We sat down with the designer to discuss how the brand has evolved since her brother’s passing, and how she’s kept his memory alive.
When I walked into a super-luxe VIP personal styling suite at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store on Tuesday night, I wasn’t there as a customer waiting to be transformed into a sartorial icon, as many women come to do on their lunch breaks. Instead, I was there to be in the presence of one: Donatella Versace.
I sat down on a plush, velvet tufted sofa, and was greeted by a warm smile attached to a pocket-size woman. This is Donatella: her instantly recognizable icy blonde hair, Versace body-con minidress and sky-high shoes make her physical presence right before my eyes astoundingly clear. Within seconds, she began reminiscing about the time her late brother, Gianni Versace, threw a party at Studio 54 with Saks, where he was literally handing out clothes to everybody in sight.
Her face lit up as she talked about Gianni and the boundary-breaking fashion career he had, brutally cut short 20 years ago. But after two decades of picking up the pieces and moving the brand forward, Donatella decided it was time to look back and celebrate the past. “It was very hard to go back and see the archive,” she explained. “I wasn’t able to do it for a long time because of the emotions involved, but I finally found the courage. To see all the things Gianni did was incredible.”
What came out of her dig through the archives was a splendid Spring 2018 collection complete with key prints and pieces from the ’90s, the period that saw some of Gianni’s most well-received and remembered collections.
“Only Gianni did those kinds of prints, and I thought they were relevant to today because a lot of young people were asking for vintage prints,” she said on her decision to revive looks from his iconic collections like Vogue, Warhol, My Friend Elton, Icons, Baroque, Animalia, Tresor de la Mer, Metal Mesh and Butterflies. And in reintroducing his biggest hits, Donatella employed her design expertise to remake and reinterpret the ’90s shapes to better fit a modern consumer. The Spring 2018 range gave standard belted trenches, square-shouldered jackets, logo tees, fanny packs, high-waisted jeans, catsuits, corsets, mini skirts and more, a very welcome modern-day spin. She also changed up the colors, but just slightly, to make the garments feel more sophisticated.
“We’re not the same thing we were in the ’90s. I always try to be in touch with reality and with what’s going on in the world and how young people think and what young people want,” said Donatella. “You have to have the courage to evolve.”
Donatella understands the industry’s move towards a more casual aesthetic. When Gianni was running Versace, the label was all about glamour and sex appeal, but now she’s experimenting with streetwear, hence the sneakers that were featured in her latest Fall 2018 show. But to be in charge of brand like Versace — one that is totally recognizable and associated with a dreamscape-type lifestyle — hasn’t always been easy.
“He brought a lot of courage and he broke a lot of rules,” she said while discussing her brother’s fashion legacy. “What he was doing, no one else was doing at the time. That’s why he became Gianni Versace, and young people today like to hear our brand’s story — it’s a story of love and of suffering, and we do something different than everybody else.”
For her Spring 2018 collection’s launch in stores, Donatella decided to bring her family’s story to New York City, and to Saks Fifth Avenue. “For me, New York is Saks,” she said. “It’s an iconic store for an iconic brand.”