Gianni Versace Revisited

Gianni Versace Revisited by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

Gianna Versace’s life was the ultimate rags to riches fairytale. He rose to the top of the fashion world with glamour, sexuality, innovation and boldness as a designer.

He “was the great post-Freudian designer—one who had no guilt whatsoever,” said Richard Martin, past curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “He spoke to a culture eager for freedom that went way beyond fashion.”

My life was like a Fellini film. I grew up surrounded by all women. I was spoiled. I had 20 girlfriends and 20 mothers.
— Gianni Versace

Gianni had an excellent mentor, his mother Franca, the most respected dressmaker in Reggio, Italy. The elegant women in town came to Franca when they needed a wedding dress for their daughter or a show- stopping outfit for an evening at the theater. She could cut cloth for a new dress without following a pattern.

Her kids were some of the best-dressed in the city and Gianni was her top model. He soaked in his mother’s sense of style. Her workshop was Gianni’s utopia where he passed afternoons as a child sketching, cutting photos out of fashion magazines and dreaming of a life beyond Reggio.

“My life was like a Fellini film,” he said. “I grew up surrounded by all women. I was spoiled. I had 20 girlfriends and 20 mothers.”

French fashion reigned supreme during Gianni’s youth but Italy was starting to move front and center. After World War 11 Italian fabrics were inexpensive but fine quality. And the Paris couturiers used Italian artisans for skilled handwork.

Magazines like Vogue commented on how Italian style was much more relaxed and unstuffy.

When Gianni flunked out of high school in 1965 Franca opened a boutique next to her shop. It was Gianni’s beginning. Without training, he didn’t know how to sketch in a formal way. But once he had a real sample garment in his hands he made the connection, pinning, snipping and adding details like beading. He draped the fabric on a mannequin and arranged it until a dress took shape.

Gianni created his own fashion rules constantly refining a style sometimes called vulgar because it exuded sexuality and sensuality.

His early designs “were always sort of skittish and sexy and immediately comprehensible,” said Joan Juliet Buck, past editor of Women’s Wear Daily and later editor of French Vogue.

As an emerging fashion icon and sister Donatella became Gianni’s confidante and muse.

He designed throughout the 1980s and 90s’. His fashion shows were like rock concerts lined with celebrities like Elton John, Madonna and Cindy Crawford.

“That is the key of this collection, being yourself,” Gianni said. “Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live.”

In 1997 Gianni was shot and killed outside his Miami Beach home by a spree killer. He was 50. After his death Donatella took over as vice president and chief designer.

Michael Kors purchased the Versace brand in September for $2.12 million. Today Donatella serves as creative director.

“I am proud that Versace remains very strong in both fashion and modern culture,” she said. “Versace is not only synonymous with its iconic and unmistakable style, but with being inclusive and embracing of diversity, as well as empowering people to express themselves."

On Sept. 21, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers featured the Gianni Versace sale.

Here are some current values.

Gianni Versace

Black Leather Shoulder Bag; $2,000.

Black Leather Cropped Jacket; $2,000.

Black Silk Bondage Harness Bodice; $4,000.

Silk Atelier Print Mini Dress; $4,750.

Black Wool Bondage Dress; $5,250.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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