In 1995, after Gianni Versace released his spring collection, Vogue decreed the definitive end of the grunge aesthetic. “The body is back and luxury is back,” the magazine pontificated, describing with admiration the floral corsets and cinched-waist suit jackets that the designer sent down the runway. Almost 30 years later, his sister, Donatella, has returned to that collection, but she doesn’t need someone else to announce the changing cycles. “Streetwear is over. That is not fashion. We need something elevated and powerful,” she says, laying on the white sofa in her office in Versace’s Milan headquarters. Donatella, who is fine-tuning the details on the new collection, is dressed in the imposing way that she describes: a purple zebra-patterned tunic, matching vinyl pants and sky-high heels. Curiously, two hours later, she will sheath herself in black jeans and a jersey to attend the runway presentation of her friend Kim Jones, creative director of Fendi, perhaps hoping not to steal the show.
For the first time in years, Donatella swapped Milan Fashion Week for Los Angeles, specifically the Pacific Design Center in Hollywood, to show her fall collection there three days before the Oscars ceremony. “It all started there. I perfectly remember the moment when Gianni told me: ‘We have to dress the stars because they will then trust us’. There was no one doing it, just him.” At that moment, in the late eighties, only Versace (and perhaps Armani) dared to lower their fashion from the pedestal of millionaire and feignedly discreet clients to get involved with show business and export an exuberant and unprejudiced “He saw the strategy clearly, he told me: ‘We have to be smart, reach the favorite actors of the moment.’ I wanted to go back to that time of change, above the show itself, and for that I thought I had to go back to Los Angeles”, he comments. “I love Milan, but if I could live anywhere else it would be Los Angeles. The way of thinking there suits me more… Much more liberal”. Shortly after this interview, Donatella was traveling to the city to announce the creation of a scholarship dedicated to LGTBIQ+ students.
Much has changed about celebrity culture since that foundational moment. “The red carpet is still the most visible form of publicity for us, but now, with digital, we don’t see famous people in the same way, like people far away from us. Celebrity matters more than ever, but in a different way,” Donatella says. “Luckily, society has also changed. There’s still a long road ahead of us, but I think we’re in a good situation for women. For me, right now, I am interested in dressing women with strong characters. I don’t care what their bodies are like. We are finally celebrating it without being afraid of showing it,” she adds. “Currently, I’m attracted to people who take charge of their own lives, who are intelligent, who are concerned about the personal and the professional.” She has confessed that she experienced “impostor syndrome” when she took the lead of Versace after her brother’s murder.
Twenty-five years later, she has learned that what she saw as a weakness was really a strength. “I’ve realized that being a woman is the way to understand what women need when getting dressed. Because I’m also indecisive, because I’m a woman, so I try to make sure clothing makes me feel powerful and protects me from insecurities.”
Donatella approaches a moodboard with clips from the 1995 collection, Prince dressed in a gold mesh top, Madonna and an Avedon campaign from that same year that features Nadja Aueermann and Kristen McMenamy in two opulent black dresses that Versace has reinvented this season. “I have this photo memorized. It was the moment that Gianni gave the brand a turn towards tailoring, making it more sophisticated and artisanal. I wanted to return to that.” There are also fabric samples, 3D-stamped silk, crochet and brocade fabrics. “There is no polyester here. We have the workshop downstairs, and we have invented everything here artisanally. It’s not haute couture, the shapes are more relaxed, but I wanted to return to fashion, to real fashion, made in the workshop. And to theatricality.” If one thing defines Donatella, it is drama and spectacle. Among the many celebrities she has dressed in the last 20 years, she remembers fondly the cape that the rapper Lil Nas X wore for the Met Gala. “Although without a doubt, my favorite moment was the one with Lady Gaga on a white horse.” It was 2013, and the artist performed at the American Music Awards with a long, smooth mane, dramatic makeup and a lavender-colored silk dress. She was dressed by Donatella Versace.
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