_Donatella Versace - A design for life
I was thinking about what it would be like if punk happened today... what would be the attitude, the energy? What would it look like? It interested me because there is a really rebellious punk energy in the air (...)”
We all know to expect the unexpected when it comes to Donatella Versace – from her showcase PUNK collection to spiky, sexy VUNK to classic styles, the Queen of fashion discusses, style, vision, ferocity and Kate Moss.
Donatella Versace exemplifies such a level of status that you sometimes wonder how this megalith of fashion culture would survive in ‘the real world’. The 64-year-old freely admits she is completely detached from the echoes of reality – so swept along by the demands and trappings of a fashion industry that she barely knows how to reset back to normality.
“It has been such a dominant part of my life that sometimes I forget who the real person is,” she begins. “It is like I am always on show, always thinking, always styling, always planning.
“Even in my quietest moment of the day, I am immersed in this life and most of me is happy about that.”‘Most’ is probably the defining word of Donatella’s opening exchange. A woman who followed her brother Gianni into the fashion world when exploring the versatility of knitwear in Florence in the mid-1970s, she was originally employed to look after press and PR, yet it soon became evident that the family’s eye for exemplary detail in fashion had permeated beyond her elder. “Gianni could spot something nobody had seen, and he would go with that,” she says. “I was different – I’d see how something was and would want to change and evolve it. “Between us we had the perfect combination of creativity and reinvention. Every day was a pleasure.”You sense Donatella has never got over her brother’s murder, even though that was some 23 years ago. Over a third of her life lived without Gianni, his influence is still all around, and in her creations you sense she is still seeking out approval, validation and credit from her older brother.
While eccentric, brazen and audacious, few who come in contact with Donatella have anything but praise for her. One high-profile figure afforded an extended glance into the work- ings of the designer and businesswoman was actress Penelope Cruz, who in 2018 portrayed her in the FX network limited TV series The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which co-starred Edgar Ramirez in the title role and Darren Criss as his deranged assassin. Although production drew wrath from some parts of the Versace family, who denounced it as an unauthorised “work of fiction”, the drama was nonetheless a deep and rich view into an existence that few of us may ever understand.
“It is not an easy life,” says Donatella. I am rarely relaxed - I get impatient to move onto what’s new. I hate things that stay the same. I always want to move on, to go forward. At the heart of every collection is the Versace DNA. That is something that will always be there, and is the unbreakable link between everything that we do.
But each season, I can’t wait to talk with my design team, to get inspired by new music, new attitudes, new ways of being. If the switch from the season before is radical, so what? It will always be Versace, but I will always be unsatisfied; and as a designer, that is a necessary problem.”
While the designer has styled so many ground-breaking collections and, as a result, been rewarded and revered across the industry, perhaps one of her most iconic creations was the VUNK campaign from 2013 – a set of designs that have held firm despite subverting the pre-conceptions of what Versace stands for. “That has been one of the most special collections of all,” she says.“I was thinking about what it would be like if punk happened today... what would be the attitude, the energy? What would it look like? It interested me because there is a really rebellious punk energy in the air, and often it’s in women who you wouldn’t describe as ‘punk’, such as Angel Haze or Grimes. I wanted to create a look for these women, many of whom weren’t even born when punk happened. So I created Vunk.
“It’s important we go full-circle sometimes in styles and fashions; it’s important we reflect the past in the future. ”She continues: “Punk was the creation of a group of kids, their friends and their fans in New York and London over 30 years ago. It was brash and carefree and even perhaps a bit unclean. We changed and reinvented that in a way only one of the world’s biggest fashion brands can, using the most exquisite craftsmanship and luxury. But what both share is an uncompromising attitude, and a fierce energy.”
If the switch from the season before is radical, so what? It will always be Versace, but I will always be unsatisfied; and as a designer, that is a necessary problem.
As for Donatella’s most prized fashion look over the years, she drops her eyes to her waist. “That would always be my PVC trousers! Everyone is so shocked that I still wear them, but to me it’s the most natural choice in the world. It’s a total luxury to be able to wear exactly what you want, don’t you think? And I also love the tension of wearing something like PVC in the same outfit as the softest cashmere, or a mink coat. A neon yellow mink coat, of course.”
While still driven by innovation and brave creativity, Donatella still subscribes to so many traditional values of the industry. She loves moodboards, will still pluck people off the street and embeds herself in as much of the design, production and PR process as possible. And despite a desire to shock, she is also still elegant in her admiration of beauty.
“You can pretend a lot in fashion but you will never be able to look beyond beauty,” she says. “That is the one the one thing that holds everything else together. Look at Kate Moss – she is powerful, provocative, fearless and unafraid. She’s totally fashion, she’s totally rock ’n’ roll. Kate has been part of the Versace family since the beginning of her career. Look at Naomi Campbell – I adore her too. She defines true power and elegance. No matter what the campaign is, no matter what the limitations are, you can overcome them with someone of beauty, and there can be no greater way of sending that message than with Naomi.” Of course, in any industry, timing is crucial, and perhaps more than anything else, Donatella’s ability to strike at the right moment has been her greatest attribute. From collaborations with J.W. Anderson right through to Kith and H&M, she has always picked the right name at the right time. “People say I love to collaborate with young designers, and that’s true, but it’s about much more than that. At Versus Versace we have capsule collec- tions which allow us to work with the best new designers and creatives in the world. To launch the new Versus Versace, I want to work with people who are provocative and daring, who would challenge me and present the Versace world in a totally new way.“That is always the way forward. For young, for old, for long-term and for short-term, the drive is really to change ideas and look for interesting angles with which to subvert and represent what we have.”
“Fashion now doesn’t mind how old you are, or how much experience you have. It has moved on a lot and now it is truly focused on the look – we are not thinking too wide about the challenge; we are focused. And we are ready for the next thing, always.”