Today, 2nd December, 70 years ago, a genius of Fashion was born. His creativity and originality allowed him and his maison to enter the Olympus of the greatest names of Fashion. However, as we all know, creativity and madness are just two sides of the same coin. And it is curious that it was this latter, the evil twin, madness, that caused Gianni Versace’s death on 15th July 1997, in his Miami Beach’s villa. Anyway, this piece is not meant to talk about his murder, still covered in mystery, but to celebrate the existence of an artist, whose life has contributed to write a page of the Fashion History Diary.
Gianni Versace started working at his mother’s atelier in Tommaso Gulli Road nr. 13, in the same place close to the Reggio Calabria’s Cathedral where today there is the Versace’s boutique. “Reggio is the kingdom where my life’s fairy tail began: my mother’s atelier, the Haute Couture boutique. It is the place where, when I was young, I started appreciating the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid; where I started breathing the Magna Graecia’s art” Gianni said. Then, at the age of 25, he moved to Milan, where he started working as a designer for the brands Genny, Complice and Callaghan. It was 1975 when he presented his first leather collection for Complice.
A year after, in 1976, he decided to open his own fashion business in collaboration with the elder brother Santo. Thus, in March 1978 the first collection signed Versace walked the catwalk in the Permanente Palace in Milan. The following year, Gianni signed a partnership with the fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who, in addition to Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel and many others, was the author of some of the the most iconic Versace’s shootings. Since 1981 Gianni Versace realized many costumes for theatrical performances, such as the ones for the Josephslegende of Richard Strauss, held at La Scala Theatre in Milan. Just 4 years after the launch of the first Versace’s collection, Gianni won the Occhio d’Oro prize as best designer for the woman FW 1982-1983 season. After that, many recognitions and events dedicated to his success followed.
In 1989 the Versace’s young line, Versus, was launched. It was designed by Gianni’s sister and all life long advisor and muse, Donatella. Their relationship was very close: Donatella admired her brother, and she was conscious that among the three of them he was the one who had the genius. On the other hand, Gianni loved his sister, and between the two there was a special connection, different from the relationship with the elder brother, Santo, more pragmatic and bound to reality.
Gianni loved the body, and he loved to design everything that dealt with the body. This can be noticed in every garment he created. They were all so feminine, and they underlined the women shapes in a firm, brave and strong way, but preserving a certain elegance, even if sometimes spotted by extravagance. He was able to made women bodies stand out, allowing each woman wearing one of his dresses to affirm her personality and power, resembling an Ancient Greece goddess. It is all this that the maison logo, the Medusa’s head still with her golden hair (instead of the one made of snakes), wants to communicate: tradition, but also astonishing innovation and beauty. Moreover, what characterized his style was the combination of elements coming from different epochs: from the Magna Graecia to the Renaissance, from the Baroque to the Pop Art. Another feature proper of Gianni’s creations was the material one. He favoured leather, usually treated and coloured as fabrics are, metal and colourful patterned silk.
Rockin’ Gianni, as he was called by American journalists, was a real artist, an unconventional innovator with a great passion for classical tradition. It was due to these that he became a rock star among celebrities and top models. In fact, some of the stars that wore his works were Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and also Elton John, George Michael, Madonna and, last but not least, Lady Diana, who felt in love with Versace Atelier, the Haute Couture line realized in 1990.
Anyway, although the Fashion System still cries the unexpected death of an artistic genius who gave so much to it, and who probably still had much to reveal, as it always is both in the show business and in life, the show must go on. But we won’t never forget, nor will do so the Fashion World, such a talented designer who, as Franca Sozzani said reminding him, “wanted to attain, was sure of attaining and has never doubted he would attain”. And so he did.