With a stellar autumn/winter 11 collection flying off the shelves, a collaboration with H&M causing feverish excitement and a pop star fan in the form of Lady Gaga, the Italian house is once again amping up the sex appeal and sizzling like it owns it. These clothes are so hot they will melt your popsicle. Sluurp!
Versace... Just the word has a whisper of luxury. Those three syllables, so pleasurable to put together, have the whoosh of a zip being pulled up the back of a cocktail dress, the crack of ice hitting a martini glass and the click of a stiletto heel on the marble floor of a palazzo. Versace stands for glamour of the best kind – opulent, high octane and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Founded by Gianni Versace in 1978, this distinctly Italian aesthetic was always about women finding their inner goddesses – and not in a hippy, yoga class kind of way. Versace goddesses are otherworldly but they live a jet set lifestyle, clad in the finest frocks that feature Medusa heads, Roman-style patterns and sexy baby doll shapes. A Versace girl – as the Richard Avedon supermodel campaigns of the nineties exemplified – is not the one next door. Instead, she’s the kind of women boys dream about: a little bit wild, sexy but polished too. Just look at Elizabeth Hurley in ‘that’ dress... Donatella is the tanned, toned, blonde tressed queen bee of these girls, responsible for ensuring that Versace remains at the top of its game more than 30 years later. Donatella hired Christopher Kane to work on the Versus line in 2009 – giving a new slant to the label, and bringing in even more fans. Lady Gaga too has recently been spotted in vintage Versace in her video for The Edge of Glory, after Donatella gave her access to the family archive. The pop star was so blown away by the treasures it held, she intends to wear the label for the next two months straight. As brand ambassadors go, they don’t get much better. Versace’s spring/summer collection showed the Italian fashion house at its best, with sexy pencil skirts, cropped pieces and classical motifs. Spotted out and about on Daisy Lowe, it proved va-va-voom curves wrapped in Versace is still a powerful combination. Donatella’s aesthetic evolved beautifully for autumn/winter 11. The very Versace iconography of snake shapes slithered across shift dresses in pop colours, leather pieces and classic coats to create a poker hot collection guaranteed to fly off the shelves. Versace fans are in for another treat this November, when the brand launch their collaboration with highstreet giant H&M. Rumoured to include pieces honouring the extensive Versace archive, collectors’ item status is already assured. Versace might be having a moment right now but the way it’s going, this one might last forever. Donatella we salute you.
You revisited Versace house codes in the autumn/winter 11 collection, how did you keep it fresh and modern?
I often look at the archive for inspiration, but it is important not to do a pastiche of what my brother did. He believed in evolution and change, and he was great at mixing ideas up. So this season, I decided to revisit some of the established elements of Versace from the past and bring them up to date. I took historical decorative graphics, like baroque floral designs, and interpreted them in a new 21st century way. The result really is a new take on the essence of the house of Versace. There are gold Medusa buttons, baroque- style floral motifs, military styles and dramatic red-carpet gowns. But it’s all delivered in a contemporary way – chic, bold and elegantly sexy.
Versace is the epitome of glamour and decadence. What is...
a) The most glamorous thing you’ve ever worn from head to toe?
Every time I wear an Atelier Versace dress I feel incredibly glamorous. I once wore my Jungle Dress to an event, the one that Jennifer Lopez made famous when she wore it to the Grammys. Someone told me recently it was voted one of the most iconic dresses of all time, so I suppose I would pick that as my most glamorous.
b) The most decadent thing you’ve ever done?
Decadence can come in different shapes and sizes. Our parties are often fairly grand affairs, but personally I find customising the hotel rooms I stay in with Versace cushions, furnishings, scented candles and flowers, makes me feel pretty decadent.
c) The most glamorous party you’ve ever attended?
It may not be everyone’s idea of glamour, but I was invited to the first White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner after President Obama was inaugurated, and it was so exciting. I love American politics; so to meet those people was a real thrill.
What does fashion mean to you today?
What it has always meant – a way to make you look sexy and glamorous.
Do you still feel the same about fashion as when you started?
I feel more knowledgeable about fashion today than I did back then. And I think I actually feel more passionate about it, as now I really understand it is full of possibilities.
Do you think it’s still possible to be ‘new’ in fashion?
Yes, of course. Naturally, as time goes on there is more and more history for designers to draw on, and you could take the view that this means everything has been done before. But my brother Gianni believed that history was there to inspire and that you could always make something new and fresh. I certainly believe that, which is why I find designing so exciting. There is always potential. It’s like music; just when you think that no one can come up with a new sound, you hear a record and you think, ‘Wow, that is completely different!’
What was your goal when you took over the helm of Versace?
To find a way of expressing my own creative vision, while staying true to the DNA that my brother had established.
How have you injected your own personality into the house?
It took a few years, but in the end I realised I did have a voice of my own. It was hard at first as Gianni had taught me everything I knew about fashion. So to begin with I
was very influenced by what he had done, and what we had worked on together. Then slowly I started to introduce things that I like, until a few years back I realised I was really comfortable designing Versace. Broadly, you could say that my vision is perhaps a little more restrained than Gianni’s. But then he did become famous in the 80s, the ultimate decade of excess.
Describe the Versace woman today...
She is strong, confident and wants to look sexy and glamorous, just like the Versace woman of any era.
What do you love most about your job?
The chance to express myself creatively, and all the interesting people I meet.
What do you like least?
What music did you grow up listening to as a kid?
Like all Italian teenagers I listened to a mixture of Italian pop and foreign rock, pop and disco. It was only when I discovered the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop that things became interesting.
What is your earliest music related memory?
When I think of music my memory goes straight to Prince... he changed my life.
You’re pals with Christina Aguilera, J Lo and Madonna, what do you do when you hang out together?
We gossip and talk about the most mundane things. You’d be amazed at how undramatic our conversations are!
Have you enjoyed working with Lady Gaga?
Actually, I was flattered to hear she was a fan, so we arranged to meet up. It has been great fun working with her. She is really creative and full of energy. I love her rebellious spirit, which is very Versace. And of course, she is a great Versace blonde!
What’s your favourite thing about working with Christopher Kane at Versus?
From the very beginning, when Christopher worked in my studio after graduating from Central Saint Martins, I saw his talent. But more than this, he has exactly the right rock ‘n’ roll attitude for Versus. I enjoy letting him loose on the collection, just as Gianni let me loose on it when he first created it.
You also work with a lot of young designers, anyone in particular we should be watching out for?
I love young designers. They are the future of the fashion industry, and those of us lucky enough to be successful really owe it to them to encourage them. I really enjoyed my time as Honorary Chairperson of Fashion Fringe in London, as it gave me the opportunity to see so much new work from so many new designers who were just starting out. Generally, I would say keep an eye on the Chinese. They are very serious about creating their own fashion brands.
What advice would you give new designers starting out?
Decide what you want to do and then stay true to yourself. You will only succeed if you are passionate about what you do, and you can only be passionate about what you do if you believe in what you are doing.
What is the greatest lesson that Gianni taught you?
Be brave, be bold and have faith in your own abilities. Never be afraid to try new things, whatever other people might say.
What was the first piece of designer clothing you bought?
I don’t remember the first piece of designer clothing I bought, but I do remember the white go-go boots I had when I was a teenager. I loved them and used to wear them to the local disco. They made me feel special. My first piece of designer clothing would certainly have been something by my brother, but I can’t remember what it was. I can certainly tell you about the most precious pieces of clothing I own; some lovely dresses that my brother designed which would now be described as vintage! They are beautiful and also have enormous sentimental value.
Sexuality is a huge part of the Versace aesthetic. What does sexuality mean to you today?
Sexuality and sensuality are part of being a woman. Versace has built its reputation on making women look sexy and glamorous. There are of course many different ways of looking sexy. The clothes we design that are revealing tend to grab the headlines. But I believe some of our more modest and classic designs are just as sexy – in fact a well-fitting dress that moves beautifully on the body can be the sexiest thing. I think the shift dresses in my autumn/winter collection, for example, are really hot.
What is your definition of femininity?
What are your favourite things to do with your family?
I love to have my family around. We don’t need to do anything special – it is just so lovely to have my kids with me. Of course they are quite grown up now, but to me they are still my little children. We try to get together as much as we can, but that is not always easy. A family meal with other relatives is a very special occasion for Italians, and this has to rank as one of my favourite things.
Can you cook?
I don’t cook but I do love food.
You’ve appeared in Zoolander and The Devil Wears Prada. What is it about acting that appeals to you?
I wouldn’t say that was acting, would you?! It’s just fun to be in a film, so why not? But I do know my limitations.
Do you think it‘s important to be able to laugh at yourself?
Absolutely. In the States there’s this really funny comedienne called Maya Rudolph who for years has done sketches on Saturday Night Live where she impersonates me. The Americans seem amazed that I watch it and find it funny. I think they think I’ll be offended. I actually rang Maya up once and gave her some tips. I told her, firstly I don’t smoke, secondly she should take off the fake jewellery – I only wear real. Also, I never pay for myself when I am taken out.
How would you define the era we live in?
A moment of extreme change, anything seems possible.
What was the first date you went on?
I was thirteen and his name was Sergio. My brother Gianni was quite disappointed about it. I was very young and he was very protective.
Who would be your dream date?
If I knew that I would give him a call! But dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama would be fascinating. I’d like to have dinner at their home in Washington. I believe Michelle is going to publish a book soon about the organic garden on the South Lawn of the White House, which will include some recipes. Maybe she could try some out on me first?
Other than fashion, what’s most important in your life?
My family, and then my music.