This year, the world commemorates the 75th birthday of the fashion magician, and tragically deceased, Gianni Versace (†50). He brought shocking invention to fashion. His innovative designs, rich in colour and motifs, won over more than just celebrities. In addition to luxury clothing, jewellery and cosmetics, he also designed theatrical costumes and home accessories.
Although the Reggio Calabria native studied classical languages and later architecture, he’d been showing exceptional design talent since childhood, a talent that his family also encouraged him to pursue. His love of history and art were combined not only in his designs, but also in his life. His fascination with antiquity was carried over into the logo of his brand, the mythical Medusa.
A lifestyle, not just a brand
Before Gianni Versace conquered the fashion world, he created his first dresses as a child. He was given a serious opportunity to self-actualise in 1972, when he designed a collection for Fiori Fiorentiti. In the mecca of fashion, Milan, already at the age of 25 he was working for the famous Genna, Callaghan and Complice brands. He set out on his own after founding the family-run Gianni Versace Company in 1978, when he also organized his first fashion show. In 1982 he expanded into the production of accessories, cosmetics, jewellery and porcelain. At that time he also ventured into the world of theatre and television production as costume designer for the TV series Miami Vice and the film Showgirls. The shocking Bondage collection and the ‘Young Versace’ and ‘Versus’ lines made him a legend. After his tragic death, his sister Donatella took over as creative director and brother Santo as CEO. Today, the company is not owned by the family. In 2018, they sold it to the Michael Kors Limited group for two billion euros. Together with the Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo brands, it became part of the new Capri Holdings group, which produces both luxury fashion and accessories.
Celebrities and corporate marketing
VERSACE, the world's most popular haute couture brand, still symbolizes Italian luxury today. It is characterised by its innovative and shocking design and vibrant colours - yellow, purple and red. Bold patterns, prints and the famous neo-baroque Medusa logo are typical. Versace understood marketing. He became the first to elevate fashion shows to a spectacle and feature the stars of show business. Despite the high price tag, his designs were universally successful. But with success came rivals. The biggest was Giorgio Armani, about whom Versace declared, "Armani dresses the wife, Versace dresses the mistress." It was not only in the highest circles that he gained a clientele. He dressed both Princesses Diana and Caroline of Monaco. Barbara Streisand, Cher, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Sting and Phil Collins were all among his regular clients. The face of his designs was the singer Madonna.
Did he have any idea how he was going to die?
There was a turning point in his work when he was diagnosed with cancer. Thoughts of death permeated his work. At the show, the models wore dresses with cross symbols and Naomi Campbell fired a pistol. Did he suspect at the time that a gunshot would be fatal for him? His partner Antonio D'Amico found him shot and lying in a pool of blood outside his home in Miami on 15th July, 1997. Versace died while being taken to hospital. He was the victim of a psychopath named Andrew Cunanan. The funeral of the fashion magician was attended by his blue-blooded friends and showbiz stars. The fashion world will remember Versace as a man who was not afraid to experiment, break conventions, revolutionize and set a new direction.
Versace and Art
Gianni Versace was interested in both history and the works of art that inspired him. He collected paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Fernand Leger and Giorgio de Chirico. He was fond of furniture and sculptures from the Italian Renaissance. He owned the neoclassical Fontanelle villa near Lake Como in Moltrasio. The villa, built by Lord Charles Currie, was “dedicated” by Versace to art collections. Since 2008 it has been owned by Russian millionaire Arkadiy Novikov, who bought it for 33 million euros.