TCF: The House of Gucci

The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed
By Sara Gay Forden

The crime:

Maurizio Gucci, former head of the luxury fashion and accessories company that his grandfather founded, was killed on the morning of March 27, 1995. His ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, had put the hit out on him, a crime for which she spent 18 years in prison.

The book:

This was a widely celebrated book even before Ridley Scott’s (overrated) 2021 movie, which had Lady Gaga playing Patrizia and Adam Driver as Maurizio. But while I thought it was readable, mainly due to its inherently interesting subject matter, I didn’t much care for it.

More than a true crime book, it’s mainly a history of the Gucci company, though that’s a history that involved a fair bit of shady dealings, mostly involving tax evasion schemes. (In a charming aside, Forden talks about how some of the financial maneuverings that were illegal at the time would be permissible today because of the “liberalization” of Italy’s laws. I’m not sure, but I think she registers this as some kind of progress.) I admit I have little interest in the world of fashion, but as a business story it works. Plus the family in-fighting is fabulously Italian, in a tradition running from the Borgias to the Corleones.

I had a couple of difficulties with Forden’s writing though.

In the first place, she has an annoying habit of skipping around instead of sticking to a strict through chronology. I got confused at figures like Paolo Gucci dying and then coming back to life, or Silvio Berlusconi being described as a “former Italian prime minister” in what I think is 1993 (Berlusconi first came to power in 1994, and would serve as prime minister off-and-on up until 2011). I assume this was a typo, of the same sort that has Paolo referred to as Aldo Gucci’s “youngest son,” but that were a lot of moments like this that had me mentally scrambling trying to get dates in order. Yes there are different threads being followed, but anyone who writes narrative history has to try to keep them straight. For example, it’s painful to read an account of the landmark YSL fashion show in March 2001 and then be jerked back with what had been happening a week earlier on the legal front. As a reader you start to get whiplash.

The other problem I had was with Forden’s attempt to make the events seem more dramatic by presenting them novelistically. Again, this is something every historian has to deal with in some way: how do you describe a particular historical actor’s thoughts and feelings at a certain time? In her section of Bibliographical Notes Forden explains her approach:

References to what a person was thinking are based on extensive research into the situation and the person’s frame of mind at the time according to people close to him or her or other reliable accounts. In dramatizing contemporary conversations, I have based dialogue on conversations with one or more of the participants.

That sounds fair, but vague, with a lot of wiggle room. What it results in though is passages like this, describing Maurizio at his uncle Aldo’s funeral service:

As Maurizio stood by himself in the chilly church, he looked down at his clasped hands in front of him and let the rise and fall of the priest’s voice float through his mind. He pictured Aldo scaling the stairs of his Via Condotti office two at a time, barking orders to his salesclerks right and left, or holding court in the New York store, signing Christmas packages. His mind’s ear heard Aldo’s voice repeating his old adage about the dynamics of the family – “My family is the train, I am the engine. Without the train, the engine is nothing. Without the engine, well, the train doesn’t move.” Maurizio smiled. As the mourners around him shifted their feet and dabbed their eyes with soggy tissues, Maurizio unclasped his hands, then clenched and unclenched his fists as though for warmth.

Reading stuff like this in a work of non-fiction gets my back up. How do we know what was floating through Maurizio’s mind at this exact moment, or what he was hearing in his “mind’s ear”? Perhaps there’s a source, but I doubt it’s this specific. And there’s quite a bit of this sort of thing here. At one point we even follow Maurizio into the confessional. I remember commenting on an even more egregious moment like this in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City years ago. If you don’t know how something happened, or even if it happened, then you shouldn’t pretend as though you do.

Noted in passing:

In explaining his reasons for giving Patrizia a twenty-nine year sentence instead of life (which is what the trigger man got), the judge at her trial gave her diagnosis of having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as a mitigating factor. This really turned my head around. While not a legal defence, the fact that one is a pathologically entitled asshole can actually reduce one’s sentence? This would mean that narcissists are actually victims of their “condition.” What sense does that make?

The edition I read was published as a tie-in to the movie, with the familiar banner on the cover about how it was “soon to be a major motion picture.” This made me wonder when a “motion picture” has ever not been “major.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with a blurb like this on a cover say it’s soon to be or now is just “a movie.” It’s always a motion picture. And a major motion picture at that. It’s almost like those exact words are some kind of legal requirement.


Family businesses rarely work out in the long run because money is more important than blood. That may seem unnatural, but we live in an unnatural world. Meanwhile, not being a publicly-traded company means that a family business is, at least to some extent, free to operate above or beyond the law. Hence the timelessness of these bloody dynastic struggles.

True Crime Files


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