Returning to the live presentation format, Versace shows what stagecraft (or runway craft?) could be, with Dua Lipa upstaging even Naomi Campbell
Lipa Dua closing the Versace spring/summer 2022 show
Donatella Versace really knows how to stage a show. In Versace’s comeback IRL presentation, things don’t just happen on the runway. At the start, a group of masked men, shirtless to reveal extreme musculature, struts down the catwalk and then disappears into the audience. The camera zooms in on the men standing in the rear. With their hands gripping on a thick black rope, they begin to yank it downwards. At first you might think they are operating manual fans. Then you realise what they are doing. On the ceiling, two row of colourfully-printed squares of silk foulard—like giant Versace scarves—swell and billow, and ripple. Are they improving the ventilation or air quality of the indoor venue? Or, are they, as one SOTD reader texted us this morning, “efficiently moving COVID over everyone”? Maybe for now, let’s pretend that the show is set under a tent and it is very windy outside.
And it is surging under the canopy too—with excitement. The show opens with Dua Lipa walking—not performing—to her disco-dynamite Physical. Reportedly, the livestream was so massively watched around the world that it crashed at some point (it affected us not)! We didn’t know who would be appearing, but many, it seemed, did and had tuned in to catch Emily Ratajkowski and Lourdes Leon (yes, Madonna’s daughter is a model!) as well, and to a small extent, Naomi Campbell (if you are, er, above 45). Ms Versace certainly knows who she is targeting and ensnaring. Sure, she has worked with pop stars before, but they may have not appealed to the right demographics (remember Jennifer Lopez? Before the return of Bennifer?). This time, it is clear that Versace also needs to tether less to the “supers” who have made the brand famous, save the present-everywhere, host of her own show/YouTube channel, Baby Woman, Ms Campbell.
Elsewhere in Milan, designers are doing sexy. Donatella Versace does not have to do sexy—it comes to her naturally. And sexy has never left the house. Body-con dresses may not presently be a thing, but if they are, the house of Versace can be counted on to do them fittingly, fittedly, and flatteringly. Few designers can shape, say, a bustier as perfectly as Ms Versace. Ditto for the one-slit, figure-hugging, ankle-length dress. In chain-mail, too. Especially for a full-figured Lourdes Leon (in silver, above). High-octane sexy is undeniably the result, but they never need to elicit the response, trashy. In that respect, the designer does not quite get the credit that she deserves. To have the sexiness stay alive, even when fashion was nearly consumed by loungewear (and athleisure before that), is no easy task. Ms Versace has kept sexy burning, just as the vestal virgins had kept the perpetual fire unextinguished.
This collection also explores, as is the case in recent seasons, the Versace DNA, including those little things that have been associated with the house, but may have been forgotten, such as the once ubiquitous safety pin. Back in 1994, when Liz Hurley wore that dress—the slit up the right rump and the V-shaped opening on the right side of the bodice were held together with gold safety pins—it was considered scandalous. These days, many women work it with a lot less fabrics and even less opacity, as sexy is even more in your face. But rather than test the safety pin’s versatility and, consequently, a fabric’s tensile strength, Ms Versace has opted to use the pins in decorative ways, just as she does with buttons and the house silk foulards as ruffles or edging to peek from hems. Judicious use is, of course, not a house trait, just as timid colours are not too, but somehow, by marrying visual excess to pop culture’s predilection for the wildly eye-catching, Versace is able to convince the next gen of stars and their followers that that much may not be so. It is a win when it is Dua Lipa, rather than Naomi Campbell, who closes the show, and takes the post-finale bow with Donatella Versace. They, as Ms Lipa sang in the soundtrack, “created something phenomenal”.