During her marriage to Maurizio Gucci, Patrizia Reggiani was not shy of a bauble or two. “Christmas tree-d up” is how Janty Yates, the costume designer for House of Gucci, puts it. “Patrizia wore incredible jewellery and it was all the real McCoy. She was quite literally dripping in gems,” says Yates.
The movie charts the true-crime story of the couple’s romance, and how Reggiani, incensed by Maurizio’s infidelity and subsequent abandonment, came to plot his murder in 1995. A pantomime-ish ode to all things Italian, the film uses the high polish of bold yellow gold Italian jewellery to chart Reggiani’s rise and fall, from her early life working in her father’s trucking company, to her pursuit of the Gucci heir and their subsequent heady days of excess in the ’80s, to her self-induced downfall in the ’90s.
Lady Gaga—or LG to Yates—who plays Reggiani in the film, was as committed to getting her character’s look right as she was perfecting her performance. “LG had 54 script days on set and we did not repeat anything, not even an earring,” says Yates, who has been creating the costumes for Ridley Scott’s movies since he made Gladiator in 2000.
That could mean as many as two or three costume changes a day, and given Patrizia’s love of a good gem, that meant a lot of jewellery—both precious from Bulgari and Boucheron, and costume from Pikkio, an Italian company that specialises in supplying jewellery to movie productions. “I had something like 30 black velvet drawers on set every day, and it would take us an hour every time just to lay it all out,” laughs Yates.
The arc of Patrizia’s journey is reflected in her polite pearls and cashmere jumpers at the beginning of the movie, which are replaced by what Yates calls “full ’80s glam” as, post-marriage, she gets tougher and more avaricious about control of the family business. In some instances, only the real thing would do when it came to the jewellery. For Yates, Italian jewellery is synonymous with Bulgari, and never more so than in the extravagant, glitzy, shoulder-padded ’80s, when its colour wheel of precious gems in bold designs captured the spirit of the age. As Andy Warhol once said to Nicola Bulgari, grandson of the house’s founder: “I believe that your idea of jewellery is the ’80s.”
As soon as Yates got to Rome for pre-production on the film, she visited Bulgari’s flagship store on the city’s glamorous Via dei Condotti. “I didn’t have to go any further down the street,” she said. She and Gaga chose a combination of contemporary and heritage pieces from the house’s high jewellery collections. One is a 1991 necklace originally owned by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, the daughter of Prince Aly Khan and actress Rita Hayworth. It is a flamboyant mix of amethyst, citrine, diamonds and sapphires, matched in exuberance only by Patrizia’s hairstyle in the scene. As she convinces the gentle Maurizio to go into battle to wrest control of the company from his Uncle Aldo (played by Al Pacino), and cousin Paolo (Jared Leto), her jewels and gold chainmail designer dress become a form of armour. “It’s time to take out the trash,” she pronounces to her husband, with steely determination.
In another scene charting the couple’s glamorous life in New York, Patrizia manages to outshine the disco glamour of Studio 54 in a Gina Lollobrigida-worthy hot pink couture gown, paired with a contemporary high jewellery necklace by Bulgari that features pigeon’s blood rubies as red as her lipstick.
The other house providing fine and high jewellery in the film, Boucheron, hails from Kering, the same stable as Gucci itself. Its signature Serpent Bohème design of stylised, diamond pavé snake heads set in beaded gold is the perfect accessory for a white gown embroidered with pearls. Naturally, the glamour puss wears it not alone, but with another long diamond necklace, large earrings and multiple rings. “She was drenched in jewellery,” says Yates. Coincidentally, it is the very same necklace that Gaga wears on the cover of December’s Vogue.
The prospect of multiple security guards on set to protect millions of pounds worth of high jewellery meant it was generally easier, says Yates, to opt for “swathes of costume jewellery” from Pikkio, to facilitate the multiple costume changes.
Reggiani’s jewellery gets bolder as she gets more ruthless over the course of the movie. In terms of character arc however, the most striking jewellery of all in the movie is Patrizia’s look in the early ’90s, when—separated from Maurizio and with her thoughts turning to a murder plot—she sheds the big jewellery, opting instead for a discreet pair of earrings to go with a less overtly feminine wardrobe of vintage jeans and leather jackets.
Jewellery’s other role in the movie is to highlight the contrast between outsider Patrizia’s bold and brassy look and the refined snobbery and dandyism of the Gucci family. While she is dripping in gold from head to toe, her husband (played by Adam Driver), his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), Aldo and Paolo signal their family unity and status with a simple signet ring worn on their little finger, as members of the nobility have done since medieval times. Rather than being true to any particular Italian tradition, Yates said this was poetic licence, representing the family’s moneyed upper middle-class life in Milan. “It’s not really about tradition, but more about my love of signet rings,” she explains.
What is genuine in the movie are the vintage Gucci watches worn by many of the characters, which Yates sourced via eBay. What she wasn’t able to secure was the actual Patek Philippe, once owned by Maurizio, to represent his overspending in the ’90s before the company was wrestled from his control by then owner, Bahraini investment company Investcorp, and Domenico De Sole, Gucci’s chief executive. “We couldn’t afford it. It cost something like £6million,” she explains. “My Burlington Arcade jeweller said, ‘No way, there are only three of those in the world.’”
The real-life Patrizia Reggiani’s passion for jewellery and unwillingness to give up her glamorous lifestyle—even after being convicted of her husband’s murder—were such that the only job she would accept when granted parole in 2014 was as a design consultant for Bozart, a Milanese costume jewellery brand. After all, life in prison had been a relative breeze. “She kept up to date with fashion by spending a lot of money on magazines—she always knew about new designers and collections,” Bozart co-owner Alessandra Brunero told the Guardian in 2016. “She was a queen in jail; the other prisoners would come to her for styling and beauty advice. Her life could have been difficult, but it was quite comfortable.” As soon as she was released from parole, she left Bozart and went back to doing what she does best: spending her £900,000 a year divorce settlement from Maurizio. As she once said: “I’d rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.” You just couldn’t make it up.