Monday, 7 March 2011


Mr Gianni Agnelli

Mr Giovanni "Gianni" Agnelli was an Italian industrialist, president of Fiat and, according to many at the time, the true "king of Italy". Whilst he ruled over the Italian economy and European high society for the 1960s, 70s and 80s, he was admired as much for his dress sense as his business one. He mastered the art of sprezzatura - making the difficult look easy. His style trademarks included wearing a watch over his shirt sleeve (saves time) and leaving his tie slightly askew, or hanging over his sweater. It may have looked accidental, but Agnelli wasn't a man to leave anything to chance.


Giovanni Agnelli (12 March 1921 – 24 January 2003), better known as Gianni Agnelli (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒanni aˈɲɛlli]), was an Italian industrialist and principal shareholder of Fiat. As the head of Fiat, he controlled 4.4% of Italy's GDP, 3.1% of its industrial workforce, and 16.5% of its industrial investment in research. He was the richest man in modern Italian history.

As a public figure, Agnelli was also known worldwide for his impeccable, slightly eccentric fashion sense,which has influenced both Italian and international men’s fashion.

Agnelli was awarded the decoration Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1967 and the title Knight of Labour (Cavaliere del lavoro) in 1977.Following his death in 2003, control of the firm was gradually passed to his grandson and chosen heir, John Elkann.

Agnelli was born at his parents' house in Turin but he maintained a strong ties with the village of Villar Perosa, near Turin in the Piedmont region. His father was the prominent Italian industrialist Edoardo Agnelli and his mother was Virginia Bourbon del Monte, daughter of Carlo, 4th Principe di San Faustino, head of a noble family established in Perugia (no kin to the House of Bourbon). Agnelli was named after his grandfather Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of the Italian car industry Fiat.

Gianni—as he was known to differentiate from his grandfather, with whom he shared his first name—inherited the command of Fiat and the Agnelli family assets in general in 1966, following a period in which Fiat was temporarily "ruled" by Vittorio Valletta while Gianni was learning how his family's company worked. Agnelli raised Fiat to become the most important company in Italy, and one of the major car-builders of Europe. He also developed the accessory business, with minor companies also operating in military industry. Agnelli and Fiat would come to share a common vision, Agnelli meaning Fiat and, more sensibly, Fiat meaning Agnelli.

Agnelli was educated at Pinerolo Cavalry Academy, and studied law at the University of Turin, although he never practiced law. He joined a tank regiment in June 1940 when Italy entered World War II. He fought at the Russian front, being wounded twice. He also served in a Fiat-built armoured-car division to North Africa, where he was shot in the arm by a German officer during a bar fight over a woman. After Italy surrendered, due to his fluency in English, he became a liaison officer with the occupying US troops. His grandfather, who had manufactured vehicles for the Axis during the war, was forced to retire from Fiat but named Valletta to be his successor. Gianni's grandfather died, leaving Gianni head of the family but Valletta running the company. Fiat then began producing Italy's first inexpensive mass-produced car.

Prior to his marriage on 19 November 1953 to Donna Marella Caracciolo dei principi di Castagneto — a half-American, half-Neapolitan noblewoman who made a small but significant name as a fabric designer, and a bigger name as a tastemaker—Agnelli was a noted playboy whose mistresses included the socialite Pamela Harriman. Though Agnelli continued to be involved with other women during his marriage, including the film star Anita Ekberg and the American fashion designer Jackie Rogers,the Agnellis remained married until his death of prostate cancer in 2003. He was universally considered to be a man of exquisite taste. He left his extraordary paintings to the city of Turin in 2002.

Their only son, Edoardo Agnelli, was born seven months after the couple's wedding, in New York City on 9 June 1954. Gianni gave up trying to groom him to take over Fiat, seeing how the boy was more interested in mysticism than making cars (he studied religion at Princeton and took part in a world day of prayer in Assisi). Edoardo — who seemed burdened by the mantle of his surname — committed suicide on 15 November 2000 by jumping off a bridge in Turin; Gianni himself joined police at the scene. Edoardo never married, but he had one son (born out of wedlock in 1973), who was not recognized by Gianni Agnelli.

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