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Aug 17, 2022

It’s Versace, not Versachee

The House of Versace

The eponymous brand, created and envisioned by fashion designer Gianni Maria Versace (December 2 1946 – July 15 1997), is known for its lavish and exuberant style. The main theme behind Versace is the captivating power of women, making the Medusa emblem a flawless representation of the fashion house.

From left to right: Donatella Versace by Ron Galella; the Medusa head logo; Gianni Versace by David Lees

From left to right: Donatella Versace by Ron Galella; the Medusa head logo; Gianni Versace by David Lees

The women in his life inspired Gianni Versace in more than one way. His mother’s wildly successful clothing shop sparked his love for fashion. Growing up in this environment, surrounded by fashion magazines, fabrics and patterns, and the influential strong figure of his mother, fuelled his passion and admiration for strong women. Not by chance, the Versace brand is known for celebrating women.

Mr Gianni Versace was fascinated by extravagance. He thought a designer should challenge the rules and break the norm. Being controversial was just natural for him.

As the fashion and film industry remembers well, a tragic event led to his death and stopped his career. The assassination of Gianni Versace was suffered by many, most of all by his sister Donatella. While suffering this profound loss, Donatella Versace took over the creative direction of Versace and made the brand’s success continue to grow.

All the ingredients that helped make Gianni Versace’s vision come true were in his sister, as Donatella was one of his muses. Since childhood, brother and sister had shared a special bond, and all the adventures they had together in the small town of Reggio Calabria were at the heart of the brand’s creativity. Gianni Versace’s first designs were sketched thinking of her. Even Donatella Versace still says that what makes Versace unique is who she is.


Gianni Versace, the visionary genius behind the brand

Gianni Versace was a talented couturier; the way he created his designs was truly unique: he sculpted directly on mannequins giving much relevance to his pieces’ forms. He added many details that had a personal meaning for him. An example is one of his first designs for Atelier Versace, a short black dress heavily embellished with branded safety pins from the Autumn-Winter 1989/90 collection, designed as a tribute to his mother during fittings in her boutique. 

From left to right: Atelier Versace Autumn-Winter 1989/1990 dress; Versace Autumn-Winter 1981/1982 runway; Supermodel Iman hitting the Autumn-Winter 1982/1983 catwalk

From left to right: Atelier Versace autumn-winter 1989/1990 dress; Versace autumn-winter 1981/1982 runway; Supermodel Iman hitting the autumn-winter 1982/1983 catwalk

His definition of femininity challenged gender barriers by experimenting with techniques traditionally used in menswear, such as the weight and texture of fabrics, as seen in his autumn-winter 1981/82 ready-to-wear collection. Here, he played a lot with contrasting proportions, broad masculine shoulders and softer feminine shapes. The shapes and draping in his clothes are reminiscent of the goddess statues he saw growing up among the ancient ruins of his city.

As one of the first Italian designers to create all-leather collections, his name became established in the industry when he debuted in 1975 with his first creations for Complice. On 28 March 1978, at the Palazzo della Permanente in Milan, Gianni Versace presented the first women’s collection under his name.

Gianni Versace was an innovator. In his Autumn-Winter 1982/83 collection, he introduced a new material that would become a staple in Versace’s legacy: a metal mesh flexible enough to be draped like a dress.

He was inspired by the knights of medieval romanticism and created something worthy for a woman of irresistible power. In the words of Gianni Versace: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.”

From left to right: Elizabeth Hurley; Versace spring-summer 1994 dress (2016 edition); Elizabeth Hurley

From left to right: Elizabeth Hurley; Versace spring-summer 1994 dress (2016 edition); Elizabeth Hurley 

Known for his curiosity, he was always surrounded by people from different artistic backgrounds.

His Miami mansion, Casa Casuarina, was a contemporary version of The Great Gatsby house. 

He was credited with introducing the term ‘supermodel’ to the world when he launched the careers of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington; under his watch, models started to become celebrities.

So impressive was the influence of Gianni Versace’s creations that British actress and model Elizabeth Hurley was catapulted into the headlines for arriving on the red carpet in a Versace dress when she accompanied Hugh Grant to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994.

The body-conscious black dress with a plunging V-shaped neckline revealed the actress’s body with an open side held together by several oversized gold safety pins. The actress and the dress both achieved iconic status that night, and the fashion house became synonymous with Hollywood; today, that safety pin dress is still  known as “THAT dress.”


Donatella Versace, the woman who took the helm of the family business, turning it into an empire

Gianni Versace’s younger sister is Donatella. Since childhood, the two were inseparable. She was considered his muse as he used to dress her and created her iconic platinum blonde look. After his death, she succeeded him, starting a new chapter in Versace’s history.

“Having been at the helm of the Versace empire as artistic director since 1997, Donatella Versace has overseen the growth of the group’s luxury clothing lines alongside the expansion into accessories, home furnishings and hotels, creating a luxury lifestyle brand,” BoF says.

But her involvement with the brand did not begin then. Although sudden, her career transition to Artistic Director was not unnatural at all: Gianni Versace often asked her opinion when creating his designs, and her approval was essential to him. Ms Versace also had a powerful impact on the evolution of the brand image, as she was responsible for many aspects of the Versace world, including photo shoots. The supermodels would not have existed in the same way because she was the one who hired them to walk the catwalks.

Overcoming this tragedy and working with tenacity were among the great merits of Donatella Versace, who brought an already soaring family business to the top. In 2018, the company was acquired by Michael Kors Holdings – now rebranded Capri Holdings – for $2.1 billion.

Exceeding all expectations, she brought the same spirit and innovation the Maison was known for into her creations; after all, Donatella Versace has always been the brand’s heart and soul.

She also focused on injecting pop culture into her designs, notably creating a strong connection with music.

In 2000, Jennifer López wore a green Versace silk chiffon dress to the 42nd Grammy Awards. The dress was immediately called the “Jungle dress:” a design that Ms Versace revived from the archive was the night’s showstopper. After debuting on the Versace catwalk for Spring/Summer 2000 in Milan in the autumn of 1999, where American supermodel Amber Valletta wore it, the tropical print dress had already appeared on the red carpet worn by Ginger Spice and Ms Versace herself at the Met Gala on 6 December 1999.

The iconic Versace Jungle dress worn by Jennifer Lopez (left) and Donatella Versace (right)

The iconic Versace Jungle dress worn by Jennifer Lopez (left) and Donatella Versace (right)

But it was J.Lo who brought the Jungle Dress to success: the scarf-like dress with its leafy tropical pattern had long sleeves, and the front was held by a brooch right under J.Lo’s navel, showing most of her chest. Adding to this, the chiffon fabric made it sheer. It was scandalous, and everybody loved that. It also led to the creation of the Google Images search engine since everyone would search for images of Jennifer Lopez’s look.

Ms Versace and J.Lo collaborated again for the Spring 2020 womenswear collection when the planetary star closed the fashion show in that dress: the surprise was much appreciated by the guests and received a standing ovation.

Today, Donatella Versace keeps creating one iconic piece at a time for the brand while continuing to team up with celebrities. Artists such as Dua Lipa and Maluma are currently very close to the brand and star in some of its most popular global campaigns.


The Versace story is all about family values

The history of Versace has been an eventful one, from the beginnings linked to Gianni and Donatella’s little hometown in southern Italy to the rise of Gianni’s fame in Milan, the tragic event in Miami, and the moment the brand found its place again under Donatella’s vision. 

The similarity between Gianni and Donatella Versace is out of this world and goes beyond blood ties. Even after Gianni Versace’s passing, the fashion house followed a natural evolution as if the creative man had never left. Donatella Versace, the muse, became Donatella Versace, the author.

The family values rooted in the Versaces have kept the brand thriving, making the company a heavyweight in the global fashion industry. Even though many are familiar with this, their story of resilience is one to be told, so let’s say it loud and clear: “It’s Versace, not Versachee.”

Donatella and Gianni Versace throughout the years

Donatella and Gianni Versace throughout the years



Laura F. Silverio Paulus
Student in the Fashion Promotion, Communication and Digital Media Master’s programme, Milan