With Dontatella Versace, (from left) Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen
In many ways, it is not unexpected. The time is right for a throwback to Gianni Versace’s heydays. It’s the 20th anniversary of Mr Versace’s murder and it’s been twenty-odd years since his florid prints and clashing colours took the fashion world—then smaller than what it is today—by storm. The reprise of the flamboyance associated with the house is also well-timed because fashion is again truly in love with the visually commanding—Gucci presently the Pied Piper.
Furthermore, the supermodels of the ’90s, made super and then über by Mr Versace himself, are in the news: Claudia Schiffer was to launch a book published by Rizzoli; Cindy Crawford has been reliving her modelling days vicariously through her daughter Kaia Gerber, who was in the same show; and Naomi Campbell, still an active model, now a contributing editor at British Vogue.
That the recent Versace show in Milan closed out with supermodels of the 1990s is not surprising. That the quintet did not appear to have budged from the 1990s is. It’s perhaps fascinating to see the 16-year-old Ms Gerber don clothes similar to what her mother wore two decades ago. However, on a woman, once a host of MTV’s House of Style (wearing Gianni Versace, no less), who should know better than compete with her child on the same catwalk—that seems to us a little pitiable. There must have been reasons why truly original Versace girls Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington gave what Huffington Post calls “an epic reunion” an observable snub.
Donatella Versace was thought to have given up her design duties after the last show, but she recently dismissed them as “rumours”, which means, now more than ever, she has to keep the spirit and aesthetics of Gianni Versace alive even when there’s no doubt to the parentage of the mayhem of colours and prints that emerged during the post-Cold war years to dispel the notion that black was the colour of fashion. Ms Versace herself has not contributed anything of real substance to the brand other than augment its ‘Glamazon’ appeal. So it’s possible she thought it best to train the spotlight on what her brother did to buy her some time (assuming she’s really not quitting) for a next collection that can truly re-express the Versace name.
It is convenient to tap into Gianni Versace’s ’90s design oeuvre. They’re so loud, almost strident in their boldness, that you can’t really make them any louder. Or, quieter—that would defeat the purpose. In addition, the baroque prints, the medusa heads, the gold frets: they have never really gone away or been put aside long enough for people to miss them; they have been there—in the Versace stores and hotels, in their home wares, and even in the knock-offs that still exists in shops in Little India and Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong. The era that Gianni Versace dreamed up before his demise and the attendant icons: it’s still potent even when they remind us of a very specific period in time as the world raced towards the 21st Century.
It took Dior almost 40 years to finally evolve and reflect changing times when John Galliano took the reins at the French house, considered by many to be the most storied of couture houses. It’s only been two decades since Gianni Versace’s death. It’s going to take many more before the ostentation that he built can take on something else, something less than total recall. And even then, maybe only after the one-time muse Ms Versace completely relinquishes creative control.
Donatella Versace had, in fact, hinted at things to come. Back in June, when she took the customary stride down the catwalk during the men’s spring/summer 2018 presentation, she wore a silk shirt-dress with prints that did not conceal limbs or its identifiable extraction. But a near-wholesale revisit did not occur to us since we thought she had presented her best Versus collection to date in London just a couple of weeks earlier. But we were fooled.
Everything that people remember of Gianni Versace at his prime was sent down the catwalk, but not, interestingly (or, unfortunately)—since we’re in look-back mood, those from his formative years, such as the “sporty” spring/summer 1981 collection that was, to us, truly memorable. Those white and khaki ensembles, those jodhpurs, knee-length bloomers and harem pants, and, especially, the earth-tone capsule with the blade-of-leaf motif and the rope-and-tassel belts—a dozen-or-so pieces that was later so stunningly photographed by Richard Avedon for the brand’s advertising campaign.
The thing is, if we really needed to see all of Gianni Versace’s signature designs, there’s always the depth of Youtube’s pool. And for anyone who has the urge to buy one of those vintage pieces, Ebay and the like are opened 24/7. Looking at these Versace re-issues, as they appear to us, is as satisfying as watching a movie remake that suffers from hopelessly bad casting.
It bears noting, perhaps, that in SEA—here, no less—Gianni Versace’s florid homage to Greek mythology, dead Hollywood icons, and the “world’s fashion bible”, particularly after the introduction of the Versace Jeans line, has gone from novelty to beng/lian must-own, or obsessions of ageing pop stars.
Going back to past glories has really become, ironically, the nature of our advanced world. In fact, it’s been an obsession of the sneaker business since 2013. Think Adidas’s Stan Smith: how many versions are there now; how many do you really desire? We have always been reminded that there will be a generation that has yet to enjoy certain joys the first time round, and that it is for them that brands re-varnish the faded glory of once-popular styles. Everything and, indeed, everyone deserves a second chance. Gianni Versace, too.
Photos: (top) Getty Images and (catwalk) Versace