Since many media reports are close to certain that Riccardo Tisci will take over fellow Italian Donatella Versace after this autumn/winter 2017 season (with Suzy Menkes announcing on IG that she is “hearing all Donatella’s secrets and plans… But shhh! I’m not allowed to tell a soul”), it is in all likelihood that this was Ms Versace’s last collection for the house her brother built. Did anyone cry at the show? We don’t know.
Or, perhaps, there was silent hurrah all round? That may sound cruel, but for some, it’s about time. Ms Versace has led the family’s namesake label since her brother’s murder in July 1997, but it was not with immense success, at least not at the start of her tenure. According to Forbes, “the famed luxury brand was on the edge of bankruptcy in 2009”. That was a period of 12 long years after Gianni Versace died, during which the little sister, also his principessa, tried to augment the Versace image by creating it in her own likeness.
Too her, some ex-Versace fans cried, and definitely too much of a muse’s take than a farsighted designer’s vision. To be fair, the role of continuing where Gianni Versace left off was not a calculated transition. Reportedly, she had no choice but to take it on. Donatella Versace, although a source of inspiration behind her brother’s gaudy and showy clothes, was not the natural designer many had thought she could be. She had spent a great deal of time, pre-1997, in New York, styling the Versace ads. While members of the media were generally supportive of her in her journey that eventually dropped the Gianni name from the label, the output under her watch wasn’t exactly the stuff that excited, the way her brother’s had transfixed admirers of his designs.
Amid rumours of partying too hard and using too much drugs, and then showing up late (very late) for work the next day (among other problems, domestic and professional), Ms Versace soldiered on. In Deborah Ball’s book House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, the writer noted that “while the fashion press treated Donatella’s first runway show gently, department store buyers and Versace shop owners (at that time, the now-defunct Link had distributorship rights in Singapore) were privately unimpressed.”
To many observers, in fact, it was not her designs that kept the business visible, but the celebrity associations. Like her brother, Ms Versace courted stars. She is known to be close to models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, actress/Goop head Gwyneth Paltrow, singers Madonna (who has appeared more than once in Versace’s adverting) and Cher (who sang Danny’s Boy at a private, impromptu memorial for Gianni) and Miami nightclub magnate Ingrid Casares, also known as a “lesbian icon”. In return, she is feted. Dressing the right star for the right occasion, too, helped—such as Jennifer Lopez in that green silk chiffon dress for the 42nd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2000, a floor-length number with a strangely well-behaved plunging V-neck that people still consider the most unforgettable award-night gown.
According to The Guardian, Versace is now a £1.05bn business. Somewhere along the way, Ms Versace did something right. Although she kept much of the sex appeal closely associated with the house, she has largely re-designed its DNA to minimise what she considers a problem unique to gay designers. As she told The Times Magazine last year, “When they design for a woman, they design for the woman they want to be”—never mind that, before his death, Gianni Versace was in a long-term relationship with Antonio D’Amico, model-turn-boyfriend-turn-designer who oversaw the now-closed Versace Sports.
A woman designing for women became the mantra for Ms Versace, but she isn’t the woman many of us socialise with. Donatella has a hyper-heightened sense of womanliness, in particular, sexiness. Her designs amplify and, not infrequently, exaggerate the female form to allow it to ooze in-your-face sex appeal. As with Gianni, minimalism—of the ’90s or later—was all Greek to Donatella. While she did tone down his flashiness and raucous mix of prints, she did not succumb to a quieter aesthetic. Although not as visible as before, the “baroque” prints, the medusa heads, and the frets—they still appear in Versace stores the world over. As with the cushions from the home line, the Versace loudness can’t be completely hushed.
Her supposedly last show in Milan was a veritable showcase of the Versace woman that Donatella has single-handedly fashioned. There is no shortage of power suits, body-hugging dresses, short swingy skirts, leg-baring slits, curvy translucent cut-outs, exposed navels, dilated cleavages; all conceived to prove that powerful, surefooted women can be sexually alluring. Despite Even as her creative reign comes to an end, Ms Versace did not dial down the clothes’ foxiest-creature-in-the-room potency, which nicely corresponds with the Kardashian/Jenner-ruled world of social media.
We don’t know why, but some of the styling reminds us of D’Squared2. Or, has Ms Versace become just like the gay designers she described: designing for the woman she wants to be? The irony is certainly not lost there. Donatella Versace may be passing the design baton to someone else, but the house of Versace will be as brash as ever. If, indeed, Riccardo Tisci were to be the recipient, it may be more so.
Photos: indigital.tv, except top: Versace