Advertising

Romance, intrigue, Gucci . . . and a Shropshire wedding

By Toby Neal | Oswestry | Oswestry nostalgia | Published:

The Gucci story is a saga of love, passion, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, jail time, and a hitman murder.

And here's something which will really shock you - a Shropshire wheelwright's daughter was one of the key players in the unfolding tale.

Olwen Price was a spirited teenager from West Felton, near Oswestry, who won the hand of 22-year-old Aldo Gucci.

West Felton in the early 20th century, as Olwen Price would have remembered it

Aldo was destined to steer the Gucci business from being a top end leather goods store in Italy into an international brand synonymous with style, taste, and quality - and the first choice of countless celebrities.

It was a marriage which had royal blessing, but not necessarily in a good way. Because 19-year-old Olwen had been working for a Romanian princess named Elisabeth, and when Elisabeth discovered that Aldo had got her unmarried employee pregnant, she stormed into the Gucci shop in Florence to complain to Aldo's father Guccio, who had founded the firm.

The princess was satisfied when Aldo offered to marry Olwen, who was three months pregnant when the wedding took place at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Oswald, Oswestry, on August 22, 1927.

Aldo Gucci transformed the firm founded by his father into a global brand

Olwen returned with her new husband to live in Florence. But it was not to be a happy-ever-after marriage. Aldo was many years later to fall for Bruna, an 18-year-old working in his Rome store, with whom he went on to have a daughter, Patricia, at a time that having an illegitimate child was illegal in Italy and divorce was impossible.

Advertising

Patricia and Bruna were packed off to England, and Patricia was 10 before she learned that her father was not only married, but that she had three half brothers, all middle-aged.

She has now published her story in a new book: "In The Name of Gucci: A Memoir."

In The Name of Gucci

It reveals that a West Midlands firm which made saddles for the British royals was key to Gucci's success as things really took off for the firm post-war.

Advertising

When in London Aldo ordered a large quantity of ginger and brindle pigskins from a specialists tanners in Walsall - sadly the book does not identify them - whose butter-soft hides became so crucial to the Gucci business that he would frequently visit the factory personally to choose the hides until at least the 1960s.

Olwen - it's sometimes spelt as Olwyn - came back to West Felton regularly to visit her family and ultimately had a house in Oswestry where she would stay.

Olwen and Aldo are fondly remembered by her nieces, Caryn Price, and Caryn's older sister Anita Armitage. Their father was Bev Price, Olwen's brother.

Son Paolo was instrumental in getting Aldo jailed

Caryn, who still lives in the family home in West Felton, recalls: "I met Aldo Gucci once, in the Gucci shop in Bond Street. He was a lovely, lovely man.

"He came to West Felton for the funeral of Olwen's mother - this must have been around the mid-1960s - and my mum Renee said that although he was already a millionaire he went up the garden with my father talking about vegetables and village life. He never pressed his 'millionaire stuff' on anyone and he made the people here feel very comfortable. My mum told me how nice he was."

Anita, who lives in London but was brought up at Queens Head, near Oswestry, and went to Oswestry Girls' High School, says that during the war Olwen was involved in an underground network with the English nuns for escaped Allied prisoners in Italy. She received a medal from Field Marshal Alexander for her war efforts.

She recalls as a little child Aldo coming to Shropshire soon after the war and bringing her chocolate, and a second visit by him to West Felton around the late 1950s.

"How exotic Olwen seemed to me in those simpler times, with no modern media, just films and magazines," said Anita.

"She was like a film star with her mink coat, her lovely rings, her perfumes and her generosity.

"She was very pretty in a Vivien Leigh way, and she laughed a lot, with a tinkling laugh. I think she enjoyed the company of a young girl, having had only sons.

"My own personal first-hand recollections of both Olwen and Aldo are that both were very generous and opened my eyes to an unknown and exotic world of chauffeurs, butlers, swimming pools and so on when I spent some summer holidays in their villa in Rome.

"But I never felt the poor relation - which in truth I was - and learned so much from them. Aldo was also very nice to my grandmother Elizabeth Price – she even, rather untypically, responded a little to his flirting with her.

"Their marriage was volatile, particularly since Aldo was an archetypal Italian man, but I could also see a great deal of mutual affection there.

"I shall never forget their generosity to me."

She remembers going to the Bond Street shop when invited to choose a present when she married.

"Aldo happened to be there and weighed me down with luggage, shoes, briefcase and so on - all Gucci stuff.

"Aldo was great fun. He was very charismatic. He was very volatile. He clearly liked women. My friend and I were 21 when we went to Italy for a month after university finals and we stayed with them. He clearly loved our company in the way one can admire a young colt or young animal in its prime, not in a lascivious way. He clearly liked beautiful things. He was very kind to us."

She also recalls his sense of humour when, dressed very casually in old shorts and Gucci leather flip-flops, he took them to the Rome Hilton.

"I can remember him holding open the door of the Hilton and letting some Americans in - and then holding his hand out for a tip."

She says one of Aldo and Olwen's three sons, Paolo Gucci, who lived in England for some time, often visited her parents in West Felton with his then wife Jenny, an aspiring opera singer.

Paolo was a key player in a power struggle which developed for control of the Gucci empire, which became riven by family disputes. Paolo produced documents showing his father had been siphoning off profits to offshore companies, leading to Aldo being jailed in 1986 for tax evasion.

Paolo was later himself briefly jailed for failing to pay child support.

It was marriage troubles which led to Maurizio Gucci - the son of Aldo's brother Rodolfo - being shot dead in 1995 by a hitman hired by his ex-wife. She explained that she didn't shoot him herself because her eyesight wasn't good and she didn't want to miss.

Aldo died aged 84 in 1990, making Patricia his "sole and universal heir." In other words, Olwen and their three sons were cut out of the will, something which she challenged in the courts.

The ins and outs of the family feuds are detailed in Patricia's book, in which she says she had never seen Olwen until the day of her father's funeral, with both sides of the family sitting on different sides of the aisle in a chilling atmosphere.

"If I'd thought about her at all, I suppose I'd imagined her to be an elegant, elderly Englishwoman, ramrod straight in twinset and pearls. Instead, she was a shrunken little old lady in a wheelchair and her physical and mental frailty at 81 shocked me," writes Patricia.

But let's get back to the happier beginnings, and the 1927 Shropshire wedding of Aldo and Olwen which made local headlines. Aldo was described in the Shrewsbury Chronicle report as "the handsome son of a wealthy Italian merchant" and Olwen as an "average village girl in an average English village."

She was, however, proficient in dressmaking and needlework, and had had several posts with well-to-do families before, the paper said, landing the position of governess in the family of Princess Katherine, daughter of the Queen of Greece, and aunt of the boy King of Romania.

Her ambition to travel was realised when the post took her to Florence.

"Attached to Princess Katherine's household was a detective, and it was through his agency that Miss Price became acquainted with Signor Alda (sic) Gucci... the acquaintance ripened into affection." the report said.

According to the paper, Olwen was received into the Catholic church a few days before the wedding. Villagers from West Felton, Whittington, and Queens Head, thronged the church.

The Queen of Greece sent her congratulations by cablegram.

In her account of those beginnings, Patricia writes that Olwen had become a lady's maid and one of her duties while working for a Romanian princess named Elisabeth, who had married King George II of Greece, was to collect items for her employer from exclusive shops she liked to frequent.

"The little shop of G. Gucci & Co in Via della Vigna Nuova, Florence, was one of her many stops and the place Olwen first fell under my father's spell."

Aldo's parents did not come to Shropshire to attend the marriage because it would have meant closing the store in Italy.

Married life for Olwen in Florence soon began to sour.

"Although Olwen was well travelled, she soon felt like a fish out of water in a country where she barely spoke the language, didn't get on particularly well with her mother-in-law, and wasn't that keen on the food," writes Patricia.

With the arrival of baby Giorgio in February 1928 she had no time to socialise, and Aldo increasingly went out on his own, for work and for pleasure.

Olwen was destined to live to a ripe old age. Anita says that after her grandmother's death Olwen bought two houses side by side in Oswestry - they appear to have been in Gittin Street - with one for Olwen to stay in when she came over, and the other being the home of Olwen's sister Muriel.

There was intrigue when in the early 1970s some documents arrived out of the blue at Olwen's house in Oswestry, being opened by Muriel. It was a decree nisi - allegedly signed by Olwen, who appears to have known nothing about it.

Top level counsel were briefed. A High Court action loomed. The upshot was that there was no divorce, and indeed never was, although that did not stop Aldo and Bruna holding a marriage ceremony in America.

Anita heard only indirectly of Olwen's death, which she thinks was in Rome.

Information on the internet suggests that Olwen Price Gucci died on August 30, 1995.

This Shropshire woman so far from her roots was not buried alongside Aldo, but on her son Giorgio's property on the Argentario coast of Italy.

In The Name of Gucci: A Memoir by Patricia Gucci is published by Crown Archetype.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

Advertising

Top stories

Advertising

More from Shropshire Star

UK & International News