci Licensing Services. In return, Maurizio promises to support Paolo’s designs. After successfully extricating his father (Aldo), Paolo announces a fashion show in which his partner, Jennifer Pudfoot, gives an operatic performance. But Maurizio double-crosses an Paolo and arranges for police to shut the show down midway through for breach of contract. Scott plays the moment as the ultimate betrayal. But that’s not quite how the bad-faith dealing went down in real life.

Maurizio actually dissolved his partnership with Paolo before a 1986 board meeting, leading his cousin to launch a new line of handbags and other designs under his PG label. At a March 1986 launch party in Rome, judicial police burst in to commandeer the collection, sending guests fleeing with Champagne glasses still in hand. There’s no indication that Pudfoot performed at the event. But Paolo did suspect it was Maurizio who had called the authorities on him.

In House of Gucci, Patrizia and Maurizio goad a susceptible Paolo into betraying his father, and Paolo hands over evidence to the IRS concerning the company’s shady dealings. But in reality, Paolo wasn’t manipulated into doing it. He had long wondered aloud how Gucci was making record profits but had so little in its coffers. He often demanded to see more of the company’s financial information. Tipping off the IRS was just the latest cannonball in a salvo of legal disputes within the family.

Yes. In 1987, Italian financial police came to apprehend Maurizio after Paolo accused him of illegal business dealings. Seeing authorities at his doorstep, the head of Gucci boarded his red Kawasaki GPZ and sped away from his Milan home to his Swiss residence in Saint Moritz. He successfully crossed the border with his helmet on for fear of being identified.

One of the more haunting scenes in Scott’s epic involves Patrizia calling the psychic hotline of a television personality named Pina. With Patrizia’s voice echoing back from the TV, she and Pina seem to share a telepathic connection. The pair, however, didn’t first meet through a hotline phone call. Per Forden, Patrizia and Maurizio first met the Neopolitian-native Pina at a health spa in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. The two women formed a quick bond; Patrizia often turned to psychics for guidance. At one point, Pina was so trusted she owned a Gucci-franchise store.

A desperate Patrizia asks Pina to find out if Maurizio is with another woman. Pina receives a vision of the Gucci heir with his lover, Paola Franchi, causing Patrizia to spiral into grief. In an interview with Vulture, Bentivegna revealed that he invented the revelatory scene. “I liked the idea that maybe she is a fraud, except for that one time when Maurizio’s shagging the femme fatale, Franchi, and Pina gets a real message, a real psychic connection,” he told us.

Rodolfo’s death from pancreatic cancer caused great upheaval at Gucci. Maurizio tried consolidating power with the help of Investcorp, which provided the equity Maurizio lacked by freezing out his uncle Aldo. Maurizio would win the battle against his uncle, briefly controlling Gucci. But he ultimately lost the war. By 1993, the family’s attorney and the CEO of Gucci America, Domenico De Sole, had sided with Investcorp, forcing out Maurizio. The final hour of House of Gucci covers his fall and his divorce from Patrizia.

As a show of trust, Maurizio gifts the head of Investcorp a rare pair of Gucci shoes, originally designed for Clark Gable. In a later meeting between Aldo and Investcorp, Aldo instantly recognizes the pair, explaining that under the insole is a layer of gold leaf, a design embellishment only he knows about. When Investcorp head reveals the gold leaf, it’s a sign that Aldo has been betrayed by his nephew Maurizio.

Pacino crumples, imbuing the scene with all the acute hurt felt by Aldo. While Clark Gable did own a pair of rare Gucci shoes, made specifically for his film Mogambo, it did not have any gold leaf. Per Vulture’s interview with Bentivegna, the gold leaf was the screenwriter’s invention. “There’s no way anybody else could have given him that shoe, except Maurizio. So it’s very Shakespearean in that regard.”

One of the film’s most fiery scenes, in a sea of many, happens when Domenico serves Patrizia divorce papers from Maurizio outside of their young daughter’s school. Patrizia is defiant, and you can feel the disdain and bitterness shooting from Gaga’s teeth. She proclaims that her marriage will not end, and Maurizio must think of his family first. While Patrizia didn’t actually receive her divorce papers that way, she did fume with rage at the prospect of her crumbling marriage. Per Forden’s book, she proclaimed to a housekeeper, “If it’s the last thing I do, I want to see [Maurizio] dead.”

The film’s depiction of Patrizia’s meeting with hired assassins is partly accurate. The scene is Gaga at her most menacing: Adorned in a black leather jacket, with even darker mascara and unkempt hair, she points her finger at the numbskull killers, issuing the unsettling instruction, “Don’t miss.” Initially, Pina acted as an intermediary, finding Benedetto Ceraulo to serve as the gunman and Orazio Cicala, a local pizzeria owner saddled with debts, as the getaway driver. Both would be paid 600 million lire ($699,870, accounting for inflation). But Patrizia began interceding when she wasn’t seeing quick enough results. First she met Cicala in her car and then later at a bar.

For some time, Patrizia had toyed with the idea of murdering Maurizio. At a dinner party she asked her lawyer Cusimo Auletta: What would happen if I decided to teach Maurizio … What if I decided to get rid of him? Auletta severed ties with her. Following their divorce, Patrizia was given a hefty alimony by her ex-husband. But by 1994, Maurizio planned to marry Franchi. The union would have resulted in reduced alimony to Patrizia, an outcome she could not fathom. Out of greed and rage, she ordered the hit on her ex-husband. He was murdered outside his offices on 27 March 1995. Three years later Patrizia was convicted for arranging his killing. She was released from prison in October 2016.


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