Gianni Versace

Gianni Versace was one of the most important fashion innovators of the latter half of the 20th Century. As well as founding a fashion empire that, on his death in 1997, was valued at £500 million, he is credited with creating the phenomenon of the supermodel and for dressing some of the world's most beautiful and famous women in his time.


Born in 1946 to humble beginnings in Reggio Calabria, Southern Italy, Versace was first introduced to the world of fashion by his dressmaker mother, from whom he learned tailoring skills, and designed his first dress at the age of nine. He moved to Milan at the age of 25 and, without formal training, designed ready-to-wear collections for Genny, Complice and Callaghan before presenting his first womenswear collection under his own name in March 1978.


The label grew to include eight lines, including home furnishings, sportswear and a childrens' line. Versace's dream was to completely furnish his clients' glamorous

lifestyles. It was a dream he lived and the luxury of his own lifestyle was testament to it. Casa Casuarina, the opulent, ocean-front Miami mansion outside which Versace was later tragically killed, was his ultimate fantasy home.


In 1982, Versace was honoured with the first of many awards for his services to international fashion. His autumn/winter collection that year won him the prized L'Occhio d'Oro (The Golden Eye), which he would go on to win again in 1984, 1990 and 1991. In 1986, he was made Commendatore of the Italian Republic by the Italian president, Francesco Cossiga. Dresses for Thought, an exhibition which looked back over his career, opened in Sforzesco Castle in Milan three years later, the same year that Versace presented his first haute couture collection.


A dedicated fan of the arts, Versace's work was by no means limited to the catwalk. He designed costumes for

theatre, ballet and opera throughout his creative life and this, coupled with his love of music, led naturally to his forging friendships with some of the world's biggest stars, including Princess Diana, Sting, George Michael, Tina Turner and Elton John, whose 1992 World Tour stage costumes and album cover were designed by Versace. He is also credited with indirectly launching Elizabeth Hurley's career, after lending her the famous 'safety pin' dress for the British premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994.


Versace was widely credited for "making" the supermodels of the Eighties. He caused a sensation by agreeing to pay Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington up to $30,000 each to appear in his shows, creating a new hierarchy in fashion. For his autumn/winter 1991 show in Milan, he sent all four of them onto the catwalk together, a moment that has gone down

in history as one of fashion's most memorable.


Versace's raunchy, barely-there dresses and reveal-all attitude to the female body gained him a reputation for having been inspired by the dress sense of prostitutes. And it was one he didn't care to deny. An enthusiastic storyteller, he loved to tell a story about his mother marching him past their local Italian brothel on his way to school everyday with her hands clamped over his eyes. It was his technical wizardry, though, that ensured these dresses were among the most glamorous in the world. Even his famously sadomasochistic collections never exposed any more than they were meant to.


Versace enrolled the world's most talented photographers, including Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel, to capture his vision on camera. It is Richard Avedon's work, though, that is most closely associated with the house of Versace. From their first ad campaign in 1979, he was called upon time and time again. The Versace-sponsored Richard Avedon 1944-1994 exhibition, which opened in Milan's Royal Palace in 1995,

honoured the long-standing collaboration which produced such unforgettable images as Elton John as he appeared in the ad campaign for spring/summer 1997.


Despite much talk of selling up just prior to Gianni's death, Versace has remained a family-run label. Donatella, Gianni's sister, who succeeded him in 1997, began her own fashion career designing accessories and in 1993 became creative director of the childrens' line. She also assisted Gianni in supervising the advertising campaigns, but it was her role as muse for which she was most famous. Having taken over as creative director after her brother's death, she has brought the house into the new millennium to continued critical acclaim. Santo (Donatella and Gianni's elder brother) has been in charge of the financial operations of the house since 1977, and is now its chairman.


Gianni Versace's murder on July 15 1997 rocked the fashion world, and photographs of international royalty, superstars and fellow designers attending his funeral were broadcast around the world. He is remembered as a pioneer of sexy, impeccably constructed garments, which led a new wave of confident, almost aggressively glamorous dressing for women.


In October 2002, Gianni Versace was honoured with a high profile retrospective of his work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exhibition featured 138 of his most famous designs as well as five by his sister Donatella.


Versace, Aurelia PR, Victoria House, 1A Gertrude Street, London, SW10 OJN


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