As a woman who enjoys a flair for the dramatic, Lady Gaga's casting as Italy's stylish and famously quick-tongued "Black Widow" Patrizia Reggiani couldn't be more perfect.
The diminutive Oscar-winner, 34, has been photographed on the set of the Ridley Scott-directed House of Gucci, wearing a series of looks designed to showcase the style and excess of the 1980s and early 1990s.
As Reggiani, the ex-wife of Gucci heir Maurizio Gucci (played by Adam Driver), Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, spearheads the film from the four-time Oscar-nominated director. It's the latest in a long line of fashion house exposés that have lifted the lid on the scandals that have made the industry so notorious over the years.
House of Gucci focuses on the world-famous fashion family and the events leading up to the March 1995 murder of Maurizio, which, at her trial in 1998, Reggiani was found guilty of arranging.
The film also stars a trio of Oscar winners, with Jared Leto as Maurizio’s cousin Paolo Gucci, Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci and Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, both sons of Guccio Gucci, who founded the company in 1921.
Hollywood actresses Angelina Jolie, Penelope Cruz and Margot Robbie had all been in contention over the years to play Reggiani in the film, which is based on the 2001 book by Sara Gay Forden, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. And before Driver won the role of the ill-fated Maurizio, Leonardo DiCaprio was slated to star as the fashion house scion.
Life of luxury
On the morning of March 27, 1995, while walking from his apartment in Milan to his place of work on Via Palestro 20, Maurizio was shot three times by a gunman on the steps of his office. It would be another two years before prosecutors would find enough evidence to pin co-ordination of the murder on his ex-wife, Reggiani.
The pair, who have two daughters, Allegra and Alessandra, married in 1973. Maurizio was the head of the famed Gucci fashion house, which started life as a leather luggage business, while Reggiani came from far less glamorous and wealthy stock.
Her humble beginnings became a bone of contention in the family, with Maurizio's father believing her to be after his only son's money, leading him to cut off Maurizio's funding. He was also rumoured to have enlisted the help of the Cardinal of Milan to try and call off the wedding.
Predating “Brangelina” and “Bennifer” by a few decades, Maurizio and Reggiani revelled in their portmanteau “Mauizia”, displaying the amalgamation on the licence plates of their cars and living a life of ostentatious luxury.
The couple divided their time between a ski chalet in St Moritz, their 9,000-square-foot penthouse in Manhattan's Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, a 64-metre yacht named The Creole, a villa in Acapulco, Mexico, their farm in Connecticut and a number of private islands dotted around the globe. Reggiani was also known to spend the equivalent of $15,000 a month on orchids in the mid-1970s.
From ‘Lady Gucci’ to ‘Black Widow’
Dubbed "Lady Gucci" by the Italian press for her jet-set lifestyle, the marriage between Reggiani and Maurizio ended in May 1985 when he reportedly packed his bags for a business trip to Florence and never returned home. Two years previously, Maurizio had taken control of the Gucci empire after the death of his father in 1983.
"Maurizio was not a shrewd businessman or marketing whizz like his father or uncle," reported fashion site Grailed. "In fact, he was downright awful for Gucci, and in 1988, with the company floundering under his leadership, Maurizio sold a controlling stake in the brand to Bahraini holding company Investcorp. With Aldo's children kicked out alongside their father, Maurizio's subsequent liquidation of his shares in 1993 meant that the Gucci family was completely divested from the company that bore its name."
Maurizio and Reggiani divorced in 1991 and Maurizio agreed to pay her $1.5 million a year in financial support for the rest of her life. Maurizio then planned to marry the younger Paola Franchi, who will be played by French actress Camille Cottin.
During Reggiani’s trial, it emerged that she feared if Maurizio remarried, she would lose her money and status, and that her daughters’ inheritance would disappear if her ex-husband started a family with his new love.
‘Is there someone who has the courage to murder my husband?’
In the Discovery+ documentary Lady Gucci: The Story of Patrizia Reggiani, which premieres on Sunday, Reggiani tells the filmmakers: "I was furious with Maurizio. I went around asking everyone, even the local grocer: 'Is there someone who has the courage to murder my husband?'"
However, it was a pizzeria owner, not a grocer who took Reggiani up on her offer, and Benedetto Ceraulo agreed to a six-figure payment to kill Maurizio. He was sentenced to life in prison at the trial, with Pina Auriemma, a close friend of Reggiani, sentenced to 25 years for allegedly having organised the killing for a $415,000 fee. A hotel night porter called Ivano Savioni was handed a 26-year sentence after it was alleged he hired the getaway driver and the killer, while getaway driver Orazio Cicala was sentenced to 29 years.
Reggiani, who wore head-to-toe Gucci throughout the trial, claimed Auriemma had hired the hitman without her authorisation and had then blackmailed her after the murder had taken place.
Reggiani was released in October 2018, after serving 16 years of her 26-year sentence. Now 72, and the recipient of a $1.5 million-a-year annuity from the Gucci estate owing to the original divorce settlement she signed, she recently revealed her irritation at Lady Gaga portraying her on film.
"I'm annoyed by the fact that Lady Gaga is portraying me in the new Ridley Scott film without even having the courtesy or the good sense to come and meet me," she told Italian national news agency Ansa. "I believe that any good actor should first get to know the person that they are meant to be playing. I think it is not right that I wasn't contacted."
This story was originally published on March 23, 2021.