In 1997, Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach home. His grief-stricken sister, Donatella, suddenly found herself in charge of the family company.
Twenty years later, she has chosen to take this anniversary and make it extraordinary, hijacking the style agenda to the extent that fashion journalists have been calling 2017 the year of Versace.
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She has designed a tribute collection inspired by Gianni’s archives, announced a scholarship in her brother’s name at Central Saint Martins and, in September 2017, in a fashion coup for the ages, reunited Gianni’s supermodel crew – Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni and Claudia Schiffer – for a catwalk finale that melted the internet.
Here, it starts a series of achievements, she received a major accolade at the Fashion awards. She announces the opening of a new Versace store on Sloane Street in London.
A lot of her year has been spent poring over old images and old creations, opening up the archive – a 10,000 sq ft storage facility in Novara, near Milan – and examining Gianni’s most famous creations for the first time since his death. “Not in a sad way,” she says, “but a very positive way. I saw what a genius my brother was. To me, he was my brother, but to the rest of the world – such a genius.”
Even the names of the archive collections, produced between 1991 and 1995, speak of another, more glamorous age: Vogue, Warhol, My Friend Elton, Icons, Baroque.
The pictures she shows me are from that time, too, and present the supermodel era exactly as you would want. Here is Bruni, a future first lady of France, dancing with abandon in thigh-high patent boots. Here is a babyfaced, never-off-duty Crawford, smouldering for the camera as she queues backstage. Here is Christy Turlington, running down a beach, wearing only shimmering sequins.
Compared with the unsmiling models who have walked the catwalk since, and the airbrushed campaign images and omnipresent filtered Instagram photographs we have grown used to, these pictures feel authentic (however liberally doused in hairspray the models are).
They bring back great memories, Donatella says to The Guardian. “This was the period that fashion became famous,” she says. “It was the beginning of fashion becoming pop culture, of being associated with music and rock’n’roll. Those two worlds were really in contact with one another. When something starts to happen, that is the most exciting moment. It was a huge change. The 90s was a huge change in fashion”.
Donatella added : “My brother, of course, was the designer; I was working very closely with him all my life. But I started the relationship with the models that Gianni made ‘super’.” What “super” meant, she says, was showing personality. “Before that, I don’t think many designers let models have personality, nor after. The models should wear the clothes, be very serious, not smile, look in front of you, almost no soul. This was totally opposite: it was about the girls, what the girls were thinking, who they were dating. It wasn’t just about the clothes, but about who was wearing the clothes.”
Fashion modelling is only just getting exciting again, she says, thanks to technology. “There are two generations of fashion for me: the one before the internet and the one after the internet.” Between the supermodels and now, she says, “was a moment of flatness. Now you could do this picture backstage again – there are people with enough personality there.” She likes the Instamodels, such as Gigi Hadid, who have become powerful thanks to their millions of followers on social media. “I think they are amazing. Very smart girls. Again, finally, we have girls who dare to stand out in the crowd.”
The 62-year-old’s Fashion awards gong is icon of the year and the hype around her company is enormous, so it is easy to forget the starting point: the horror of her brother’s murder and her first few years running the company, during which she was so shellshocked that she broke down in tears on the catwalk. Does she feel like an icon? “Yes,” she says abruptly, then laughs. “OK, should I be shy? No. This is not because I’m full of myself, but I think, in fashion history, I did a lot. I mean an icon in fashion, not an icon in general, in the world.”
To conclude with Donatella explained The Guardian about contemporary trends by focusing on millennials. “Millennials are all many designers talk about backstage, particularly in Milan,” she says.
In Italian fashion, the charge has long been that so many houses have been run for decades by the same designers or dynasties (Armani, Prada, Versace, Missoni; even relative newcomers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are 59 and 55) that the scene has become stale.
There have been rumours swirling around Versace for the past year or two that Riccardo Tisci, formerly of Givenchy – or Virgil Abloh of Off-White or Kim Jones of Louis Vuitton – might be in line for Donatella’s seat. That may be the case one day, but this year the conversation has shifted dramatically.
In many ways, Donatella’s approach to millennials and social media feels remarkably modern – and not only because she has 2 million followers on Instagram (in typically understated style, when she joined the app in 2015, a press release was issued; ever savvy, in her first post, she posed with Gigi Hadid).
This year, she says, has been “a rollercoaster of emotion. Not just that day [of the supermodel reunion show], but preparing for the show, going to the archive and seeing things that I last saw 20 years ago, before Gianni’s death. I never had the courage to go back there, because it was so painful, but I found the strength.”
She did it, she says, “for the young generation who didn’t know, who weren’t born when Gianni was alive. I want them to know why Gianni was so important and what Gianni was about.” And to tell her side of the story? “To show them how relevant Gianni is today. No story, no filter.”
(Source: The Guardian )