On the fashion legend’s 67th birthday, we revisit how the grande dame of Italian fashion spun gold out of her brother’s ashes, and extended his star-studded legacy to relevance in the modern age.
Having been at the helm of the Versace empire as artistic director since 1997, Donatella Versace has overseen the growth of the conglomerate’s luxury fashion astride expansion into accessories, home furnishings and hotels… and creating a luxury lifestyle brand. As artistic director and vice president of the board, she is responsible for the overall vision of the house, from its fashion lines and brand image, to its worldwide growth and future in the digital space.
Versace was founded by Donatella’s brother, Gianni Versace, and when he was murdered in Miami in 1997, she inherited twenty per cent of the company and became chief executive officer. Versace was sold to Capri Holdings in 2018 though Donatella remains involved. So, how how did Donatella Versace build an empire from her late brother’s legacy? Per The Guardian, ”Donatella knows it is not trends that drive the fashion industry, but the eternal obsessions of women as they look in the mirror: looking better, getting noticed, feeling good. The visceral, primal stuff. This is why the Versace brand still has potency, forty years after Gianni Versace opened a first boutique on Via della Spiga… The Versace family still owns eighty per cent of the business, with most shares in the name of Donatella’s daughter Allegra.”
How Donatella steered the Versace empire away from near- bankruptcy, made it her own and transcended it, is inspiring. While Gianni was alive, Donatella’s official work mostly involved PR and branding. What few people knew was back at the studio, she had begun designing with her brother. By the Nineties, Gianni put her in charge of Versus, a more affordable and casual diffusion line known for its distinctive rock-chic look, as well as accessories. Among close circles, it was no secret that he had spent years grooming her for the takeover in case he passed away; Gianni had contracted cancer in 1995 and the siblings had meticulously planned for the future. Per The Guardian,
While he battled the disease, Donatella would design much of the Versace ready-to-wear and couture collections. If he died, she would take over as creative director. ”I had to do everything. He taught me everything.”
Gianni recovered from the disease but was unfortunately murdered in 1997.’ Shortly after his death, Donatella assumed creative control of Versace. Industry insiders feel the key to her success is that she took Gianni’s codes, like the bold palette and liquid fabrics, and adapted them to a new, softer style, a more modern femininity. A campaign released in 2005 starring Madonna, shot by Mario Testino, portrayed the rock star as a glamorous Versace-clad CEO. ”A high-level working woman that does not renounce glamour when she’s in the office,” Donatella told Vanity Fair. ”Madonna worked to define that image: she’s a woman who put her nose into everything that has got to do with her, and that’s smart.” She also designed campaigns for Versace and worked with Jennifer Lopez, Courtney Love, Christina Aguilera, Demi Moore, Nicki Mina, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.
In 2008, Donatella Versace hired Christopher Kane to transform Versus, which had lost its sheen in the wake of Gianni’s death. It was the first in a series of business relationships with young designers that have kept Versace at the helm of global fashion with on-the-pulse creativity. In 2009, she roped in Christopher Kane to design for Versus and transformed the young fashion brand, followed in 2012 by Jonathan Anderson who designed a capsule collection for the label. In 2013, Anthony Vaccarello was hired to produce his own Versus capsule. The success of this stratagem got Vaccarello appointed as creative director, and the line more than doubled its year-on-year revenues in 2014.
Per The Guardian,
Fashion editors, most of whom refuse to talk about her on the record because of her fiery temper and even hotter legal team, say she is incredibly energetic and scarily focussed. ‘She survives on no sleep, chain smokes her way through the colds she always seems to have, and thinks Versace, Versace, Versace,’ one editor says.
Today, Versace markets a variety of product lines, from home goods to fragrance, apparel, accessories and furniture, and operates two hotels. Donatella designed Palazzo Versace Australia on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, in 2000.The Burj al-Arab, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates has Versace furniture and bedding. Donatella has also played a role in the design of Palazzo Versace Dubai, the second Palazzo Versace hotel, which opened in November 2016. Indeed, she has carried forward and transcended the legacy of her late brother — notable accolades include being appointed honorary chair of London Fashion Fringe; named Fashion Designer of the Year in 2012 and 2016 and Woman of the Year in 2010 by Glamour; Fashion Icon of the Year award at the British Fashion Council’s The Fashion Awards in 2017; a year later she was the first woman to be named as the Designer of the Year at the 2018 GQ Men of the Year Awards in the UK and in China; received the International CFDA Award and was honoured at The Green Carpet Fashion Awards for her work for sustainability; and received the Fashion Icon award at GQ Awards Berlin.
Per BoF, “In 2018, the company was acquired by Michael Kors Holdings — now rebranded Capri Holdings — for a value of $2.1 billion. Donatella and her family now own €150 million ($176 million) in group stock.”
I worked with Condenast India as Digital Editor and launched Vogue India’s portal. Four years later, I turned entrepreneur and launched my luxury portal www.explosivefashion.in. Perhaps it’s my vision and exclusive content that’s placed Explosive Fashion at the forefront of luxury: reporting from fashion weeks, collaborating with luxury brands, presenting royal families’ vision, championing talent, reviewing hotels and restaurants, writing on travel, heritage. My editorial is of a storyteller, the story of the person behind the brand.