From Gianni to Donatella—here’s all you need to know about the house of Versace
With countless movies and TV shows dedicated to the lavish lives of designers and their eponymous brands, the younger generation of consumers—who actively take in information as is— might assume that the most pivotal moments taking place in these renowned fashion houses are the scandalous lies and affairs that they have been tied to by the media.
That was the disdain and discomfort expressed by the family of Gianni Versace on the portrayal of the renowned label and its designer in the FX TV series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace. With the anniversary of his passing happening this month, we’re taking a moment to go through the highlights that took place before, during and after the establishment of Versace as a fashion brand. Reflecting femininity, sexuality, sensuality and art in all of its forms, while simultaneously changing the narrative in which fashion functioned in the ‘80s, Versace was one of the few labels who dared to raise the stakes before it was deemed “acceptable”.
The early beginnings
One could say that Gianni Versace was destined to find his way into fashion and design. Born on the 2nd of December, 1946, just a year after World War II ended, Versace grew up in Italy’s Reggio Calabria, Italy—a city known for its historical architecture, coastal views, and proximity to the beautiful island of Sicily. It was here that the young couturier learned how to sew fabrics and run the family boutique from his seamstress mother. This know-how accrued over time, earning him the ability and courage to start a business of his own.
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Upon graduating from high school, Versace spent a few more years working at his family store before relocating to Milan in 1972. There, Versace landed freelance roles for Italian ateliers such as Genny, Mario Valentino, Complice and Callaghan.
The Versace legacy
It took the young maestro a good six years, working a handful of jobs, to finally land him the connections needed to set up his eponymous label. With financial backing from the Girombelli’s, a well-known Italian fashion family, Gianni Versace (the label) materialised in 1978. Versace quickly turned it into a family business, entrusting the CEO position to his brother, Santo, and enlisting his sister, Donatella, to share the responsibilities as a designer and to take on the role of Vice President.
In the same year that Versace established his namesake label, he launched his first ready-to-wear collection and founded his first in-person store at Via della Spiga, one of Milan’s top shopping streets. Heavily inspired by Graceo-Roman designs—the same ones seen across the architecture of the city he grew up in—Versace wove this aesthetic into the clothing he worked on. The Medusa head, known famously as the house logo, was inspired by an image on the floor of ruins he found in his hometown as a child.
Sex appeal and sensational designs
Quickly garnering the attention of fashion connoisseurs and the media, Gianni Versace became a well-known brand internationally. Utilising bold and bright colours and forming fabrics into pieces that were regarded as vulgar and lewd, Versace stood his ground, expressing in a quote, “I don’t believe in good taste.” His designs presented a stark dichotomy to the prim, tailored and simple silhouettes of the time. Though he received praise from alternative consumers of fashion for breaking away from the rigidity of the industry, Versace was equally met with heavy criticism.
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With Donatella in the business, Versace sought to realise the expression of womanhood and sexuality, marking him a feminist decades before the term took off. This was still, however, met with criticism. Regardless, Versace pursued his ideals in the industry, unfazed by the negativity. Continuing to create and showcase his designs on large sets in prime locations across Milan, Versace also employed the likes of in-demand supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Carla Bruni, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Helena Christensen to further elevate his label.
Versace as a couturier
In 1989, Versace established Atelier Versace, a couture line dedicated to elevating the house’s craftsmanship. Having made connections to prolific names in Hollywood and the music industry, Versace became the first designer of his generation to invite major celebrities to his shows. Versace also redefined the way fashion interacted with the music industry, designing pieces for his close friend Elton John, and other notable stars such as Micheal Jackson, Paul McCartney, and rapper Tupac Shakur.
Versace also extended the brand’s offerings by tapping into the fragrance, jewellery, houseware, furnishings, fine china, and textile markets. As a means to explore his artistic side, Versace also worked with operas and theatres internationally as a costume designer.
The passing of a legend
The point-blank shooting of Gianni Versace in front of his home by Andrew Cunanan in 1997, as famously told on the TV show, was one that shook the fashion community to its core. His funeral was attended by notable celebrities and high-profile friends including Princess Diana. Since the designer’s passing, the house of Gianni Versace has been renamed and transformed into what it is known as today—Versace.
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Taking over the reins of creative direction, Donatella steered the fashion house back into its glory days by revisiting the classic Versace silhouettes crafted by her brother and implementing her own design aesthetics. A notable moment was when Donatella brought back the original nineties supermodels—the Versace five—for the brand’s Spring 2018 show, sending nostalgic shockwaves throughout the fashion world. And who can forget the trailblazing ‘Fendace’ swap in 2021, where house codes were borrowed and exchanged with fellow Italian label, Fendi. Whatever the future may bring for this luxe fashion force, we know one thing is for sure: it will be revolutionary.
Shop some of the most notable Versace pieces below.
Greca Goddess Bag
La Medusa Handbag
Silver Baroque Shirt
Medusa Aevitas Pump
Medusa Lambskin Leather Bralette
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