Donatella Versace is not who you think she is

Donatella Versace at her home in Milan.

Pier Nicola Bruno

Shortly before interviewing Donatella Versace, I ask my Colored to shade my already tight credibility with a shadow. This is the effect Versace has on you before you even meet her: Some people make you stand up straight in their presence; she has a way of drawing out your inner Italian bombshell. In a world taken over by the repentant Marie Kondo-style bloodshed of our happiest cheerful clothes, she is a beacon of maximalism, an old-school fashionist with & # 39; a capital F, & # 39; a full-fledged defender of brilliance. And isn't it so refreshing? If there are so many high fashions that you would wear at a particularly progressive monastery, when we are apparently wearing outfits that look like scaffolding in a Brutalist building, you don't want to be more sexual? Flashier? Versace there?

J.Lo certainly does. For home in the spring of 2020, she once again wore her 2000 Grammys look, & # 39; a dress with & # 39; a jungle print that didn't break the internet as much as make it back, and Google urged to create its image search feature. With her colored, toned body and her confident prop J.Lo, if I may, made that dress her bitch. And the audience paid tribute to thousands of iPhones. & # 39; There was so much energy in the room, and you could feel the power of our & # 39; creating a special moment, & # 39; says Lopez. & # 39; The power of women behind it, the power of fashion behind it, the power of putting out beautiful things in the world and celebrating beautiful moments in life – that's what it was. & # 39;

Versace - Runway - Milan Fashion Week Spring / Summer 2020

With Lopez at Versace's Spring 2020 show.

Victor VIRGILEGetty Images

Or in Versace's own summary of that moment: & # 39; I'm here. Look at me: I'm not scared, I'm not 20 years old, but I'm much better. & # 39; This is the kind of empowerment Donatella Versace stands for. Not necessarily the sheer boardroom, PowerPoint connotation of the word, but the ability to say, "Hey, world: I'm 50, I'm fantastic, and I'm here."

Versace's kingdom, I would guess, has room for entering the fashion Illuminati and the people who, like Elizabeth Berkley's character in the seminars, Showgirls, pronounce it Versayce. She's a girl with a big tent. And she has a recognized ability to track people on the road. & # 39; You have to see what they look like. I look at what they represent, ”she says, offering an example to Gigi Hadid, who has been featured in many of her shows and starred in various Versace advertising campaigns. & # 39; I met Gigi at the age of 16, and she was beautiful, of course, but she wasn't a typical model at the time. But there was something: & # 39; kindness, & # 39; s softness, the beauty inside, not just the outside. One of her first fashion shows was for me. "

Versace with her son Daniel in Miami in 1994.

Bruce Weber

So many designers start out modest – the perfect white shirt, the perfect black dress, a broad tie – and build from there. When Gianni Versace founded the house that would bear his name, he already thought in epic terms and did what & # 39; a writer of science fiction & # 39; worldbuilding & # 39; would mention. He grew up in Calabria, Italy, a former Greek colony that retained its classic motifs as well as Roman glory, and he used the power and myth of these traditions. He would make the Medusa his logo, and his & # 39; girls & # 39; dress like a combination of (sex) goddess and gladiator. Donatella was his muse and right hand – he had his perfume Blonde dedicated to her.

"I'm here. Look at me: I'm not scared, I'm not 20 years old, but I'm much better. & # 39;

The vision just got bigger. Now you can stay in a Versace hotel; living room in a logo bathrobe with a Barocco printed strap and matching slippers (next to Fido in his coordinating dog bed); and if your screw decides, store your cigarette case in a Medusa-head ashtray. They truly thought of everything.

The brand is larger than life, and so is its current figurehead. Given the way she talks about our culture – there are few designers who are good enough to identify with a first name, let alone Saturday Night Live impression – it was hard to believe that the received wisdom that Donatella Versace is embarrassed. ("It's the most uncomfortable thing for me," she'll tell me later about her own celebrity.) But it's true. She is soft spoken, small wrist, elfin.

When we come together, it's hard to leave this little woman in the context of the sprawling penthouse in which she sits, let alone the massive international brand she's headed for. Her voice is muffled, the discreet growl of a tiger. She talks excitedly about her recent pilgrimage to see the country Downton Abbey Movie. (Imagine Donatella Versace at the ticket counter saying, & # 39; One Downton Abbey, please. Just sit with that image for a moment. Think of it as my gift to you.) I love the Crawleys just as much as anyone, but none of these things are considered about my notion of Milan excess. Where are the golden Medusas? The gold safety pins? The … other gold stuff? But then I ask for tea, and it is passed to me in a gold-plated Versace cup with a winged handle, and I am officially carried away to Versace land.

Versace with her son Daniel in Miami in 1994.

Bruce Weber

So I say hello to the woman behind the curtain of straight, platinum blonde hair and the smoky eye of the day – who, it seems, actually is deeply introverted. At least, according to the woman herself. She devised the look as & # 39; armor, & # 39; so people would talk about what I look like, not about what I have inside. & # 39; There was, she says, "things happened in my life, and I didn't want to explain." In the toughest season of her life, Gianni's assassination in 1997, she moved even further back to the image, which put her in the spotlight when she took over the brand. (Her brother is never far from her sense; her Spring 2018 collection was a tribute to him on the twentieth anniversary of his passing, and she wears a dark red sweater with his signature today.)

1995 Costume Institute Gala

With brother Gianni Versace in 1995.

Ron GalellaGetty Images

She developed a tough outer shell as a coping mechanism – not just the hair and makeup, but the whole package. At one point she held the same coach for 18 years. She imitates herself, not wanting to do a rep again: & # 39; He doesn't listen to anything I say! I like it. "But despite her demonstrations, fitness has given her discipline and mental clarity. She is ever image-conscious and even brings the coach with her.

& # 39; He doesn't listen to anything I say! I like that."

Recently, however, she feels more comfortable being herself. On Instagram, she kicked back some new turkey slippers (caption: "You see … I don't always wear high heels!"), And she appeared in the camp soap opera in the camp soap opera. campaign. You could say that she embraced her extraordinary embrace. & # 39; Aligned, it's not me, & # 39; she picks up. "Take it or leave it."

She contributed to the rise of the supermodel, barely a toned delivery. Long before Gigi & # 39; s glitter was in Yolanda's eye, models were sharply divided into & # 39; printed & # 39; and & # 39; runway & # 39; girls, but Donatella struggled against the distinction. & # 39; I brought them to Milan, and Gianni was like & # 39; – She imitates their easy brother back and forth – & # 39; She can't walk. & # 39;

& # 39; Doesn't matter. & # 39;

& # 39; She is not tall enough. & # 39;

& # 39; Doesn't matter. Put on the dress; you will see that she is going to be tall enough. "

Versace - Runway - Milan Fashion Week Spring / Summer 2018

Featuring supermodels Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen during the Spring 2018 show dedicated to Gianni Versace.

VenturelliGetty Images

When I mention the period in the mid-90's when designers opted for a number of anonymous and interchangeable models, she spat: "Oh God, I couldn't accept it anymore!" 39; The Versace girl has always been a supermodel. For home in the fall season in 1991, a group of mononymous glam zones – Linda, Cindy, Naomi, Christy – boasted George Michael's “Freedom! & # 39; 90 & # 39; (& # 39; watershed moment, Versace nodded more than 25 years later by reuniting & # 39; some of the supermodels during her spring 2018). Versace was attentive, also about it and other things. She saw the friend-and-benefits relationship that would emerge between pop music and fashion, forging early alliances with Madonna and Prince; the latter made CD's of then-unreleased music, especially for the Atelier Versace couture show in 1995. "This kind of clash of culture, it was very interesting to me," she says. & # 39; And I thought: & # 39; Fashion, if it does not go on in this world, will become irrelevant. & # 39; & # 39; And before politicians and fashion blended so seamlessly, she invited Chelsea Clinton to her spring 2002 fashion show and gave her a mini Donatella makeover. ("I saw her recently. I love her. She's a smart girl," she says of Clinton.)

Versace At The V & a ...

Together with Madonna and Chelsea Clinton in 2002.

Dave BenettGetty Images

Her interest in politics has not diminished. She mimics her phone, goes, goes, goes with the fusillade of push notifications. Her morning news gathering routine goes like this: first, politics. & # 39; And then fashion, and then music, and then art. & # 39; She has a lot to say about Greta Thunberg, for example. (& # 39; I am very happy & # 39; a 16-year-old girl said: & # 39; How dare you take away my future? & # 39; I love youth very much in this moment; there are many young people with wonderful ideas. & # 39;) They remind her of her student days at the University of Florence: & # 39; I argued. I was out in the street. "

She is also outspoken about the #MeToo movement. ("I've always defended women. I find many women more interesting now than men.") While saying that she didn't face sexism when she accepted her mantle at the venture, she admits that it's probably because & # 39; I was in a (more) privileged position & # 39; as a family member. When I mention the wave of covert fashions following the #MeToo allegations, she says, "Not on my runway." She believes that a woman should dress as she pleases. She wants to live in a world where you can command the C-suite in a corset. And why not?

& # 39; I've always defended women. I find many women more interesting now than men. & # 39;

Versace is an avid supporter of LGBTQ rights; because of her brother's legacy, she says, & # 39; I can't not "Last year, she was named a & # 39; Stonewall Ambassador. She made the scene on New York City & # 39; s Pride March in & # 39; a rainbow dress and matching go-go boots. We're discussing the roll back of LGBTQ rights in the United States. "I wish people would fight more. People fight in New York, people fight in LA, but the other places in America have they need help, "she says. & # 39; They need to be pushed to fight because it is not right. The country is not moving forward. It is deteriorating. & # 39;

During New York City & # 39; s Pride March last summer.

One thing going forward, in a big way, is the home of Versace. In 2018, the venture was acquired by luxury group Capri Holdings, also the parent company of Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo. "I was very careful about deciding something like this that could completely change my life," Versace says of the sale. & # 39; I think the business needs to move forward. I am very happy about my choice, because Versace can grow faster. "

With her children, Allegra and Daniel, in 1994 in Miami.

Bruce Weber

Indeed, Capri is aiming for an aggressive expansion of the brand, with plans to open dozens of stores each year. Besides, she doesn't know what the future holds. & # 39; I can't live forever, I won't be here forever and things change in fashion. I'm the first one open to change. “But now there is no one on the horizon. She jokes, "Nobody wants me to step aside, and it's terrible!"

& # 39; I won't be here forever, and things are changing in fashion. I'm the first one open to change. & # 39;

Instead, she made the effort to align the brand with her beliefs. Versace has stopped using fur in 2018, and the company is striving to be more sustainable, having just opened a new green headquarters in Milan built from ethically sourced materials. As they open all the new stores, they ask all the funny questions. & # 39; Where can you find the material? How can you recycle the water? ”She says. & # 39; How can you use less electricity? All these aspects are now taken into account. & # 39; She also takes steps in her own life. This famous jet-setter? She says she no longer flies in private.

And when it comes to her designs, she sees quality and craftsmanship as the antidote to the fast-paced fashion mindset. & # 39; We cannot forget the value of heritage, because fashion today is like & # 39; wear today; throw it away tomorrow, & # 39; & # 39; she says. It is rare to see someone who is such a part of the old-fashioned world and yet so busy with everything new. According to her, she likes to surround herself with young, creative employees, an appearance of men and women against yes. & # 39; It's so easy to surround yourself with people who think like you and say yes (to everything). This is the moment when you have to retire. You have to do something different. & # 39;

This article appears in the March 2020 issue of ELLE.

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