THE name was synonymous with quiet elegance, style, quality, the best in life. The stores could be found wherever rich people shopped: on Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Bond Street, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and Bing Crosby all wore the loafers; the world's most glamorous women, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren among them, carried the handbags and wore the silk scarves. Gucci was class. How strange it is, then, that the Guccis themselves are so sleazy they could have stepped straight from the pages of the kind of pulp fiction that sells well at airports. Duplicitous, manipulative, constantly at each other's throats, constantly plotting one against the other or manoeuvring for more money or power, there is less love lost between the Guccis than there was between the Borgias. One elderly Gucci, betrayed by his son, went to jail. A younger member of the clan was forced to become a fugitive by his uncle and his cousin. Another claimed he was beaten up at a family board meeting. They fought all the time, fought like alley cats. Whenever one member of the family crossed another, he filed a lawsuit, sometimes many lawsuits, invariably for millions of dollars. Then the other filed a counter suit. Grateful lawyers, generations hence, will be sending their children to college courtesy of the litigious and libidinous Guccis. 'It is a very peculiar family,' says Patrizia Gucci, the estranged wife of recently deposed chairman Maurizio. 'They are fighters. Each fights against the other: father against brother, brother against cousin, son against father. They are all crazy.' Little was known about the hatred, greed and jealousy within the Gucci family until a notorious board meeting in 1982. But shouting, arm-waving and temper tantrums were always on the agenda when family members convened for meetings in the sumptuous officesabove the Gucci shop in Florence's high-toned Via Tornabuoni. Paolo Gucci, convinced the rest of the family was scheming against him, decided to seek revenge by asking questions about funds that seemed to have disappeared in Hong Kong. This caused consternation around the table, not least on the part of Paolo's father, Aldo, who had, over the years, supported innumerable mistresses by laundering sums through the Far East to evade tax. While various relatives were shouting at him to sit down and shut up, Paolo noticed the proceedings were not being minuted by the secretary whose duty it was to sit in on the brawling that passed for Gucci board meetings. He demanded his questions be noted. The secretary glanced around the table, registered the majority will, and remained motionless. So Paolo reached into his briefcase, pulled out a tape recorder and began intoning into it details of the time, date and place. He did not get far. His elder brother Giorgio ran round the table and tried to snatch the tape recorder away. Paolo grabbed it at the same moment and the two men began furiously pulling this way and that for possession, their complexions flushing a dangerous shade of puce. Paolo was 53; Giorgio was 55. Aldo decided to intervene, but instead of trying to separate his sons he stepped up behind Paolo, put an arm round his neck and heaved him back to try to make him release his grip on the tape recorder. Paolo began to struggle and dislodged his glasses. What happened next is a matter of dispute. Either Paolo's glasses, or Aldo's watch, or a fingernail, cut Paolo's cheek, drawing blood. Paolo would later claim it was a gash that took more than a week to heal; his brothers snorted that it was no more than ascratch. In any event, when Paolo realised he was bleeding he acted with typical Gucci restraint and staggered out of the boardroom holding a handkerchief to his cheek and bellowing 'Call the police!' Astonished staff stared at him as if he were an apparition. He called his doctor and his lawyer, then continued his dramatic progress through the offices, down the stairs into the shop, where he thrust his cheek at a bemused group of American customers and snarled 'Look! Look here! Look what happens at Gucci board meetings.' With that, he hurried out into the street and disappeared in a taxi. Paolo was not so seriously injured that he was unable to talk to the media, and in the following days the newspapers were full of the fracas and Paolo's US$13 million lawsuit filed in New York, alleging his brothers and his cousin 'at the behest and instigation of the defendants Aldo Gucci and Rodolfo Gucci, wilfully and maliciously assaulted, battered and beat the plaintiff about his person, using their hands, fists and various objects'. It stretched the truth a bit, but as Paolo artlessly explained: 'I had to sue them because I was mad I was bleeding like a goat. It was enough to kill the pride and the ego of any man.' At the time, however, nobody realised the incident was something of a turning point in the fortunes of this extraordinary family. After 1982 the Guccis were so riven by hatred, so intent on settling old scores, so embroiled in internecine plots, that they were effectively unable to control the enormous international company that had grown out of the little leather goods shop set up by Guccio Gucci in Florence in 1922. One by one the Guccis departed or were ousted (usually by other Guccis), until by the mid-1980s only the ferociously ambitious Maurizio remained. Ridiculously profligate, paranoid about his safety, surrounded by cronies and looking to a tarot-card reader to guide him, Maurizio proved hopelessly incompetent. In September he was forced to sell his shares and hand over total control of the Gucci empireto Investcorp, an Arab-backed investment bank. Today, for the first time in its history, there are no Guccis in Gucci. 'You know,' Patrizia Gucci says, 'they were a wonderful family. But ambition, power, success, money destroyed everything.' Paolo now lives in a fine 17th-century manor house on the outskirts of the village of Rusper, in Sussex. He says he has no regrets about what has happened, not even about being indirectly responsible for his father going to prison. He primarily blames his cousin, Maurizio, for the demise of the Guccis. Maurizio, he says, was motivated by a desire for revenge against Paolo's side of the family. 'Once Maurizio got control he got rid of everyone in my family, starting with my father, then me and my two brothers, then my brothers' sons, then my two daughters. Ten people in all. It was the most stupid thing he could have done. He only wanted one Gucci there - himself.' While Paolo is talking a young woman carrying a baby comes into the room. 'This,' he says proudly, 'is my daughter.' One can be forgiven for thinking that Paolo, at 64, is too old to be the father of either, but the woman, Penny Armstrong, is his 23-year-old mistress and the baby their daughter, Alicia. 'All the Guccis are very charming, major seducers,' says Jenny Gucci, Paolo's estranged wife. 'He was a wonderful husband for 10 years, but then he started sleeping around and didn't do it very subtly. I wasn't upset that he went off with a younger woman, lots of men do that, but I was upset that he moved her into my house within just a few weeks of me moving out.' Jenny, 44, the feisty daughter of a London bookmaker, now lives in a half-completed luxury apartment in New York which Paolo is determined to wrest from her and which she is equally determined to keep as part of a divorce settlement she intends to be handsome. They bought the US$3 million property, comprising three apartments on the 64th floor of the exclusive Metropolitan Tower in midtown Manhattan, in 1990. When she discovered her husband was having an affair with Armstrong she decided to make a life for herself with her daughter Gemma in New York. Unfortunately construction work to convert the three apartments into one was far from complete when Jenny serveddivorce papers. Paolo's immediate response was to refuse to pay any more bills and the builders promptly moved out. 'What you have to understand about the Guccis,' she says cheerfully, 'is that they are all completely mad, incredibly manipulative and not very clever. They have to be in control, but as soon as they get what they want, they crush it. They are destroyers; it's as simple as that. 'I used to sit outside when they were having board meetings, listening to them screaming and shouting at each other, and think 'My God, what have I married into?',' she said. For years biographies produced by Gucci corporate public relations claimed the Guccis were a noble family with links to the aristocracy stretching back hundreds of years. Aldo Gucci liked to boast the family's history could be traced back 500 years and that his ancestors made leather riding boots and bridles for royalty. It was all nonsense. Aldo's father, Guccio Gucci, was born in Florence in 1881, the son of a straw-hat maker on the verge of bankruptcy. Guccio ran away to sea when he was 14 and eventually ended up in London in 1897, where he found a job as a dishwasher in the kitchens at theSavoy Hotel. Guccio returned to Florence in 1902, and married a young seamstress, Aida Calvelli. Their first child, a daughter, Grimelda, was born in January 1903. Four sons, one of whom died in infancy, followed. Guccio found a job with a manufacturer of high-class leather goods, apparently served as a transport driver in the army during World War I, and opened his own leather shop in Florence in 1922. Grimelda worked behind the counter at the till and her three brothers - Aldo, Rodolfo and Vasco - would all, in time, follow her into the family business. Aldo, who was handsome and popular with the women, proved to be an exceptional salesman and persuaded his father to extend the range from handcrafted luggage and bags to belts, wallets and smaller items, all marked with Guccio Gucci's distinctive intertwined Gs. In 1927, Aldo, then 22, married Olwen Price, a Welsh girl working as a lady's maid in Florence. She was to bear him three sons: Giorgio, Paolo and Roberto. By 1939, Gucci had expanded to Rome, to a shop on the fashionable Via Condotti which Aldo managed. The shop stayed open throughout the war and Olwen worked secretly with a resistance network, hiding escaping Allied prisoners of war and aircrew who had been shot down, in a room behind the shop. Aldo's youngest brother, Rodolfo, had exploited his dashing good looks as an actor in early silent movies in Hollywood and met with modest success, but by the end of the war he had fallen on hard times and was prevailed upon by his father to join the business and take charge of a third shop in Milan. Guccio died in 1953, at the age of 72, in the same year that the business, at Aldo's insistence, expanded into the United States and opened a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York. It was convenient for Aldo because it meant he could install his mistress, BrunaPalumbo, who worked in the Rome shop, in an apartment in New York at the company's expense. Guccio left the business in its entirety to be divided equally between his three sons. His daughter Grimelda, understandably aggrieved that her contribution had not been recognised, appealed to her brothers for a share of the inheritance but they, being Guccis, refused to part with a dime. Grimelda sued, but was hopelessly outmanoeuvred, so she got nothing. Meanwhile, jealousy between Aldo and Rodolfo was causing tension. Aldo considered Rodolfo to be a parvenu and dilettante who knew so little about business that his opinions were worthless; Rodolfo made no secret of the fact that he despised shopkeepers andregretted giving up his career as an actor to 'dust handbags'. The two brothers fought over everything, particularly women (Rodolfo's wife had died not long after giving birth to their son Maurizio) and sometimes resorted to slapping each other's faces. The third brother, Vasco, took little interest in these disputes or in the business, preferring the genteel country pursuits of hunting and fishing. In due course Aldo's three sons joined the business, but all found it difficult working with their tyrannical father and coping with the fact that he had a wife - their mother - in Rome, a mistress in New York, and a different girlfriend every few weeks. Aldo expected his sons to do what he said, not do what he did. When he heard that Roberto, who was married, was having an affair with one of the shop girls he had her fired. When Roberto helped the girl set up a shop of her own, he fired Roberto. 'Aldo was an incredible character but fundamentally not a very nice person,' Jenny Gucci says. 'He was controlling and cruel. I think all the boys were secretly frightened of him. I know he was violent to their mother in front of them when they were children. One day, when he was about 14 or 15, Paolo did something wrong and when he came home he found that his father had given his dog away. Paolo told me that he had cried for a week.' As Aldo became more outrageous and extrovert, his brother Rodolfo became more introvert, doting possessively on his only son, Maurizio, and spending much of his time, and a great deal of money, working on his filmed autobiography, a project that was to become a personal obsession. Maurizio was the first of the Gucci heirs to go to university and on graduation was immediately sent to New York to start learning the business from his uncle, Aldo. When he returned to Italy and announced he wanted to marry, his father was devastated and immediately accused the girl of being a gold-digger, even though she was from a wealthy family. Maurizio and Patrizia went ahead and married anyway, but it caused a rift with Rodolfo that took several years to heal. By the early 1970s Gucci had grown into a multi-million-dollar company with a worldwide staff of more than 1,000 and an unparalleled international reputation in the luxury goods market. It numbered among its regular customers the Queen of England and her sister, along with a veritable galaxy of Hollywood stars and notable consumers such as Imelda Marcos. When Vasco died in 1975, Aldo and Rodolfo had no difficulty in raising more than US$2 million to buy his share of the company from his widow. Aldo subsequently divided part of his 50 per cent holding between his sons, giving them shares for the first time and dangerously shifting the balance of power, since any one of his three sons siding with Rodolfo would give his brother a majority against which Aldo would be powerless. But the main friction came from Paolo, whose constant complaint was that the company, despite its success, was badly managed and failing to grasp the opportunities available to it. Paolo wanted to license the Gucci name and produce a range of lower-priced goods for what he believed was a huge potential market. Aldo and Rodolfo remained resolutely opposed to his ideas and so Paolo made plans to market a range of new products under his own name, Paolo Gucci. The moment his father and uncle found out about it,in 1980, they fired him. Paolo immediately sued, confident his father and uncle would quickly surrender for the simple reason that he knew too much. Paolo was aware, for example, that millions of dollars were being siphoned into offshore accounts for fictitious services, that invoices were being submitted by companies in Hong Kong for design work nobody had ever seen, that both his father and his uncle had set up Panamanian companies to harbour laundered funds. He lodged this damning evidence with the court, but his father and his uncle did not rush to seek a settlement. He warned his father of the danger he was in, but the old man was airily dismissive. When Paolo offered to withdraw his suit in return for permission to use his own label, his father refused. Many months of legal wrangling passed before a deal was offered. It seemed almost too good to be true, and it was. 'They got me back with a promise that I would be responsible for designing and promoting new lines for licensing and that I would be given 15per cent of the gross profits,' Paolo said. 'For me it was like a dream come true but it was a con, a complete con. I was completely set up.' A condition of Paolo's return was that he drop his suit against the company, but when he tried to withdraw the documents he had lodged with the courts it was too late. The Inland Revenue Service had taken careful note of the information so kindly produced and had already embarked on an investigation of his father's tax affairs which seemed to indicate that some US$15 million had been illegally 'subtracted' from the revenues of the Gucci company in the US. In May 1983, Rodolfo died and Maurizio discovered, somewhat to his surprise, that his father had left him everything. At the age of 25 he inherited 50 per cent of Gucci, along with a string of properties in St Moritz, Milan, Mexico and New York, and a longfeature-film of his father's life. It was not enough. Maurizio did not just want half the company - he wanted complete control. Moving quickly to consolidate his power, he suggested a deal with his cousin Paolo, whom he viewed as the chief troublemaker. He offered to buy Paolo's shares and set up a joint company with him to license Gucci products, including those items Paolo had been developing under his own name. Written into the package was a contract guaranteeing Paolo's appointment as president of the new company at a salary of US$500,000 a year and six per cent of the profits. Paolo agreed, on the understanding that he would be appointed to the board. Maurizio swiftly convened a board meeting, declared he held the proxy for Paolo's shares and thus an absolute majority and announced he was sacking the entire board, including his uncle Aldo, who was promptly obliged to resign as president. When Maurizio announced the composition of the new board, with himself as president, Paolo's name was not on the list, but Giorgio had been appointed vice-president. Paolo was furious. Then, on the day the sale of his shares was due to be completed at the offices of a Swiss bank, he discovered his contract no longer stipulated that he would be president of the new company. Convinced his cousin was trying to screw him, he refused to complete the deal. He also refused to return the US$2 million he had insisted Maurizio pay in cash as a deposit. Each of the cousins, as was the way with the Guccis, sued the other for substantial damages. There was, of course, plenty of other Gucci versus Gucci litigation going on at that time, as there was at every other time. Paolo was still suing the company for the right to market goods under his own name and the company was suing Paolo wherever he tried it. Roberto was being sued for handing over to his brother-in-law exclusive rights to sell Gucci goods in airport duty-free shops throughout the world. Paolo and Roberto were suing each other for the right to market alcoholic beverages under the Gucci name. Maurizio was suing Roberto for selling whisky 'selected by Roberto Gucci' without the authorisation of the company. Aldo was suing his wife, Olwen, for a divorce; Roberto and Paolo were fighting on their mother's behalf to prevent the divorce going ahead. Maurizio was being sued for cancelling the distribution contract for Gucci perfumes in the US. Gucci Shops Inc was suing Aldo and Roberto for the return of 'misappropriated' funds. There was soon to be a significant addition to the bulging files of Gucci litigation when Aldo launched a crafty attempt to exact revenge on his upstart nephew. In early 1985, Aldo and Roberto laid information before magistrates in Italy accusing Maurizio of acquiring his shares in the company by fraud. The substance of their allegation was that someone had forged Rodolfo's signature on a document transferring his holding to his son before his death. An investigation began into Maurizio's affairs and it was not long before further charges were made that he had violated foreign exchange regulations by illegally importing capital from Italy. While Maurizio was in Australia, supervising the Gucci-sponsored yacht that was a challenger for the America's Cup, his apartment in Milan was raided. In September 1986 Paolo's action against his father reached its tragic and inevitable climax in a criminal court in New York. Aldo, 82, was found guilty of tax fraud, ordered to repay US$7 million in back taxes and penalties, and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Paolo remains unrepentant about sending his father to prison. 'My father blamed me. Oh yes, he blamed me. But I had warned him of the risk he was running and he had plenty of opportunities to avoid what happened. In the end I just said fine, you run the risk, you'll get burned.' Aldo served five months in a minimum-security federal prison camp in Florida and the remainder of his sentence at a halfway house, not too far from his mansion in Palm Beach, where he was allowed occasional weekend visits. He endured it stoically, but his zest for life and his energy started to flag. In May 1990, Aldo died, leaving what remained of his fortune, some US$30 million, to Bruna and their daughter. There was, it hardly bears mentioning, a subsequent legal wrangle over the will: Olwen, encouraged by Paolo, claimed it had been 'procured by fraud, duress and undue influence'. While his uncle was still in prison, Maurizio, convinced he had been set up by vengeful members of the family, was fretting he might follow in Aldo's footsteps. In the summer of 1987, fearful he was about to be arrested, he fled to Switzerland, where he was to remain a fugitive for more than a year. In his absence the official receiver expelled him from the presidency of the company and appointed new directors to run the business until the charges against him had been settled. While Maurizio was hiding in Switzerland, Aldo and his sons, perhaps tiring of the endless family squabbles, agreed to sell their 50 per cent stake in Gucci to Investcorp, a Bahrain-based investment bank which already owned Saks Fifth Avenue and part of Tiffany in New York. The price was reported to have been around US$170 million. In July 1988, Maurizio learned his lawyers had cut a deal with the prosecutors and he returned to Italy to face the music. He was given a one-year suspended sentence, subsequently dismissed on appeal. Reinstated as chairman of Gucci, he declared his intention, with the backing of Investcorp, to revitalise the company and restore its prestige, which had been tarnished by licensing the Gucci name so indiscriminately that it now appeared on some 20,000 different products, many no better than tacky souvenirs. Although profits were healthy - Gucci made US$43 million in 1989 - Maurizio believed there too many retail outlets to preserve Gucci's exclusivity. He bought back all the franchises in the US, cut back on the number of stores allowed to sell Gucci productsand slashed the product range, discarding any item he did not consider sufficiently upmarket, regardless of how well it sold. The result was a disastrous slump in sales, from US$220 million to less than US$180 million. In 1991 Gucci posted a loss of US$20 million. Maurizio declared himself to be unconcerned, claiming that difficult years were to be expected while the company was in the throes of restructuring. Although the company was losing money, Maurizio authorised massive expenditure to refurbish Gucci stores around the world and relocated the corporate headquarters to a five-storey building on the elegant Piazza San Fedele in the centre of Milan, spending US$6 million remodelling the interior. Rent for the building accounted for an annual US$6 million drain on the company's coffers. A jet was purchased for Maurizio to shuttle between the factory in Florence and the offices in Milan, even though the journey by road or rail was both quick and convenient. He also bought the Villa Bellosguardo, a run-down 18th-century palazzo near Florence, and embarked on a US$10 million restoration project to turn it into a Gucci foundation that would support cultural events and act as a training school for Gucci managers. The company paid the US$100,000-a-year rent on an apartment on Milan's Via Corso for Maurizio's personal use. He equipped it with a bowling alley, games room and private gymnasium. For a choice of personal transport he had two Ferrari Testarossas, one red and one black. He also owned a three-master 68-metre yacht, the Creole, said to be one of the most beautiful boats in the world. Executives at Investcorp expressing private concerns about Maurizio's spending habits would have been even more alarmed if they had talked to his estranged wife, Patrizia, who still lived with her two teenage daughters in the opulent apartment in the centre of Milan that was their marital home. 'The power that came with his inheritance revealed his ambition. His only aim was to take control. He told me he wanted to be like Howard Hughes; everybody must know his name but nobody must know his face. He surrounded himself with people who were sharks and only out to enrich themselves.' Patrizia says Maurizio rarely took any major decisions without consulting his personal tarot-card reader. He was also paranoid about his personal safety. Convinced a masonic lodge was plotting his murder, he surrounded himself with bodyguards and took to hurling mail against a wall before opening it to make sure it did not contain explosives. In April 1993 it was reported Maurizio's holding in Gucci had been seized by a Swiss bank because of his failure to make repayments on loans taken out using Gucci stock as collateral. He was said to have personal debts of around US$40 million. The bank threatened to auction his shares within four weeks unless he made good on the loans. Patrizia says she was responsible for bailing out her husband. Lawyers told her Maurizio was broke, that he had squandered everything his father had left him, and that unless he could raise 30 million Swiss francs over the weekend he would almost certainlylose the company. 'I was interested in protecting my position and the future for my daughters,' she says. In July Investcorp started legal action to try to force Maurizio out of office on the grounds that he was mismanaging the company. The bank alleged its partner was highly mercurial, had little business sense and had consistently failed 'to present a budgetwhich makes any sense or which could be passed by the board'. An Investcorp spokesman said the company was continuing to deteriorate and was in a precarious position. 'We cannot allow the vast potential of Gucci to continue to dissipate. The long-term constructive solution is the infusion of new capital coupled with a capable new management team, including a new chief executive.' As the cash crisis deepened some staff salaries were not paid, suppliers' payments were delayed and the 1993/1994 advertising campaign was cancelled. On Friday, September 17, the auditors lodged the company accounts with a Florence court because the shareholders failed to approve the 1992 balance sheets. They asked for liquidation proceedings to begin and the appointment of a new management. When there was a delay issuing pay cheques, unions called factory workers and shop staff out on strike to protest; employees picketed the plant in Florence and Gucci stores in Florence, Rome and Bologna. Ten days later Investcorp announced it had bought Maurizio's 50 per cent shareholding for US$170 million. To save face, Maurizio was appointed special consultant to Investcorp's luxury goods division, but he does not appear to be taking his duties too diligently, since he has effectively disappeared. Patrizia believes he may be on his yacht, heading for Hawaii. Paolo Gucci still hopes to launch his own label and is pessimistic about the future of Gucci. 'It was a very special business because the Guccis were special. It is like a restaurant when the chef goes away, it is never the same. What does a big company know about an image like Gucci? I've heard they're thinking of manufacturing in South America. It's absurd. Can you imagine Gucci made in Argentina? It's like whisky made in Abu Dhabi. It just doesn't click.' Roberto Gucci has opened his own luxury goods shop in Florence, called the House of Florence. Giorgio Gucci is believed to be in Argentina, where he has property. 'Gucci could have continued for generations,' Patrizia says. 'It was tradition, class, chic; it was something that never dies. Maurizio has cashed in US$170 million but destroyed a dynasty. If Rodolfo, a man of great integrity, could come back alive, he would kill his son for what he had done.'