Patrizia Reggiani, the daughter of a laundress, mesmerized Maurizio with her violet eyes and bright-red dress – which showed off her curvaceous, youthful figure – when they met at a debutante party on the night of Nov. 23, 1970.
For him, it was love at first sight. For her, it was the potential conquest of one of Milan’s most prominent bachelors.
The two began a whirlwind, passionate courtship – although Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo, warned his son he was falling for a gold-digger.
Patrizia became determined to make her husband a leading figure in the Milan fashion industry. She played the role of celebrity wife to the hilt, decked out in Valentino and Chanel suits. The society pages nicknamed her the “Joan Collins of Monte Napoleone.”
SHE seemed to suffer from a case of the terminally nouveau riche. Her idea for a signature line of gold jewelry for Gucci – which featured chunky, stand-alone pieces imprinted with a crocodile-skin pattern – was a major flop.
As Maurizio’s power rose in the Gucci company, his relationship with Patrizia deteriorated. He relied on trusted adviser Domenico De Sole, who would later become Gucci chairman and CEO, for advice, and became increasingly annoyed by Patrizia’s efforts to guide him.
“As a younger man, he’d looked to Patrizia to support him and give him the strength to stand up to his own father, but as he gained power, he felt oppressed by her criticism,” Forden says.
When Maurizio left Patrizia in 1985, she was devastated. For years, she held out hope for a reconciliation. But when Maurizio took up with a series of blondes – the physical opposites of Patrizia – her hopes turned to bitterness.