THE STORY OF THE GUCCI EM­PIRE

When PA­TRI­CIA GUCCI, grand­daugh­ter of the fash­ion-house founder, was ten, her mother fi­nally told her the truth about why they lived sep­a­rately from her fa­ther ➤

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW WENDY HOLDEN

‘Aldo was a for­mi­da­ble char­ac­ter. With­out his vi­sion, Gucci would al­most cer­tainly have re­mained a sin­gle-store en­tity in the back streets of Florence,’ says Pa­tri­cia Gucci of her fa­ther and the fash­ion brand that grew to be­come one of the world’s most ex­clu­sive and sought-af­ter.

Now liv­ing in Switzer­land – she also spends time in Italy and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia – Pa­tri­cia, 54, fre­quently trav­els to Bri­tain, where she grew up. It was on a re­cent visit that she told me about her early life, which she de­scribes in her book In the Name of Gucci, pub­lished in 12 coun­tries.

‘Peo­ple are of­ten sur­prised to hear that, de­spite hav­ing Ital­ian par­ents, I think of my­self as fun­da­men­tally Bri­tish,’ says Pa­tri­cia Gucci. ‘But I was born in Lon­don and spent my child­hood there. All my ed­u­ca­tion has been in English – my first lan­guage – and some of my hap­pi­est mem­o­ries are of my friends from board­ing school and my Ge­ordie nanny.

‘I think peo­ple as­sume the book is about fash­ion when it’s not at all,’ she says. ‘A lit­tle-known fact in the book, for ex­am­ple, is that my grand­fa­ther had his eureka mo­ment for the busi­ness while work­ing at The Savoy ho­tel in the late 1800s.’

As a boy, Guc­cio Gucci – the com­pany’s founder – had trav­elled from Florence to Lon­don in search of work. He found em­ploy­ment as a page at The Savoy, where he ad­mired the beau­ti­fully crafted trunks and travel cases be­long­ing to the ho­tel’s il­lus­tri­ous guests, in­clud­ing Euro­pean no­bil­ity and wealthy Amer­i­can tourists. ‘One day,’ he de­cided, ‘lug­gage like this will bear my name.’

In 1921 his dream came true and he opened a shop in Florence spe­cial­is­ing in leather goods of the high­est qual­ity, some of it sourced from a com­pany in Eng­land which made sad­dles for the Bri­tish roy­als. He cre­ated the Gucci crest, fea­tur­ing a porter in liv­ery hold­ing bags (a nod to his years at The Savoy), which also gave the im­pres­sion of no­ble de­scent.

Gucci con­tin­ued to evolve as a busi­ness and as a fam­ily. Pa­tri­cia’s fa­ther, Guc­cio’s son Aldo, was mar­ried in Eng­land to Ol­wen Price. The cou­ple had three sons in Italy. Aldo, who was the el­dest of three brothers, ul­ti­mately be­came re­spon­si­ble for turn­ing his fa­ther’s small leather- goods store into the world-renowned pow­er­house la­bel it be­came.

But ev­ery­thing changed for him when he fell for Bruna Palombo, an en­chant­ing 18-year- old Ital­ian who worked in his Rome store. De­spite be­ing en­gaged to an­other, she even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to Aldo’s dec­la­ra­tions of undy­ing love. A few years later when she be­came preg­nant, Aldo ar­ranged for Bruna – who spoke no English – to move to Lon­don to see out the rest of her term in se­cret.

De­scribed as ‘a grip­ping fam­ily drama and never-be­fore-told love story’, In the Name of Gucci tells how Pa­tri­cia’s birth could have spelled ru­ina­tion for both her par­ents in the Catholic Italy of the 1960s.

Liv­ing first in Knights­bridge, then Hen­don, and fi­nally in the coun­try­side near Wind­sor, Pa­tri­cia saw her fa­ther once a month when he blew into her life fresh from an­other transat­lantic flight like an ex­otic bird. ‘I adored him, of course, but I had no idea why he was gone all the time. Mamma suf­fered emo­tion­ally for be­ing aban­doned in a for­eign land and we both lived for his vis­its, but it wasn’t easy.’

As Bruna with­drew deeper and deeper into de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness to be­come what her young daugh­ter de­scribed as ‘sad Mummy’, Pa­tri­cia was saved by her nanny Mau­reen, who taught her to read and took her on fun out­ings.

‘I loved Mau­reen. She called me pop­pet and I was heart­bro­ken when

“I ADORED PAPA, BUT I HAD NO IDEA WHY HE WAS GONE ALL THE TIME. WE LIVED FOR HIS VIS­ITS”

she left us. It wasn’t long af­ter that, though, that my mother gave my fa­ther an ul­ti­ma­tum and he moved us back to Rome where she could at least be with friends and fam­ily.’

Pa­tri­cia was only ten years old when she was taken out of the pri­mary school she loved and moved to Italy. ‘It was then that Mamma told me: “Papà has a wife and three sons, who are all much older than you and mar­ried with chil­dren of their own.”’

With his 46-year mar­riage to Ol­wen ex­ist­ing in name only, Aldo fi­nally in­tro­duced his young daugh­ter to his mid­dle-aged sons in the hope that they’d em­brace her as one of their own. ‘My mother warned that they might re­sent me and, while they were po­lite enough in front of Papà, her warn­ing came true. I never re­ally felt that I was part of the fam­ily.’

De­ter­mined to make her own way in the world and have lit­tle to do with the busi­ness she felt no great con­nec­tion to, Pa­tri­cia moved to New York and en­rolled in drama school. How­ever, she was soon drawn back into the com­pany fold by Aldo, who en­cour­aged her to learn the ropes. Be­fore long Pa­tri­cia was Gucci’s ris­ing star, with ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns cre­ated around her and an am­bas­sado­rial role in which she min­gled with moguls and movie stars at Gucci events around the world. Aged 19, she was the first woman in the fam­ily to take a seat on the board, be­com­ing a most-trusted ally to her 77-year- old fa­ther – to the cha­grin of her brothers and her am­bi­tious cousin Mau­r­izio.

With the vi­sion for the com­pany’s fu­ture be­ing pulled in many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, fam­ily relationships floun­dered: ‘My fa­ther’s re­la­tion­ship with my brothers de­te­ri­o­rated.’ Pa­tri­cia could only watch help­lessly when, at the age of 81, Aldo was jailed for a year and a day for tax eva­sion in the US. Af­ter sev­eral bit­ter board­room bat­tles, her cousin Mau­r­izio briefly held the reins and very nearly ran the com­pany into the ground be­fore be­ing shot dead in 1995 in Mi­lan by hit­men hired by his ag­grieved ex-wife.

Pa­tri­cia and her mother Bruna vis­ited Aldo in his Florida jail dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion. The har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence brought their lit­tle fam­ily unit closer than it had ever been. ‘When my fa­ther was di­ag­nosed with in­cur­able cancer soon af­ter­wards, he re­alised that all he had left was my mother and me.’ With no fight left in him and af­ter a se­ries of be­tray­als from his sons, Aldo re­luc­tantly agreed to the sale of the fam­ily busi­ness and in 1989 it passed into the hands of an Arab in­vest­ment group. Pa­tri­cia was the only fam­ily mem­ber present when he signed the pa­pers. Close to the end, Aldo sum­moned his sons to his deathbed, with Pa­tri­cia and Bruna at his side. ‘Hav­ing lis­tened to their plat­i­tudes, he told them, “My time in hospi­tal – like my time in prison – has given me plenty of time to think.” Then he said noth­ing more. The fi­nal­ity of his si­lence was chill­ing,’ Pa­tri­cia says.

Aldo died in 1990, aged 84. Af­ter his fu­neral – where Bruna and Pa­tri­cia sat on op­po­site sides of the aisle from his wife Ol­wen and the rest of the fam­ily – his will was read, re­veal­ing that he’d made his only daugh­ter his ‘sole and uni­ver­sal heir’. This was, Pa­tri­cia says, a de­ci­sion that would es­trange her from her brothers for ever. Pa­tri­cia has been mar­ried twice and has three daugh­ters. It took her many years and a great deal of soul-search­ing to come to terms with her past. A ten-year gag­ging or­der re­port­edly im­posed by Gucci’s new own­ers ini­tially prevented her from say­ing any­thing about the events lead­ing up to the com­pany’s sale and her life had since taken a new course. When Pa­tri­cia fi­nally de­cided to write the book she re­alised there was much she didn’t know about her par­ents’ lives, so she sought to fill the gaps. It was then that her mother pro­duced a Gucci pouch full of love let­ters Aldo had writ­ten while court­ing her.

‘Un­til that mo­ment, my mother had never wanted to talk about the past; she said the mem­o­ries were too painful.’ For Pa­tri­cia, the time had come to ce­ment her fa­ther’s legacy and pay trib­ute to the man re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing Gucci the suc­cess it has be­come, syn­ony­mous with lux­ury, and spark­ing the ‘made in Italy’ phe­nom­e­non glob­ally.

Pa­tri­cia’s mother had one last let­ter to give to her only daugh­ter: the one Aldo had writ­ten just be­fore he died, in which he pro­claimed his ded­i­ca­tion to the woman who’d been his ‘faith­ful life com­pan­ion for more than 30 years’. Poignantly for Pa­tri­cia, who grew up with a fa­ther who rarely ex­pressed af­fec­tion, Aldo added, in his frail hand­writ­ing, ‘ Twenty-six years ago, you gave me a daugh­ter, our Pa­tri­cia. What a divine gift. She could not be more beau­ti­ful be­cause she in­her­ited your qual­i­ties.’

‘I re­ceived this lov­ing mes­sage from be­yond the grave, 25 years af­ter my fa­ther’s death. Along with the other let­ters, it pro­vided pre­cious in­sight into the man who had hith­erto been an enigma to me. My mother and I had come full cir­cle and, as usual, Aldo Gucci had the last word.’ n In the Name of Gucci: A Mem­oir by Pa­tri­cia Gucci is pub­lished by Crown Archetype and is avail­able from Ama­zon and other on­line re­tail­ers

“MY MOTHER NEVER TALKED ABOUT THE PAST; THE MEM­O­RIES WERE TOO PAINFUL”

From top: Pa­tri­cia as a baby with her mother in Rome, 1963; 16-year-old Pa­tri­cia (left) with her fa­ther and mother in Hong Kong, 1979; Aldo and Bruna in Palm Beach, 1980

Clock­wise from above: Aldo’s sons Roberto (left) and Gior­gio (cen­tre), and his nephew Mau­r­izio; Aldo in New York, 1974; Pa­tri­cia in 1983

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