Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
A Diva in the World of Fashion and the Muse of her Late Brother, Gianni Versace
Currently Known For:
Vice President of the Versace Group
1980s - Present
May 2, 1955
“If I could dress anyone, I’d like to dress the Queen—she can handle anything. I’d put her in black—she never wears black—and add a little leather, maybe. A little rock n’ roll.” The youngest of four children born to a seamstress and a financier to the Italian aristocracy, Donatella Versace was a little girl when she was first exposed to the world of high fashion thanks to her mother’s work as one of the most talented designers in Milan. Although her mother had bigger plans for her daughter to marry and start a family, Donatella’s passions were far too great to keep her at home as she followed her older brother, Gianni, to Florence where she became his muse and his greatest critic as the duo built the Versace brand throughout the mid-1970s and 1980s. Since taking over the Versace label after her brother’s tragic death in 1996, Donatella has made an incredible mark on the fashion industry with her unique designs and keen eye for couture—after all, she’s the Medusa of the fashion world!
Decades before she likened herself to Medusa, a Greek goddess of strength and determination who could petrify people with one look, Donatella Francesca Versace made her grand entrance into the world on May 2, 1955. Growing up, she spent her afternoons watching her mother work as a seamstress where the young Donatella fell in love with fashion. “I have to say, I grew up with fashion because my mother was a seamstress and she had an atelier,” she recalled. “She would cut the first pattern and then she had people working for her… I grew up in an atelier watching people all around me sewing. I was fascinated. When my mother did fittings for her clients, I was hiding, looking at these beautiful ladies try on these fantastic clothes. I was dreaming as a small child to try these clothes on myself.”
Donatella’s older brother, Gianni, shared her passion and, despite their 10-year age difference, the two quickly became inseparable as Donatella became his living doll and muse. “There was Santo, the calm one; Gianni, the enfant terrible; and me—Gianni’s accomplice,” Donatella said of her childhood. “I was his doll and his best friend. He dressed me up in cool clothes, took me out to discos and clubs from when I was 11. I loved it. It was the best time of my life.”
Following Gianni to Florence, Italy, Donatella planned to work for her brother in the public relations department but ultimately served him better as his muse and critic before she entered the fashion world on her own in the 1980s with Gianni giving her the Versus label and her own perfume line, Blonde. Throughout the rest of the decade and into the early 1990s, the pair worked together as Gianni became an icon in the fashion industry with Donatella building her own reputation as she became a hot topic both in and out of the spotlight for her own sense of style saying, “I was not born fantastically beautiful, but I always wanted to be impressive. So, I bleach my hair blonde and I wear high heels because I am 5’2” tall.”
In 1996, tragedy struck when Donatella suffered a great loss after her brother, Gianni, was killed, leaving the entire company in her hands. “When my brother was murdered, I had the eyes of the whole world on me and 99% of them thought I wasn’t going to make it,” Donatella recalled. “And maybe I thought the same, at first. My brother was the king and my whole world had crashed around me.” Picking herself up and spending the next year learning the ins and outs of the business from Gianni’s former seat as Chief Executive Officer, Donatella discovered an even greater strength within herself and, despite making plenty of mistakes, pushed forward to carry on her brother’s legacy as she launched her first couture show for the Versace brand a year after her brother’s death. The show, held at the Hotel Ritz Paris, was absolutely remarkable.
“Now, I feel like the death of my brother made me strong,” the 62-year-old Versace said. “But for a long time, it was a trauma. You know the first thing I did when I heard the news, the day he died? I ran to the room where my children were to turn off the TV but I wasn’t quick enough and they were watching their uncle covered in blood and they were asking me why. I had to be strong for the company, but most of all I had to be strong for the family. People thought I wasn’t a warm person, but I was just trying to keep myself together.”
Managing to keep herself together and bring the Versace brand to new heights, Donatella proved the world wrong as she revitalized her brother’s early work and called on friends like Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Courtney Love, Demi Moore, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to become the faces of the label. Along the way, she expanded the Versace brand beyond fashion to the realm of luxury with the opening of the Palazzo Versace resort on the Gold Coast of Australia as well as offering a collection of furniture and textiles to the Burj al-Arab in Dubai shortly before she announced plans to open a second resort, the Palazzo Versace, in Dubai in the new millennium.
Apart from her incredible success as a designer and the muse behind the Versace brand, Donatella says her success is the result of her genuine authenticity and her need to be bolder and more provocative, a challenge she often gave to her brother. “I’m myself and it’s difficult to try to be something you’re not. To be truthful and authentic with yourself is the most important thing,” she says. “First and foremost, I define myself as a woman. I can also be anything I want—artistic director, designer, entrepreneur, mother, friend…” Even so, the now 62-year-old Donatella still struggles to live up to her brother’s memory. “Next to Gianni, I feel like I’m nobody. But at the same time, I was there by his side throughout his career and I remember all the incredible moments we shared together. I was always pushing him to be bolder, more daring and more provocative in his work.” And, while Donatella may not feel like much compared to her brother, the world of fashion is undeniably grander thanks to her incredible influence in the world of couture over the last four decades!