#SuzyMFW: Versace’s Hot Heritage
Each word and every beat of music pulsated with memory until the final moment when the curtain drew back to present slender figures in shimmering metallic dresses beside Donatella Versace.
The unveiling of the supermodels from the past was a tribute to mark 20 years since the death of Gianni Versace, whose flamboyant clothes had been reincarnated by his sister in an unadorned room inside Milan’s Triennale Museum.
“This is a celebration of my brother,” came Donatella’s voice over the soundtrack. “Imagine a world without his risk-taking, his innominate genius and, above all, his allegiance to women. A world without his tongue-in-cheek, in-your-face, jaw-dropping creations.”
The finale with the famous 1990s models Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen – proving that age could not whither them – was the culmination of a tribute that was graceful and poignant. It was also flooded with hope, as a new generation of models, especially Gigi and Bella Hadid, and also Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia, proved that what Gianni had created with such fandango could stand fashion’s test of time.
So there were rock-the-baroque prints offering gilded shellfish against an azure sky; sleek, blush pink dresses studded with rivets; and Andy Warhol’s faces of Marilyn Monroe on a slip of a dress with matching thigh-high boots. The show was all about memory leaping into the present – like the leopard whose spots were printed on slinky dresses; or more of those body-tracing sheaths patterned with copies of Vogue.
The roots of the designs were in the 1990s, when the founder had emerged from the glitter gulch of the opulent eighties to streamline the excess – right up to his murder in 1997. Looking back now from the new millennium, Gianni’s vision was to see women as capable of being in control of a body language that fused curvy come-on shapes with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. That vision goes right back to Richard Avedon’s pictures that nailed the supermodels as defiantly and openly sexy – but independent with it.
“In-your-face, jaw-dropping sassiness,” said Donatella, defining how she saw her brother’s work and the essence of her own, after a difficult and unsure period of mourning.
Donatella’s choices of fashion focus points included the religious symbols of a Roman Catholic Italy: baroque crosses appliquéd on slivers of dresses or worked on leather boots climbing up the thighs. Her own contribution fused business suits in vivid colours with today’s stretch leggings as the bottom half; and cowboy culture was developed in black leather as fringe and cling.
Feminism and fashion do not always fit well together, but by adding a sense of freedom to the package, the aesthetic of the 21st century made sense. The late George Michael’s Freedom! ’90 on the soundtrack added another sprinkle of poignancy.
Significantly, in the current period when the abuse by or bad practices of unofficial or unscrupulous modelling agents are under discussion, all the models talked of Gianni as a father figure.
“He did . He was like a father, you know. He was very, he was a nice man. He was a strong man,” said Amber Valletta who was at the show.
Discussing her feelings backstage, Donatella reduced her brother’s input and his influence on other designers to a single word.
“Courage – because today nobody does it,” she said. “And this is a chance for a new generation to see what Gianni was about.”