For the richest Italian of all time, full-time president of Fiat Automobili and part-time godfather of Italy, nothing was ever impossible.
Gianni Agnelli was, and forever will be, considered the King of Style.
Gianni’s grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli, founded Fiat, the largest manufacturer of vehicles during inter-war Europe. Upon the untimely death of Gianni’s father in a seaplane accident, Gianni was unexpectedly poised to take over the company from his Grandfather as the eldest of seven children.
Naturally adopted by his grandfather following the tragedy, Gianni was trained from a young age with the intention of eventually taking over Fiat. Though he never practised Law, Agnelli was a qualified lawyer before he pursued a life as an industrialist, which led to the nickname that many would come to affectionately know him by, “L’Avvocato.”
After the second world war (in which Agnelli served), when it was confirmed that Fiat would remain standing as a positive force in Italy’s quest for post-war capitalist strength, the question remained as to who would run the country’s manufacturing powerhouse until Gianni reached an appropriate age. Vittorio Valletta, a long-time Fiat executive and close aid to Gianni’s grandfather assumed the role until Gianni was ready for the responsibility.
This left a twenty-year gap for the billionaire playboy to blissfully let loose on the world with an endless supply of cash and zero responsibility. For two decades, Gianni’s life was as breezy as the Mediterranean coastline he usually found himself on. His days rarely strayed too far from the opulent. Breakfast in Rome, on a plane to Paris for lunch and at a cocktail party in Venice for the evening. HBO’s feature-length documentary sheds light on the lucrative lifestyle of L’Avvocato, which we’ve done our best to summarise for you here.
One of Gianni’s favourite things to do in his prime was to jump out of his helicopter on a Friday afternoon into the Mediterranean in front of Antibes’ famous Hotel du Cap, swimming ashore to an awaiting cocktail and an assortment of female friends by the pool.
On some weekends he would go so far as to call his friends at 6 am in the morning and ask, “Did I wake you? How is the sea? Go look for me. My captain tells me it’s shit.”
“No Gianni, it’s beautiful today,” his friends would reply. “Now stop calling me at this hour.”
Shortly after there would be a knock at the door and it would be Gianni, after landing on their front lawn in a helicopter saying “Okay, come on let’s go sailing.”
Gianni Agnelli was a fiend for adrenaline. Whether he was barrelling down a toboggan chute at 100 miles an hour or heli-skiing faster than anyone else on the mountain, Gianni Agnelli’s need for speed was widely assumed to one day be the death of the Italian prince.
In the HBO documentary, Agnelli’s friends recount how he would always drive like he was in a Formula 1 race, that he had no concept of considered, responsible driving behaviour. He would take one-way streets in the wrong direction and even run red lights on the regular.
In the mid-1950s, Agnelli purchased a new metallic green Ferrari 375 America which he proceeded to drive across the French city of Nice at insane speeds. It didn’t take long for him to get stopped by police, to which they quizzed him,
“Avvocato, must you drive your Ferrari on our streets? Did you really think we wouldn’t stop you?”
A pause followed.
“We wanted to check out your car.”
Gianni Agnelli had such allure, such charm, that he politely stepped out of the car and showed them the immaculate red leather interior, then proceeded on his way.
You’ve surely realised by now that Gianni Agnelli had more power than royalty itself. Every man wanted to be him, every woman wanted to be with him. In the summer of 1963, Jackie Kennedy, wife of the then U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and her daughter went to Italy’s Amalfi Coast to vacation with the Agnelli family. It was then that photos began to surface of Jackie and Gianni lounging on the yacht together around Capri, spending considerable amounts of time in each other’s company.
The New York Daily even went as far as publishing a headline that read “First Lady In Pirate’s Den.” JFK, knowing full well what Agnelli was like around women, sent Jackie a telegram that said “More First Lady, less Agnelli.” To the question of their relationship being more than amicable, Gianni’s sister hesitantly replied that if it was, she “wouldn’t be surprised.”
Gianni’s brushes with the rich, royal and famous were a daily occurrence for the man. On one occasion the President of Italy was coming to eat with him in Rome at Gianni’s apartment. Gianni called Guilio, his cook, to recommend a dish for the pair to eat that evening.
“Let’s prepare a special dish, let’s give him bull’s balls.”
The chef cautiously responded, “Excuse me sir, but making a pair of testicles for the President is not appropriate, let’s do something else.”
Gianni replied, “When these people come over they should be treated as they deserve. What’s more appropriate than giving two testicles to a prick?”
Agnelli was never one to settle down. One of his many escapes was Villa Bona a one-bedroom Italo-Japanese bachelor retreat on a hill overlooking Turin studded with sculptures, pop art and impeccable gardens. The abode was for anyone in his circle, himself and his mistresses alike, to converse away from prying eyes.
“I come here for lunch sometimes with some people, especially those that either don’t want to come to the office or don’t want to go through official channels.”
For more on the man, the myth and the legend that was Gianni Agnelli, we highly recommend watching HBO’s feature-length documentary – catch the promotional clip below.