Gucci a House Divided Gerry McKnight

Guccio Gucci founded Gucci in 1921. By the 1950s, Italian aristocrats, European royalty, and Hollywood stars were flocking to Italy to buy Gucci’s luxurious leather designs. The Gucci family, customers believed, traced their roots back to Florence’s Medici dynasty. They had once made saddles for and Italian royalty.

1. Guccio Gucci lied about his family history

It was a lie. Guccio misled the public about his heritage. In truth, Guccio’s father ran an unsuccessful straw hat business. Before founding Gucci, Guccio himself worked as a dishwasher at London’s Savoy Hotel. Yet even Guccio’s stories of working at the Savoy are questionable. Sara Gay, author of The House of Gucci, notes the hotel has no records of employing him.

We were never saddle makers,” Guccio’s daughter Grimelda later shared. “The Gucci’s come from a once-noble family in the San Miniato district of Florence. In my grandfather’s day, they were not peasants. Just simple folk with a little interest coming in from the capital saved. My grandmother, Elena Groselle, was from Signa, a small industrial town in Tuscany.”

Nevertheless, it was masterful marketing. Gucci created a brilliant image. One very appealing to the company’s elitist clientele.

The Gucci logo
The Gucci family coat of arms

2. Gucci women were discriminated against

Not all members of the family shared in Gucci’s wealth. In Gucci, a House Divided author Terry Mcknight reveals women were not allowed to inherit ownership in the company. “This,” he wrote, “had been an iron rule in the family since I was ordered by the founding Guccio Gucci. The male line was all-important, and historically, it had been natural for a male Gucci to dominate his women as for him the total obedience from his children and more distant relatives.”

When Guccio died equal shares in the company were given to sons Aldo, Rodolfo, and Vasco. Daughter Grimalda was left empty-handed. Her father’s view that women should not own any part of Gucci was upheld by her brothers. She later made a legal claim for ownership in the business only to be rejected by Italian courts.

Father had died so suddenly,” she later said, “that it was some time before I realized that I was to have no part in the business in spite of everything my father had led me to expect.” Despite this Grimalda continued to love her brothers. After seizing control of the company in the 1980s, nephew Maurizio Gucci paid her 5 million Italian lire a year for her work as “a designer.”

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Gucci, the most ntorious of all Gucci women

Lady Gaga as Patrizia, the most notorious of all Gucci women

3. Guccio was “liberal” with his employees

Many Gucci women were also dismayed to discover their husband’s affairs. Members of the family were well known for their extramarital activities. Guccio was the first. “The favors of one or more of the shop assistants were requested,” author Terry McKnight wrote in 1987, “and seldom refused.” This habit passed on to his son Aldo.

"Guccio
Aldo’s son Roberto with the family crest

4. Aldo Gucci was a tax criminal

In 1986 Aldo Gucci was also charged with tax evasion. An investigation by the American government revealed Aldo was responsible for running fraudulent tax schemes. Using foreign companies, he funneled 11 million US dollars out of the company. Payment of a further 7 million dollars tax had also been evaded.

Despite his high-profile connections, Aldo was not exempt from criminal charges. In September 1986 the 82-year-old was sentenced to a year in prison. Gucci was required to pay back the money it owed in tax. Aldo was also fined 15,000 dollars. He served fourth months in a resort-like minimum security jail. His sentence was then suspended. Many believed he got off lightly.

"Aldo
Aldo

5. Paolo Gucci sent his father to prison

Authorities were alerted to Aldo’s fraud by a member of his own family. Paolo Gucci had a troubled relationship with his father Aldo. The elder Gucci had been harsh to his son during childhood. One time Aldo even gave away Paolo’s pet dog to punish him for misbehaving.

As an adult, Paolo believed Aldo and his brothers were blocking his growth in the company. By 1987, Paolo had begun no less than 10 separate legal battles with his family. During one trial, Paulo fought his family for the right to start a new company in his own name. In a ploy to embarrass Aldo, Paulo made a number of company documents public. Within these were letters between Aldo and an employee. The point of discussion? Tax fraud.

Sentenced to prison, Aldo forgave his son. To his nephew Maurizio, who was engaging in a hostile takeover of the company, he was less generous. “Some have done their duty,” Aldo said, “others have the satisfaction of revenge. God will be their judge.

A bitter Paolo ultimately died unfulfilled. Suffering from chronic hepatitis and bankrupt, he passed away at age 64 in 1995. It was later revealed he was involved in counterfeiting Gucci products.

Jared Leto as Paulo Gucci

Jared Leto as Paulo

6. One Gucci was a fascist

Ugo Gucci was the adopted son of Guccio. He was a troubled childhood. After, he became involved in Italy’s fascist party prior to World War Two. As Nazi ally Mussolini seized power, Ugo rose to the rank of regional overseer.

The war ended. Guccio was scared. Drawing near to the end of life, he feared the share of Gucci Ugo would inherit after his death would be seized by British and American forces. To avoid this Guccio paid Ugo a large sum of money in exchange for his future rights in the company. The deal cost Ugo’s heirs a multi-million dollar stake in the business.

Italian dictator Mussolini with Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler
Fascist Italian dictator Mussolini with Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler

7. Another was a war hero

The Gucci story is not all doom and gloom. For every fight, there is loving closeness. For every black sheep, a hero.

Olwen Gucci is one example. The wife of Aldo, she was born and raised in Britain. Later, she moved to Italy as a maidservant to a Romanian princess. After visiting a Gucci store, she caught the eye of Aldo. The pair married.

During the Second World War, Olwyn helped smuggle British and American prisoners out of Italy. Many hid in her and Aldo’s Florence home. This was not without risk. The penalty for treason was death.

Mother took men who were sent back to her,” son Roberto later shared, “and hid them in our house until the nuns could take them. It was [local priest] Father Hickey who arranged everything. He and the nuns helped a lot of men escape.” Olywn’s efforts were later recognized by the British government.

Olwyn with daughter Patricia

 

Riley Fitzgerald

Creative Director

Riley Fitzgerald is Managing Editor and Creative Director of The Glitter & Gold.

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The Glitter and Gold is a digital magazine and record store in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
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