The explosive family drama at the center of Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci is so over-the-top that it’s reasonable to assume the film is the result of a very active imagination. Film released Nov. 24. The movie depicts the collapse of the marriage of Patrizia Gaga (Lady Gaga), with Maurizio Gucci as Adam Driver.
In the case of House of GucciTruth is often stranger than fiction. The film was adapted from journalist Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 nonfiction book of the same name, which chronicled the sensational real-life story of the fabulously wealthy Gucci family’s rise and fall as one of fashion’s most prominent dynasties. It includes SuccessionScott and Becky Johnston were able to create plenty of material from the sagas and rivalries among family members as well as multiple lawsuits and tax evasion.
While the story is based on real people and events, a few elements were changed for the film—intentional choices on the part of Bentivegna, who drew inspiration for the screenplay from flashy films like Sunset Boulevard Scarface And The Godfather.
“I always wanted with this to feel like the audience was watching a movie,” he tells TIME. “I didn’t want it to feel like it was in any way a near realistic or sort of kitchen sink drama, I really wanted to feel heightened, and really bold and operatic.”
To do this, Bentivegna supplemented his use of Forden’s text with Italian articles from the time about the Gucci family’s public dramas, which he said took on a “tabloid sensationalism” especially surrounding Maurizio’s murder, which was later revealed to be a crime of passion, organized by Patrizia herself.
The element of sensationalism isn’t lost on Forden, who began writing about the Gucci family’s drama as the chief business correspondent for WWD, Her years of experience in reporting helped her write the book.
“If I had made the story up like a novel, nobody would have believed it,” she tells TIME. “But it was all true. It’s a timeless story. It has many lessons, such as the fact that blood should not be thinner than water. And unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t.”
Here’s what to know about the true story behind House of Gucci.
Learn more about the Gucci Family
Guccio Gucci founded the luxury luggage company Guccio Gucci in 1921. After a brief stint as a London bellhop and working at an elite train company, Guccio felt inspired to start his own business. Guccio started his first store in Florence in 1921. He sold leather accessories and leather luggage as well as goods for horsemen. Guccio’s small shop soon blossomed into a booming family business with many shops in different cities and countries, especially after four of his sons (Vasco, Aldo, Rodolfo and Ugo, who was Guccio’s adopted stepson from his wife’s previous relationship) began working with him. Following Guccio’s death in 1953, shares of the business were left to his three biological sons, Vasco, Rodolfo and Aldo. The Gucci family’s decline in fashion was due to sibling rivalries that grew into full-blown feuds between the brothers.
After Rodolfo died, Maurizio, his son, took over the majority of the company. The business was in serious trouble under Aldo’s leadership. Maurizio, who felt Aldo’s approach of championing the mass production of Gucci products cheapened Gucci’s identity as a luxury brand, spent the majority of the 1980s trying to push him out of the business through legal battles and take over the company. The familial strife during this time was ugly and in the public eye: Aldo served a year in prison for tax evasion and Maurizio fled to Switzerland after being accused of forging his father’s signature to avoid paying inheritance taxes (while he was originally found guilty, he was later acquitted). Maurizio was able to take control of the company by 1989 and was keen to renovate its image. However, by 1993, Maurizio’s excessive spending and the company’s outstanding debts forced him to sell his 50% percent stake to the business’ investors, ending the Gucci family’s ownership and control of the brand.
Forden says that while the end of the Gucci family dynasty in fashion may be one of the more dramatic incidents in the industry’s history, it was part of a larger trend for Italian fashion during the time, which also affected family companies like Prada, Versace and Armani, which were struggling with transitioning their respective small family boutique businesses into internationally recognized mega brands.
“Gucci tells the story of many family companies that were struggling to kind of get to the next level and wrestling with these questions of succession,” she says. “Obviously, they were challenges in the transformation to the next level and Gucci exemplified that in the most extreme and dramatic way. But I was really touched and compelled by Maurizio Gucci himself, who was on this mission to relaunch his family company to restore it to the top tier of the luxury market.”
Forden noted also that Maurizio could not retain ownership or control of Gucci. However, he predicted the future for many fashion brands and was the first financial shareholder to take the brand to new heights.
How to learn more about Patrizia Regengiani
Although Patrizia was not the first Gucci born, the name of her is a significant part of the family’s past. Born Patrizia Martinelli, the future “Lady Gucci” as she would be dubbed during her heyday, grew up poor and not knowing her biological father. When she was 12 years old, her mother married Ferdinando Regigiani, a rich entrepreneur. He adopted Patrizia. When she came of age, Patrizia was a socialite in Milan, but despite her stepfather’s wealth, she was not necessarily part of Milan’s high society. According to Forden, Patrizia’s mother was hopeful that her daughter could gain the family entry into these social circles.
After meeting Maurizio in 1970 at a party, Patrizia was supposedly impressed by her resemblance with Elizabeth Taylor.
“I met Maurizio at a party and he fell madly in love with me,” Reggiani told The GuardianIn a 2016 interview. “I was exciting and different.”
What to know about Patrizia and Maurizio’s marriage and divorce
After two years of dating, Maurizio married Patrizia in 1972. However, the marriage caused a rift within the family. Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo, did not approve of Reggiani’s social background and believed she was a social climber and opted not to attend the couple’s wedding. Rodolfo later reconciled with both his son and daughter-in-law after the birth of their first daughter, Alessandra, in 1976 (the couple had a second daughter, Allegra, in 1981) and even gifted them a luxury penthouse in New York City’s Olympic Tower, where they lived while Maurizio worked for the family business with Aldo.
During the early years of their marriage, Maurizio and Patrizia were active in the New York social scene, often socializing with the likes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and known for their ostentatious, extravagant lifestyle—the pair were notorious for being chauffeured around Manhattan in a car with a personalized vanity plate with their amalgamated couple’s name, “Mauizia,” and had a yacht and vacation homes Saint Moritz, Acapulco and Connecticut.
Maurizio was influenced greatly by Patrizia in every aspect of his life, even when it came to Gucci. According to Bentivegna, Maurizio may have craved Patrizia’s guidance because he grew up as an only child whose mother died when he was very young; by all accounts, Patrizia was well aware that Maurizio’s personality was more timid than hers.
“[Patrizia] famously said that he was like a chair that takes the shape of whoever sits on it,” he says. “So, she as an incredibly sharp and cynical manipulator knew that she had putty in her hands, and she could really mold and play with, but I think it came out of a place of love.”
The couple’s marital problems began in 1983, after Maurizio received a majority stake in the company following the death of his father and attempted to take over the company by launching a legal war to oust his uncles. Interview with The Guardian, Patrizia claimed that during this time, “Maurizio got crazy. Prior to that, I was his principal adviser in all Gucci matters. But he wanted to be the best, and he stopped listening to me.”
Patrizia and Maurizio were at odds with each other amid all the difficulties with their family business. After his family relocated to Milan in 1985, Maurizio sent a friend telling Patrizia he was not returning home and that the marriage had ended. Maurizio began living with Paola Franchi, a childhood friend, in 1991, inciting Patrizia’s jealousy. In 1994, the couple officially divorced, with Patrizia receiving a €2.5 million divorce settlement and a yearly alimony payment of €650,000, which she memorably compared to “a mere bowl of lentils.” Though she lost her legal right to use the surname Gucci in the divorce, Patrizia continued to do so anyway; in an interview with La Republica, she glibly noted: “I still feel like a Gucci—in fact, the most Gucci of them all.”
How did Maurizio Gucci get there?
Maurizio, a Milan-based doorman and only witness to the shootings of February 27, 1995 was repeatedly shot outside his Milan office. Giuseppe Onorato was the only witness and doorman to the shooting. He took him down from the stairs. Patrizia wasn’t arrested until 1997 two years later after his murder. This was after detectives from the police received an anonymous tip. It was later discovered that on the day of Maurizio’s murder, Patrizia wrote one word in her diary, “paradeisos,” Greek for paradise.
What happened at Patrizia’s trial and sentencing?
Patrizia’s trial was a flashy and highly publicized affair, thanks to the Gucci family’s high profile in Italy. She was dubbed the “Black Widow,” a moniker that held more weight once her trial was underway. Patrizia vehemently denied that she was innocent. The prosecution played audio tapes of menacing voicemails that Patrizia sent to Maurizio, Paola. While the defense claimed that Patrizia was mentally unstable due to a 1992 brain tumor operation, they argued that it had altered her personality. However, three of the people involved in the scheme (Pina Auriemma, Patrizia’s friend and personal astrologer; Orazio Cicala, the getaway driver; and Ivano Savioni, the man who hired the hitman and driver) confessed to not only their involvement in the murder, but Patrizia’s role in organizing it. Benedetto Cicalo, the hitman that shot Maurizio and Patrizia denied all of their accusations.
Patrizia was convicted for premeditated killing in November 1998. However, she served just 18 years. Patrizia could have had a shorter tenure in Milan’s San Vittore prison, where she notably was allowed to have a pet ferret, and was eligible for parole in 2011, but she refused, opting to stay in jail, as opposed to joining a work-release program.
“I’ve never worked in my life,” she was reported stating in court. “I won’t start now.”
Patrizia was freed in 2016 after displaying good behaviour. She is now a consultant at a Milan-based jewelry company, and has been spotted wearing a parrot while shopping. She has since acknowledged her role in the murder of Maurizio, telling an Italian reality TV show when queried why she didn’t shoot her ex-husband herself: “My eyesight is not so good. I didn’t want to miss.”
As for Patrizia’s thoughts on the big screen adaptation of her life, she’s miffed that she was not consulted by Lady Gaga for the film.
“I am rather annoyed at the fact that Lady Gaga is playing me in the new Ridley Scott film without having had the consideration and sensibility to come and meet me,” she told ANSAItalian wire service. However, Bentivegna is not convinced that Patrizia isn’t somewhat impressed that the film was made.
“I think Patrizia is going to love the movie and I think she’s thrilled that it’s being made,” he says. “I think she’s incredibly flattered that Lady Gaga is playing her, because she is, to put it mildly, self-absorbed.”