According to Versace’s own description on their website after the autumn/winter 2018 show was posted online, the latest collection is “Strong. Loud. Confident. There are no compromises. A clash of cultures between past and present, old and new, sneakers and stilettos”.
Yes, it is classic Versace, but there is something else, something that expresses Donatella Versace’s in-your-face, I-can-wear-anything-I-want feminism. And, the man-baiting sexuality. It is Ms Donatella coming into her own, a confident assertion that this is how she now sees the brand her brother built. She is making Versace in her own image.
It is as if, after marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Gianni Versace with an homage show, she is finally able to purge all the obligations held to keep his memory alive and the expectations of her as a designer she could never be. Ms Donatella was finally able to breathe easy. And she did. And she came up tops.
Earlier suggestion and viral rumours that she contemplated stepping down was conventional smoke. Now that we know for sure Riccardo Tisci has gone to Burberry after persistent news that he would zip to the house of the Medusa head, we can lay all talk of Ms Donatella not designing the label she inherited a rest. This autumn/winter season is her strongest and compelling collection yet—a sure-footed discourse on what the Versace woman is today and a deft hand at melting the house codes into visuals that connect to the present time.
There is the obligatory lian-ness, of course, such as the over-patched Western shirt seen on Kaia Gerber, who is able to pull off such a top because she is very young. Sometimes you sensed that Versus has crossed over to the main line and some of the effects do throw back to Ms Donatella’s early years with the diffusion line, which she had led. The tartans were especially fetching—they did, however, remind us of how Christopher Kane, one time Versus designer, would have handled the highland checks. Gingham corset over tartan blazer!
There seems to be a need to pull the collection into street territory too. One outfit stood out only because it is un-Versace: a body-obscuring, studded (like a Chesterfield) puffer coat styled with an oversized padded scarf and worn with a short skirt that matches the former’s lining is a walk on Demna Gvasalia territory. It is, to us, a stray that could be seen as testing the waters. Versace could do with larger support from youths even if they have admirably seduced the young of the Chinese market.
Other times, you sensed a Versace for the careerist. Gigi Hadid looked Wall Street-bound! Ms Donatella has always called herself a working woman. And has often claimed to cater to those who have a career path to track and who desire powerful sartorial images of the height of corporate conquest. Her work clothes are not meek and secretarial; they’re unyielding and dominating. Her coats and jackets project power and the shirts and blouses that go with them just as fierce.
Fierceness has always been a Donatella trait—now, the intensity tempered with girlishness, often in the form of short, pleated, as well as flouncy skirts that straddle the narrow divide between school uniform and otaku fantasy. The suggestion of adolescent at play, too, can be seen in the pairing of T-shirts (some looking as if there were made from two halves) to huge, poufed skirts—a styling trick possibly gleaned from the Sharon Stone playbook.
Don’t get us wrong: Donatella Versace has not abandoned the very essence that has endeared her brand to stars such as Jennifer Lopez: sex. There is, in fact, a healthy dose of it: sex as empowerment, ironically pronounced in a time of anti-sexually-predatory behavior. But what would Versace be without accenting the hips and flashing a limb? Simply put, no zest.