If there is one name that epitomizes Italian opulence and sexiness, it’s Versace. Since the brand was founded 1978 by Gianni Versace, the luxury fashion house has set trends, created history-making ad campaigns, dressed A-list celebrities and made memorable red carpet moments. Bold, fearless glamour: this is the Versace calling card. And the woman responsible for it all in the 21st century is Donatella Versace. Since becoming artistic director following her brother’s 1997 death, she has turned her family’s name into a pop culture icon and billion-dollar business.
“Versace is more than just a brand to me,” she says. “It is family, and its DNA and traditions are in my blood. What interests me is taking those traditions and pushing them forward into the future.”
Her ability to drive the brand toward modernity while paying homage to her family’s crafting traditions has turned her into both icon and shrewd businesswoman. She is much more than her trademark tan and platinum-blonde hair, much more than her name or whatever new collection happens to hit the runway next. For all her focus on the future, the enigmatic yet alluring Versace sees the brand fitting into a larger historical context within the Italian design tradition.
“I believe Italians have creative ability in our DNA, and I think we use our creativity to create desire,” says the designer who calls Milan home to this day. “It is for this reason that Italian fashion leads the world. Milan is once again a leader in innovation and in fashion made with genuine craftsmanship. I am thrilled to see the world appreciating what is unique about Italian fashion.”
In a richly illustrated tome recently released by Rizzoli, she chronicles her interpretation of Versace through the years. Homes & Estates had the honor of interviewing the fashion icon herself about tradition, creativity and how she personally defines luxury.
Why did you decide to write this book at this time in your life?
Donatella Versace Versace is my life. It is everything to me. I spend every waking moment thinking about the future of the brand that I love. I am always going forward, not backward, but it made me think, what if I were to look at what we’ve achieved, just once? I started to think about a book that would bring together all the different aspects of Versace since I became artistic director: the shows, the supermodels, the red carpet, the celebrities, the campaigns — but not just those. Also, behind the scenes, the people who work with me on the collections, the private moments that no one else sees. Bringing them all together made me realize what a rich tapestry we have created at Versace, and how full it has been of moments to cherish.
In what ways would you say your interpretation of Versace has continued the family tradition in the 21st century?
Donatella Versace I always think about Versace, not just today, but the Versace of tomorrow. This is how we push those codes forward — by being true to our roots, while always being focused on the future.
It’s been so exciting for me to see the new Versace tribe growing around the world, as a young generation discovers Versace for the first time. It’s inspiring to me to see the way they dress, helping to push Versace into the 21st century.
I am very impatient. I get bored easily. As soon as I’ve finished a collection, I want to move on to the next. I’d love for fashion to become more immediate and feel more like the 21st century. I love change. Why would you want things to stay the same? I love that people around the world can share their passion for fashion. I love it.
The future of Versace is so exciting. Versace will always be one of the world’s most important luxury fashion brands. The Versace look will always be instantly recognizable. You can never mistake a Versace dress for anyone else’s. But Versace will also always evolve, always change and always be excited about the future. All I know is that Versace will be ready for change, excited for whatever it is to become in the world of fashion.
In what ways has your interpretation of Versace moved in a new or different direction?
Donatella Versace The key word is: evolution. Every fashion brand, just like every company, has to evolve if it is to succeed. Nothing can stay the same in business, and nothing ever stays the same in fashion. Versace is a place of incredible excitement and energy. It is a house that has possibilities, that is growing and that is challenging itself. I love my work, and I love that I get to spend my time with some of the most amazing people in the whole industry — my team.
What was one of your favorite runway moments from the book?
Donatella Versace So hard to choose, but I can’t get out of my head the great finale of the Spring/Summer 2016 Collection. Such a statement for women, thanks to the soundtrack by Violet celebrating the strength of women and the power of the female future. It is all about a woman’s freedom: freedom to fight for your ideas, freedom to be whoever you want to be.
What was one of your favorite red carpet creations from the book?
Donatella Versace The Jennifer Lopez Jungle Dress at the 2000 Grammy Awards. This dress was so successful! People went crazy and started looking for the picture online. That is how Google Image search was born.
That was such a special moment, for Jennifer and also for me. I knew we had created an incredible dress, something that had never been seen before. I wanted to use Versace print in a new way, revealing so much of her incredible body, yet also draping her like a gown. Jennifer had just had her first smash hits as a pop diva, and she had such an incredible new confidence and sense of daring. She looked so radiant in the dress, like she ruled the world.
If you could chart the historic evolution of the Versace house from its beginnings to today, which collections were most iconic in your eyes?
Donatella Versace I couldn’t choose one! Every collection is special to me. It’s the expression of my true love for fashion. My passion is to create something unique. Every collection is an individual voice that speaks for itself, and when you look at them altogether in the book, it’s like a choir effect.
Looking back, what were your regrets? What would you do over again?
Donatella Versace My life has been lived, for better or worse, in the public eye. There have been many times I wish I could live over again, but from it all, I have learned a new strength and have a new passion and energy. Those times now seem like so long ago. My focus is firmly on the future. I know that I am at my best when I am true to myself and have a strong point of view. There have been times in the past when I had doubts or was cautious, and that then showed in my work. Each season, I have to have confidence in myself and the strength to push Versace forward. It is hard work, but the results are clear to me. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the strength of Versace right now, and how women around the world are responding to my family’s brand. It gives me the confidence to do more, push further and make Versace the best it has ever been. As a designer, I see it as part of my duty to push for individuality and power for women, and to push for a more equal world.
For you, how does Versace epitomize Italian opulence?
Donatella Versace I was born into a family of creativity and craftsmanship. My mother was a dressmaker, so the Italian traditions of cut, form and quality have been in my life since my earliest memories. But not everything was about tradition — my brother Gianni was nearly ten years older than I, so when I was a very young child, I watched him rebel and find his love of fashion. When I became a teenager myself, he would dare me to be more extreme, to push my look further. Today, I can see how these two sides have influenced my character — the respect for tradition and the desire for rebellion.
What does “luxury” mean to you?
Donatella Versace Luxury means so many things to me. Of course, it means the most extraordinary craftsmanship, the finest materials, the most empowering design. I have the honor of being artistic director of a house that creates some of the most exquisite luxury products in the world. But there are so many things that are a luxury to me, like time. Being able to close the door and share precious time with my friends and loved ones is the greatest luxury of all.
If someone wanted to translate the essence of Versace into his or her own home’s interiors, where should he or she look for inspiration? What’s your personal philosophy on your style at home?
Donatella Versace I wear Versace, always. When I am designing, I am always thinking about what a woman needs at all points during her day, and this is how I think about my own personal style. When I work, I usually wear a black top with some black pants, so that I’m ready for all the different appointments I have during the day. For evenings or special occasions, that is when I add color and glamour. Great personal style comes when you have a wardrobe that is versatile and adaptable, and that helps you be the best you can be at all times.
If there was one message you wanted to make sure every reader received from your book, what would it be?
Donatella Versace Versace is about strength, individuality and power. It’s also about loving life, making the best of every moment, being true to who you are. Be brave, be fearless, be yourself!