From the ‘showgirls’ to the ‘influencers’: the history of the world told in a ‘Versés’
It is the 25th anniversary of the murder of Gianni Versace, but this July 15 the news is Lily James, unrecognizable in the campaign for the Italian firm’s next fall/winter collection. Photographed by the duo Mert (Alas) & Marcus (Piggott) in plan dominatrix Gothic, the British actress takes over from the brand image tasks to the sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid and the Colombian singer Maluma, flashy model this spring/summer. A phenomenal season, in fact, whose sales volume —as of June 1st— stands at 300 million euros, 34% more than during the same year of 2021. As if to account for the ill-fated founder of the house of the Medusa who, in effect, has been dead and buried for a quarter of a century.
“God bless Gianni (flowers for Gianni)”, sings Rosalía in The Versace combiplaying right now on the tour of motomami. There is no news of greater tributes these days, as if all the gunpowder and all the salutes had been spent five years ago, when the 20th anniversary was celebrated, within the framework of a commercial operation that was not even calculated and executed to the millimeter. It was September 2017, Milan fashion week through, and Donatella Versace capped off the spring/summer 2018 presentation by taking Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni, Helena Christensen and Cindy Crawford down the catwalk clad in oroton (the signature silk-textured chain mail) and parading to the anthem Freedom! ’90 by George Michael.
The media impact of such a symbolic staging was endorsed by the statements of the Calabrian creator’s sister, who recognized that she had not been able to overcome the family trauma until then, and it also lasted over time thanks to the success of the series American Crime Story: The Murder of Gianni Versace. Just so that, exactly one year later, the sale of the brand to the American luxury group Michael Kors Holdings was confirmed for 1,830 million euros.
“Two decades have passed since I took over the company with my brother Santo and my daughter, Allegra. I am proud that Versace has managed to maintain its relevance both in fashion and in modern culture”, said Donatella at the time of the acquisition, delighted to finally shake off the financial troubles.
The company almost collapsed after the financial crisis of 2008 (remember the 22 million loss in 2010) and its recovery has been slow, so much so that in 2017, the same year that Gucci broke the psychological barrier of 6,000 million, its income in sales did not even reach 700 million euros. In any case, the plans of the new owner, renamed Capri Holdings Limited after the purchase, have always been known to be ambitious, hoping to make Versace a label with a market value of 2,000 million euros sooner or later, trusting everything to the popular pull of the sister: “Donatella’s iconic style is at the heart of the Versace aesthetic and will continue to lead the brand’s creative vision in this next chapter of expansion,” praised John Idol, CEO of Capri Holdings. Not a word about Gianni.
Significant and defining of a very specific sociocultural moment, the ethical-aesthetic imprint left by the middle of the Versace brothers (Regio de Calabria, 1946 – Miami, 1997) is actually temporarily brief, so much so that it does not even reach a decade. Although it emerged as a trademark in 1978, it would not be until 1989 when it began to sound internationally as a synonym for maximalism and, above all, erotic provocation thanks to those catalogs and campaigns photographed by Richard Avedon, Doug Ordway, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel. in which the least important thing was the baroque style of the garments and the most important thing was the almost naked anatomies of Matt King, Helena Christensen, Mark Hug, Tatjana Patitz, Sasha Mitchell, Stephanie Seymour, Mark Vanderloo or Alex Lundqvist.
Giorgio Armani has told it on at least two occasions, that time in 1992, when they met on the steps of the Spanish Steps in Rome for the high fashion show Donna sotto le stelle (The woman under the stars) Gianni blurted out: “You dress the pious; me, to the whores”. Donatella has always denied the episode, though she herself has continued to exploit that irresistible mix of sophistication and vulgarity that can be traced from the barely-fastened, pin-up dresses of spring/summer 1994 to the celebrated jungle dress that Jennifer Lopez originally wore in 2000 and put back on display in 2019 as the current creative director’s signature to that latest economic masterstroke.
Between the black minidress with the medallions of the Medusa of 1995 in which Nomi Malone left her first salary as showgirl in Las Vegas and the shoes with stratospheric platforms (the Medusa Aevitas, launched in 2021) with which Nicola Peltz married Brooklyn Beckham explains, of course, a good part of the popular culture of recent times.
“I am sure that, if he were still alive, he would tell me that what I do is still not good enough”, acknowledged Donatella (1955) in an interview shortly after selling the brand to the Americans. Saint Versace, the older brother, revealed this Thursday in the newspaper Corriere della Sera that he and Gianni maintained contacts with the then Gucci Group (today Kering) with the aim of merging. An operation that should have concluded with the Versace IPO in 1998, but which Andrew Cunanan cut short on the morning of that fateful Tuesday, July 15, now 25 years ago.
“It was an extraordinary project that we had been working on since May 10, 1997. The first great Italian fashion network would have been born, with complementary brands and great industrial integration,” says the man who was president of Versace until 2018. “Gianni never he dealt with financial or corporate issues, he was only concerned with ensuring a future for the firm. ‘Where do you want Gianni Versace to be in 20 years?’ I asked him. I still hear his response in my head: ‘With you, on top of the world’.