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Fashion History: Versace

In Reggio Calabria, Italy, a young boy was learning about sewing and fashion with his mother, Francesca, who owned a fashion atelier in the region. As time went by, the boy realized he had a lot of talent with clothes, but his city was too small for all his potential, so he moved to Milan.

In the Italian fashion capital, he received the opportunity to work in an important fashion group called Genny, where the man worked and designed a lot, increasing more and more. Then the time has come to take a big step in his career: create his own brand. Today, it would be no overkill to say that what the Italian has built became a fashion empire.

The protagonist of this story is called Gianni Versace.

Founded in 1978, Versace also had great support from Gianni’s older brother Santo and the younger Donatella. While the first one helped with financial matters, Donatella was Gianni’s right-hand person, as well as his inspiration muse. An interesting fact about them two is that Gianni came to see his sister as a confidant when she was twelve years old. In an interview for ‘Ssence’, Donatella commented that Gianni used to make her miniskirts and take her to nightclubs, treating her like a woman.”It was the happiest time of my life. I felt like an adult, but had the long-term perspective of a child. I thought my whole life would be like this.”

In addition, he talked to his sister about his sexuality when she was eleven years old. Donatella recalls that she felt proud and grateful for his honesty. This fact says a lot about the partnership they shared. Their collaboration grew so much that Donatella’s position extended to creative supervisor.

Now that you know a little about Versace’s origin, let’s understand its greatness and impacts on the fashion world.

Glamour and luxury

Versace is one of the most important brands in the entire fashion universe, especially when we talk about fashion in the 80s and 90s. Always remembered for its luxury and glamour, the company has clothes, accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, home decor, jewelry and even resorts, known as Pallazzo Versace.

Bright colors, intense prints, and sensual slits are Versace’s trademarks. These features drew a lot of attention because tailoring and colors such as beige and gray were really successful, especially the models by Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent. Versace’s pieces followed a different path at the time, since they were full of energy.

A phrase said by Anna Wintour, the US Vogue’s chief director, sums up the rivalry that was going on at that moment: “Armani dresses the wife and Versace dresses the mistress.” While the first one was more clean and practical, Versace was provocative and daring.

Furthermore, Versace’s fashion was intelligent. His productions were inspired by historical and artistic moments. Greco-Roman art was the inspiration not only for the excessive use of gold but also for the brand’s famous logo, the medusa.

Contemporary art also attracted the designer. In 1991, Versace launched a collection inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art. The collection is remembered until today by fashion professionals.

1994 was marked by one of his most iconic achievements: the spring/summer collection, which was totally inspired by punk culture, since it included a different use of buckles and pins, all in a Versace way.

The collection included a black dress with slits and gold details, it was worn by Elizabeth Hurley at the premiere of the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. This piece is considered one of his greatest creations. Today it is exposed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Among the fabrics that are the protagonists of the brand’s clothes, it is possible to mention Ottoman, Linen, Silk Cady and Metallic Jersey, the last one was a creation of the own Gianni.

The creations full of talent and creativity stood out at the end of the 20th century. Versace’s clothing proposal was to transmit security and sensuality to women, exploring the power and strength of the female gender.

Fashion shows, supermodels and menswear

Gianni created a Dream Team of supermodels for his fashion shows, which included big names such as Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford. The group of models paraded in a block, which was groundbreaking at the time. This position represents something big, striking, in weight.

Versace’s fashion shows can be easily considered spectacles, elements such as soundtrack and lighting were meticulously planned. It is an event where people can really enjoy.

Even though the company was very dedicated to women’s clothing, men’s clothes were not left aside. Since its birth, Versace Uomo had an innovative look at the male universe, bringing color and breaking away from traditional and repetitive models.

In addition, the Versus collection was developed with the younger public in mind. As if it wasn’t done enough already, Versace also innovated jeans. It is thanks to Gianni that clothes with jeans fabric had an advertising campaign with supermodels. But the brand’s models were not like the others, Versace Jeans Couture was marked by colors, prints and metallic threads.

A tragic end for a delightful soul

Gianni was happy and generous, he adored his family and also his work. He definitely loved to live, but his life was brutally ended on July 15, 1997. Versace was murdered by Andrew Cunanan outside his mansion in Miami Beach, Cunanan was responsible for the deaths of at least five people.

The designer was 50 years old when the tragedy happened. He left 50% of the Versace empire to Allegra, his niece. Her brother, Daniel, inherited the entire collection of rare pieces of art Gianni owned.

The event was portrayed in the series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. The production indicates that Versace and Andrew Cunanan knew each other. However, the designer’s family doesn’t agree with the show. “The Versace family has neither authorized nor had any involvement whatsoever in the forthcoming TV series about the death of Mr. Gianni Versace. Since Versace did not authorize the book on which it is partly based nor has it taken part in the writing of the screenplay, this TV series should only be considered as a work of fiction”, the family announced.

The legacy of an empire

After Gianni’s murder, Donatella and Santo remained in the company. The younger sister has been the brand’s artistic director since 1997, and many aspects of Versace’s permanence in the current fashion scene are due to her. Today she also holds the position of  Versace Group’s Vice President.

At the beginning of the Donatella Era, many believed that she would not be able to take the brand forward. It’s impossible to deny that Donatella had a great responsibility at hand and faced challenges.

In an interview for Ssence, Donatella told that at first she tried to give the public the same as Gianni, but never felt enough. Moreover, when she tried new things, she received disapproval from many. It was after eight years that Donatella got used to the pressure and began to establish herself as the new face of Versace.

However, this was not an easy path. Donatella had to face her drug addiction on the way, it was a period where she felt helpless, ashamed and self-hating.

“Who buys fashion from a weak, unstable designer who’s out of her mind because she takes drugs and therefore can’t stand herself? Nobody!”, Donatella reported for Ssence. That’s why she decided to create a mask: she became a platinum blonde, adhered to thick make-up, making her look cooler and more aggressive.

Donatella’s productions for Versace are sensual, strong, and heavily influenced by music, an artistic manifestation in which she is a big fan.

She also holds fashion events featuring a large number of celebrities. Many of these events sponsor the institutions that Donatella is a supporter of.

In 2018, Versace was bought by the Michael Kors group for $21.12 billion, joining the list of fashion brands now owned by large economic groups, such as Fendi, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and others.

Despite this, Versace is still a brand with great importance in the fashion scene. It stands out especially for not giving up the power and sensuality characteristic of Italian fashion, even in a period increasingly filled with holographic looks, oversized, and other aspects that depart from what has always illustrated the Versace empire.

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The article above was edited by Marina Ponchio.

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Giovanna Ragano

Casper Libero '24

Journalism student at Casper Libero. Passionate about literature, fashion and TV shows. Always listening to Lana del Rey or Danna Paola on headphones.
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