When it comes to elite 20th Century designer offerings one of the most celebrated of them all has to be the late Prince of Fashion – Gianni Versace. His flamboyant, original and controversial creations were vibrant and risqué yet adored by all, including celebrities and royalty. Gianni’s ability to revolutionise the industry by breaking the mould with daring, revealing couture has ensured his place as a design icon whose legacy lives on through the innovative and desirable designer label – Versace.
Born on 2nd December 1946, Gianni grew up in Reggio di Calabria, Italy, with his older brother Santo and younger sister Donatella. His father ran a haberdashery and his mother, Franca, was a dressmaker who copied French designs for her clientele. Gianni’s love for fashion was definitely influenced by his mother and at an early age he used to help her source decorative items such as precious stones to elaborate her embroidered dresses. Aged 21 Gianni prematurely left college where he was studying architecture, to return to work with his mother as a designer and buyer. His desire to create clothing ensured that the company started to attract a younger clientele with the first star to wear Gianni’s designs being Miss Italy.
After five years, in 1972 Gianni decided to further his fashion career and so made the move to the Italian centre of high Fashion, Milan. It wasn’t long before he was discovered by Arnaldo Girombelli who was one of the most influential names in the Italian fashion industry and owned the label Genny. Impressed by Gianni’s designs Arnaldo offered him work in a freelance capacity, and Gianni set about working with materials such as leather and suede. It wasn’t long before he had made a successful name for himself especially once he had presented his signature women’s collection at the Art Museum and was rewarded with the prestigious Milanese Golden Eye award. Gianni then went on to present his first male collection and was soon to become one of the top ranking International fashion designers.
The first Versace boutique was opened in 1978, where Gianni sold his own designs and creations alongside other labels, but it soon became apparent that he was outselling all the other brands. One of his creations in the early 1980s, a metal mesh dress, gained great acclaim and was described as giving the look of mercury dripping over a women’s body. Realising that his designs were flourishing, the next inevitable step was to open more boutiques, which he did all around the world.
In 1985 Gianni expanded his ranges by adding the Instante label to his couture collections. More affordable, this enabled Gianni to offer his designs to a wider and younger clientele. Success was also very much due to his brother Santo who was responsible for the financial side of the business and his shrewd acumen allowed Versace The Company, to grow in size extremely fast. Very much a family business, Donatella was also heavily involved on the creative side as she too possessed a flair for design which became a huge influence for her brother. Lifelong partner to Gianni, Antonio d’Amico was also involved with the Versace Empire by working as a co-ordinator on the Instante label and Donatella’s husband, Paul Beck was, and still is, a manager of the Versace Company.
This family-run company continued to expand and, as we all know, is now an International Designer Fashion label. Much of this success is down to Gianni’s visions and how he reinterpreted the clothes from original paper sketches into stunning works of art worn by both men and women around the globe. Although all the garments created showed great skill in the way they were cut and tailored, Gianni was not particularly good at drawing. He would roughly sketch his ideas and pass them onto his assistants who would create something that a pattern cutter could work from in order to make the garments wearable.
Aside from Gianni’s talent to design extravagance flamboyant clothing he also worked and experimented with contrasting fabrics. Teaming leather with velvet and silk with flannel the result was spectacular, especially when decorated (much like his mother did) with beads or stones. Sexuality was also key to the Versace designs; risqué evocative clothing often combined with vibrant loud prints – the garments oozed sex. A Versace creation is a show piece that looked fantastic on the catwalk and gorgeous on the street.
Another skill that Gianni possessed was being able to turn his hand to any style and then very cleverly using this to market and promote his ranges by loaning the outfits to celebrities who were sure to be photographed. This cost him far less money than taking out an advertisement in one of the glossy magazines but also proved that his designs were adored by the rich and famous.
Because of this genius marketing ploy many celebrities around the world have adorned themselves in Gianni’s clothing. We all remember that dress worn by Liz Hurley in 1994 which was fastened along the side with large gold safety pins but Gianni also designed elaborate stage costumes for Elton John and elegant sophisticated gowns for Princess Diana, making him the first ever non-British designer label that the Princess had worn.
Although the business remained successful, problems started to occur in the mid 1990s when family arguments between Gianni and Donatella were rumoured. He was also said to have suffered from a very rare cancer of the inner ear but the most devastating event was in 1997 when Gianni was gunned down and murdered by serial killer Andrew Cunanan outside his ocean-fronted mansion in Miami. The killer then turned the gun on himself and committed
Control of the company was passed to Santo with Donatella becoming the head of design but the soul heiress was Donatella’s daughter Allegra, who inherited the Gianni fortune aged just 11. Today Versace is still a thriving company with Donatella at the helm, but no one will ever forget the illustrious career and innovative designs of Gianni who laid the foundations and built one of the biggest fashion houses of our time.