Donatella Versace Celebrates Her Past and Confronts Her Future
“Over the years I’ve seen so many homages to Gianni Versace and direct reference to Gianni Versace,” she said. “But I didn’t have the courage to do it myself. I was always afraid to touch the work of Gianni. I thought I would be criticized: ‘She isn’t Gianni.’ I thought I was going to fail. I mean, I did fail for a while! But then I realized: I was there for all of it. And the younger girls — Kendall, Gigi — kept asking what it was all about. Because you know, he died before there was social media.”
So she went into the archives: a 10,760-square-foot storage facility in Novara, Italy, a town west of Milan, which houses 13,000 pieces by Mr. Versace. And she came out with a collection that would be a celebration of 12 classic prints her brother created between 1991 and 1997, including the “Warhol” (a primary-colored riot of Marilyn and James Dean portraits), the animalière (leopard) and the baroque (ornate gold squiggles). And while she remade a few pieces in their entirety, most she decided to reclaim via her own specifications: more day wear, sharper shoulders, fewer slits.
What would her brother say about the result? Ms. Versace laughed. “Bitch!” Then she added, “No, he’d love it.”
“The difference between my brother and me is I also love women and think clothes are a good weapon to show ‘here I am, look at me,’ ” she said, “But for me, it’s not ‘look at me, I am so gorgeous,’ but ‘look at me, I have something to say.’ When I first started, I was doing 12 or more pieces of evening wear a collection. Now it’s like two.”
The result, on the Friday show schedule, was Versace past through the eyes of Versace present, with a riot of in-your-face prints given the platform to speak very loudly indeed, unrestrained by overcomplicated cut or concept. Every garment will come complete with a label that notes the collection and the year, so consumers will know the moment of origin.
And then, to top it all off, Ms. Versace invited some of her brother’s favorite models, the ones who had been most associated with his glamazon ideal — Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell and Carla Bruni (or Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, as she is now) — to create a finale tableau for the show that mimicked a 1994 ad campaign shot by Richard Avedon of many of the same models in gowns of gold chain mail.
In the original they were draped over or dominating the prone figures of naked men but Ms. Versace thought she would skip that part of the re-creation. It’s 2017, after all. Besides, as an affirmation of the continued relevance of Mr. Versace to the fashion world, the grouping would be pretty convincing. How many brands could get the former first lady of France to return to their runways, after all?
“She said yes immediately,” Ms. Versace said. “For me, this is a celebration of my brother, an opportunity to do something lively and fun, that creates joy. We need it these days.”
Indeed, the effect may be almost distracting enough to overwhelm the rumors — except for the fact that invited to sit in the front row were a host of other designers: Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino and Alessandro Michele of Gucci; Anthony Vaccarello of YSL, one of the designers who worked with Ms. Versace in the past on her second line, Versus; and Mr. Jones.
Wait — what? Just imagine the freakout. Presumably they did, because he decided not to come.
Still, it was as if Ms. Versace, who has never flatly denied the talking-to-other-designers rumors was teasing the Kremlinologists of fashion, dropping bread crumbs to see who would follow. (She usually plays coy and falls back on phrases like “at this moment” and “nothing is changing for the time being” — the kind of things brands say when change may be coming but the legal issues have not been resolved, so who knows, it could all fall through at the last minute, which it occasionally does.) As if she had decided to make the gossip into a meta game.
‘Maybe I’ll pick among all of them,” she said archly, referring to her peers.
“This is not my last show, I’m not leaving the company,” she had announced back in Via Gesù — which does not mean, of course, that she is not redefining her role.
But then she added, in reference to her work with Versus: “I have always opened the doors of the house for others to come in. It’s very interesting to bring people in to show Versace through their eyes. We learn from each other. And companies need to change. Gianni always took risks, and he taught me that.”
Having done her take on her brother’s work, having said that the experience of making the Tribute collection had liberated her to move on, that the result gave her closure, or as much closure as she can have — “I’ll never get over what happened, it was too brutal, but this helped me get through it some more” — it’s easy to see her considering the possibilities of someone else’s (Mr. Jones’s?) take on the brand.
“To replace me completely? No!” she said. “Where would they get a platinum blonde like me? I’m irreplaceable.” But to work with her, or nearby? “I’ve never been afraid to confront myself.”
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