“Versace meant whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it.
“It starts as a celebration,” says Donatella. “You don’t do drugs because they aren’t fun. They’re a lot of fun. But the celebration gets too often celebrated.”
Rumor has hardened into accepted wisdom in the fashion world that Gianni arranged Donatella’s marriage to the male model Paul Beck because he wanted an heir for his throne. It is also widely believed that Gianni’s feelings for his sister’s husband were more than platonic. It is certain, at least, that Gianni had a role far more powerful than uncle in the life of Donatella and Beck’s children, particularly for their daughter, Allegra, whom Gianni called “Little Princess” and to whom he left the majority share of his company.
After the regicide of Gianni Versace in July 1997, Donatella was catapulted into the throne. At the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute gala a few months later, at which an exhibition of Gianni’s work premiered, guests counted the number of times Donatella ran to the bathroom with Kate Moss. “I don’t want to act like a victim, because I hate women who acts like a victim, but I had a lot of responsibility when my brother died,” Donatella says.
Donatella likes to see people eat, she likes things familial, she likes to be intimate with the people who work for her. “Dinner was always in her suite, she tells you where to sit, she makes sure everybody eats,” says Jason Weisenfeld wistfully. “We were always very well taken care of.”
She says she never planned to have such an operatic life—some have greatness thrust upon them. “I knew I was going to work in fashion; I really didn’t think of nothing else,” she says, because her parents were tailors. “But I always thought it was Gianni who would live a grand life, not me. Because I really was not interested. Really I was … when I was at university, that was the happiest time of my life.”
To look around at the fashionable elite in Manhattan, you might think the Versace aesthetic passé. All the fashion girls have been in flowy, flowery, deconstructed Marni things that look like they were made out of fabulous old pillowcases. Otherwise, they’re wearing sleek, Frenchy bits of elegance designed by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. Come fall, they will switch to skirts called poufs and bubbles from Balenciaga. In all these cases, the sexuality and the luxury of the clothes are understated, almost evasive. (Your eyes have to swim laps around a Marni top to locate a breast. A simple, shiny Lanvin skirt with a bit of pin-tucking costs thousands and will be recognized as a status symbol only by the most educated of fashion consumers.)
But in Southern California, as in Southern Italy, louche never went out. And the luxury market is rapidly expanding in places like China and India, where the concept of decadence requires little postmodern reinterpretation. Here in Manhattan—as in Milan—Donatella has also toned things down: The full-on gilt and Medusa, buckles and baroque of the Gianni era is no more. The flagship boutiques on Fifth Avenue and Via Monte Napoleone have been redone in black and white, marble and glass. And this men’s collection was more Santa Monica than Palermo. “I think Versace missed that softness—I always told to Gianni that, but you know, he was a big designer,” says Donatella. Her fall looks for women have been hailed as among the most wearable in the company’s history: clean pantsuits and mini-coats in camel and midnight blue, soft wool and softer Astrakhan, a simple pair of $620 jeans with rhinestone V’s on the ass.”
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