Fashion Designer of the Month for April 2020
Fashion icon Donatella Versace has been the artistic director of the Versace Group since 1997.
Who Is Donatella Versace?
Donatella Versace grew up with two major fashion influences: her mother was a dressmaker and her older brother, Gianni Versace, was a budding designer. She went to work for her brother in the late 1970s, serving as his muse and adviser. Donatella Versace became the designer for the company’s Versus line in the 1980s. After her brother was murdered in 1997, she became artistic director of the Versace Group.
Born on May 2, 1955, in Reggio Calabria, Italy, designer Donatella Versace is one of the best-known names in fashion today. She is the younger sister of the late designer Gianni Versace. Donatella and Gianni learned about designing from their mother, who had a dressmaking business. “I was the baby of the family,” she later explained to The New Yorker. “I was so spoiled. I was the best-dressed little girl in the city.”
Versace began developing her trademark look as a teenager — dying her hair platinum blonde and using dark eyeliner. She was remarkably close to her older brother, Gianni, who would take her out with him at night and make outfits for her to wear. Donatella attended a university in Florence for a time, but she eventually reunited with Gianni to support his clothing business.
Donatella: Gianni’s Fashion Muse
When Gianni started his own fashion company in Milan in 1978, Donatella was right there by his side. Their brother, Santo, was also a part of the business. Gianni relied on Donatella for her advice about his designs, and she played an important role in orchestrating many Versace fashion shows and advertising campaigns. She helped bring some rock ‘n’ roll spirit and celebrity cache to the line through her friendships with Madonna and Elizabeth Hurley.
Taking Over Versus Line
Versace also served as chief designer for the company’s Versus line. She learned even more about the business in the mid-1990s, when she took on a larger role while Gianni battled cancer. Gianni’s health scare prompted the Versace siblings to work on a company succession plan. Gianni won his fight against cancer but would lose his life tragically in 1997 when he was shot outside his home in Miami, Florida. The murderer, Andrew Cunanan, had gone on a cross-country killing spree, prior to fatally shooting Versace and ultimately committing suicide.
Artistic Director of Versace Empire
Donatella was devastated by the death of her brother but was determined to carry on his legacy. Days after Gianni’s death, Donatella was announced as Versace’s artistic director. By this time, though, she had already taken a leading role in the business. “The last two years of Gianni’s life,” Donatella explained to New York magazine, “I was going up into his apartment, showing him the work, getting the approval from him, but I ran the company because he wasn’t showing himself. It was like a year and a half I did everything.”
Donatella has led the company’s design vision ever since, helping to reinvigorate its product lines over the years. In 2009, she brought in Christopher Kane to design for Versus and reinvent the brand. After his departure, Versace collaborated with other upcoming designers on the line, also revamping the company’s haute couture line Atelier Versace. Today, Versace markets a variety of product lines, from home goods to perfume, clothing and furniture, and operates two hotels.
Versace’s Husband & Family
Versace married former model Paul Beck in 1986. The couple had two children together, Allegra (b. 1986) and Daniel (b. 1989), before divorcing. Their son was named after a song by Elton John, a close family friend. Known for her wild partying lifestyle, Versace battled drug addiction after her brother’s death. “I couldn’t stand the pain,” she told Vogue. “I had to hide my feelings. What better way to hide your feelings than with drugs?” After struggling with cocaine addiction for many years, Versace sought treatment in 2004.
As part of Gianni’s will, Donatella’s daughter Allegra was given 50 percent of the company’s stake. When she turned 18 in 2004, Allegra inherited her claim, an estimated $500 million. She currently serves as a company director and is also a theatrical dressmaker residing in New York City.
Donatella Versace in Pop Culture
A fashion icon, Versace was spoofed on Saturday Night Live in a series of sketches, in which she was portrayed by actress/comedian Maya Rudolph. Versace seemed to have a good sense of humor about herself, even calling Rudolph to give her advice. In 2013, Versace was portrayed by Gina Gershon in the Lifetime television movie, House of Versace.
Premiering in January 2018, Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story featured Oscar-winning actress Penelope Cruz as Versace. As the anthology series’ second installment, the show focused on the death of her brother Gianni.