Donatella was crying, “I miss my brother so much. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed in all my life.” Her very first show that had to be completed just three months after Gianni’s death was finally over.
The collection was a mish-mash fabrics, textures and ideas, but at least Donatella did it. Her brother was gone and she was the one who had to move the house forward and become its creative force.
Gianni Versace’s sister, a much-awaited and cherished replacement for their dead sibling, Tinuccia, was born on 2 May 1955. Despite an old Calabrian tradition of giving family names to the newborns, the little girl was called Donatella, which meant “gift” (from Italian “dono”). For Gianni, Donatella wasn’t just a refuge and a part of the family, but his confidante and companion who, justt like her older brother, soon became interested in fashion.
After finishing her studies, she’d rush downstairs to spend as much time in her mother’s boutique as possible, playing with make-up and trying on new clothes. Every time Gianni went shopping for the boutique, he’d bring cases full of fashionable clothes that he thought would suit his sister. By the time she was twenty, Donatella had a dream wardrobe filled with glamorous designer frocks.
After graduating Donatella decided to study languages in the University of Florence, but as soon as she moved there in 1973, Gianni began pestering her to visit him in Milan, so that he could show her his new designs. Weekends spent with her brother became longer and longer until one day, in 1978,when she moved in with Gianni permanently. The move happened following their mother’s death, which brought the siblings even closer.
While Gianni continued developing his personal style, Donatella became more and more indispensable to him. Not only Gianni was inspired by his sisters’ style and her ability to mix glamorous and edgy clothes, but he used her as a ticker to the world of women, so he could better understand what they want to achieve through fashion and design the clothes to suit.
She always knew what and who was in and out and was the first one to recognise an importance of celebrity-fashion connection. Becoming a celebrity herself, she’d appear at the hottest parties in Milan, New York and LA making contacts and charming celebrities by sending them the latest designs and invitations to the shows and parties at their family house. The Versace became celebrity central with VIPs at the front row of Versace fashion shows and Versace campaigns. Donatella made a start of a new culture, but this was just the beginning. Her next move was inspired by celebrities of a different kind. The models. In the late 1980s Donatella decided to book the most beautiful editorial models including Christy, Linda and Naomi for their fashion show. An era of a supermodel has began.
She continued working with Gianni on every collection often changing his final designs to make them more sensual and modern. Versace also let her set up the children’s line, Young Versace and work on her own diffusion line, Versus that she designed and launched in 1989. She also supervised most of the Versace campaigns working as a stylist and coming up with the most incredible ideas and locations.
Professionally, Donatella’s contribution was enormous, however, her creative injections would always begin with an idea. And the idea would always belong to her brother. Without the idea, nothing else was possible.
For a long time following Gianni’s death Donatella felt like an imposter, struggling to remember everything she learnt from her brother, discover her strength and develop essential skills. She had to be fast because fashion critics didn’t want to wait for ages or take into account all the problems and the tragedy she had to deal with.
She survived and emerged as a designer who is able to keep the Versace magic going. And though Gianni might have criticised a thing or two, he would have definitely been very proud.
Photo sources: Donatella Versace photographed by Enzo Dal Verme, Gianni & Donatella Versace in 1993 via vogue.co.uk, Donatella Versace working on her Versace+H&M collection