Gucci! “It was a name that sounded so sweet, so seductive,” purrs Lady Gaga in the opening of “House of Gucci,” the new movie about the 1995 murder that rocked the historic fashion house.
“[It was] synonymous with wealth, style, power,” she continues in voiceover. “But the name was a curse, too.”
What an understatement! “House of Gucci” unfolds like a Shakespearean tragedy, filled with backstabbing, betrayal, murder and more — all done in the most extravagant, over-the-top opulence: silk cravats and piles of jewels, enormous furs and va-va-voom dresses, double-G Gucci logos on ev-er-y-thing.
“What a toxic family they were,” Janty Yates, the costume designer for the film, told The Post. She added that the real-life personalities were just as flagrant — and flamboyant — as their on-screen counterparts: “We took [their looks] fairly directly from photographic reference.”
There was Aldo Gucci, played here by Al Pacino, the gregarious, larger-than-life leader with a penchant for women and tax evasion. There was Aldo’s son, Paolo — a paunchy, balding Jared Leto — the wayward heir who betrayed his 81-year-old dad and put him in prison in 1986. There was tragic matinee idol Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who would disown his only son, Maurizio (Adam Driver), when he decided to marry beneath his station.
And there was Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), the nouveau riche villainess who captured Maurizio’s heart, drove him to take over Gucci and had him killed in cold blood when he had no use for her anymore.
They all dressed their parts to the hilt, and infused the real house of Gucci with its singular flash and pizazz.
“It was a luxury house that had a jet-set, international audience,” said Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Lots of movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and celebrities like Jackie Kennedy bought Gucci … It was glamorous.”
Founded in 1921 by former bellhop Guccio Gucci, Gucci initially provided leather luggage and goods to rich travelers. Guccio himself had rather snazzy style — always sporting a luxe gold watch chain over his enormous belly — but his sons outshone him.
His eldest, Aldo, would turn Gucci into an empire, creating its iconic Horsebit loafers, bamboo-handle handbag and red-and-green-striped branding. (He also started the rumor that Gucci came from a family of noble saddle-makers, a myth that persists to this day.)
“Aldo was very sartorially elegant. He was 6-foot-2. He was a ladies’ man,” said Yates of the womanizing, blingy man about town. “He always had a buttonhole and a ‘boofy’ [voluminous] silk pocket handkerchief, and a non-matching waistcoat and a big tie.”
Aldo modernized Gucci, and made it bigger and more in-your-face, while his younger brother Rodolfo (a dignified Jeremy Irons) had a more romantic style — all plush velvet jackets in vibrant jewel tones, silk cravats and robes and (in the movie) luxurious pashmina shawls.
“Rodolfo had a very different sensibility,” said Sara Gay Forden, author of the book “House of Gucci,” which inspired the movie. Rodolfo, a former silent-film star, “was very much a reserved, patrician gentleman,” Forden told The Post. “He hadn’t even wanted to go into the family business in the beginning — he fancied himself an actor — and he wore smoking jackets and brocades.”
While Aldo originated the house’s showier designs — like the double-G logo canvas bags — Rodolfo created the brand’s now-iconic Flora print, specifically as a scarf for Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.
Kelly “had come to the [Milan] store, and he tried to give her a bamboo-handle bag, which was their signature product, but she demurred and said, ‘Oh, no — that’s too much. Just something small … Maybe a scarf,’” said Forden. Gucci didn’t make scarves at the time, but that didn’t deter Rodolfo, who called a friend, the artist Vittorio Accornero, and asked him to design a scarf with “a cornucopia of flowers that would be fit for a princess.”
Rodolfo’s melancholy manner stemmed from the death of his beloved wife and co-star, Sandra, who died at age 44 of uterine cancer, leaving the widowed Rodolfo with 5-year-old Maurizio. Rodolfo never married again, and he spent the rest of his life working on a movie crafted from scenes from his and Sandra’s films and home movies. He was so protective of Maurizio that he had his butler follow the boy around in his car and spy on him.
Maurizio — tall and elegant like his father, in Savile Row suits and Gucci belts and loafers — remained devoted to Rodolfo until his father disinherited him for marrying the striving, crass Patrizia. Yet the two eventually reconciled, and Maurizio, horrified by the vulgar expansion of Gucci under his uncle Aldo and spurred by his ambitious wife, vowed to bring Rodolfo’s good taste back to the brand.
Gucci didn’t start hawking clothes until the early 1970s, and Aldo had put his son, Paolo (Jared Leto), in charge of designing the ready-to-wear collections — mainly tunics sewn from the brand’s famous scarves and lots of flashy leather jackets and skirts.
“These are the years of Studio 54 and Liza Minnelli wearing Gucci leather miniskirts,” said Forden. “So it was hip — it was the epitome of cool.”
But by the 1980s, Paolo’s relationship with his father and uncle had soured. Paolo wanted to bring Gucci in a more youthful, trend-driven direction, and he himself exhibited a more colorful, even garish style.
“They called him ‘the dandy’s dandy,’” said costumer Yates. “We did Aldo tastefully dandy, and we did Paolo tastelessly dandy — with clashing waistcoats and big windowpane checks and big billowing ties.”
Yates borrowed several items from the Gucci archive from this era for the film. One ensemble is a leather-trimmed tunic and matching pants covered in the double-G logo that Gaga wears in the scene where she discovers her maid carrying a Gucci knockoff. Yet Patrizia herself — at first dazzled by the Gucci name — rarely wore Gucci clothes; the brand had become rather unfashionable.
“She wore Saint Laurent, she wore Dior; she basically just Christmas tree-ed herself up with her jewelry,” said Yates. (Patrizia even designed a short-lived jewelry line for the label, though it proved too ostentatious even for the family.) Still, she wanted to make Gucci great again, and pushed Maurizio to, as Gaga voices in the film, “take out the trash.”
“Like many fashion companies, Gucci overextended itself, and that made it seem less elite,” said FIT’s Steele. From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, “they were pumping out more things to wider markets, and because of that, the prestige level went down. And then there was the shocking murder. [The brand] just seemed less shiny and glittery.”
“People just didn’t know what Gucci meant anymore,” said Forden. “Is it a plastic GG toilet kit, or is it a really special leather bag with a bamboo handle?”
Maurizio tried to restore some elegance to the label. But he never got to see his vision take: After tricking his family members into selling their shares of the company, then divorcing Patrizia, he ran Gucci to the ground and was ousted by the time creative director Tom Ford debuted his sensational 1995 collection for the brand. Maurizio was killed just weeks later.
Ironically, Ford restored Gucci not by running away from its excesses but by embracing them. Yates and her team re-created moments from his early iconic runways: the navel-baring silk shirts, the velvet jumpsuits and even Gucci thongs that catapulted the brand into the height of fashion.
It’s a tack that has served Gucci’s current creative director, Alessandro Michele, well. He’s reinvented the house’s staples, dreaming up fur-lined Horsebit shoes and GG-emblazoned garments with an extravagantly magpie, gender-fluid bent.
“I feel like in a way Gucci’s come full circle and really connected its past with its present,” said Forden. And it has fully embraced its scandalous past: “If you look on the runway, the models are wearing Maurizio Gucci’s signature aviator glasses.”
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