B. December 2, 1946 D. July 25, 1997 Birthplace: Calabria, Italy
Awards: Occhio d' Oro Award, Milan, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1991 Cutty Sark Award, 1983, 1988
Council of Fashion Designer of America International Award, 1993
Gianni Versace did not receive a formal education in fashion design. He did, however, study architecture in Calabria from 1964 to 1967. Versace's preparation for fashion design came informally, through his mother. As a child, Versace spent time in his mother's dress shop where he was exposed to fabrics and embellishments and often assisted in the research and selection of beads, crystals, stones, and braids to trim his mother's creations. Versace also observed his mother engaged in the creative process, watching her make design decisions through fittings. Versace continued working in his mother's studio, from 1968 to 1972, as a designer and buyer.
By 1970 Versace was experimenting with his own designs. He began by combining colors and fabrics in contradiction to traditional fashion design aesthetics. He designs combined silk and fur and cotton all into one garment, a practice that later became part of the signature Versace look. In 1972 Versace moved to Milan to pursue a career as a fashion designer. His work brought him to the attention of three design houses: Callaghan, Complice, and Genny. Versace was hired to design a leather collection for Complice, under the label Complice by Versace, and a dress collection for Genny, under the Genny by Versace, label. These opportunities raised Versace's profile in the fashion community and allowed him to launch his first women's collection, under his own label, in 1978. The following year, Versace launched his first menswear collection. To market his lines, Versace hired American photographer Richard Avedon to shoot catalogs of his collections. The two also collaborated on several books featuring Versace's work.
The opulent 1980s were the era of Versace. Versace's sexy, body-conscious silhouettes were executed in vibrant colors and patterns with rich surface embellishment. His often risque garments were characterized by asymmetrical details which seductively revealed the body and created focal points through combinations of embroidery, pearls, beads, and crystals. The inspiration for Versace's textile designs and surface embellishments came from classic Greek and roman motifs and Art Deco. His love of theater and costuming can also be seen in his designs.
Versace was known for dressing film and music celebrities. His designs exuded a "rock 'n' roll" attitude. Leather, animal prints, denim, metal mesh, and stretch knits became staples of his flashy designs. While some considered the designs crass, or just plain trashy, other extolled Versace for his flamboyant use of color, texture, and pattern. Celebrities such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Sting, George Michael, and Eric Clapton flocked to Versace for ensembles that matched the images they wished to project. He also designed costumes for his friend, and favorite performer, Elton John, for his world tour in 1992.
Versace's tremendous popularity allowed him to expand rapidly into other product lines. He launched his first women's fragrance in 1981, Donna, followed by his first men's fragrance, Versace l'Homme, in 1984. The fragrances Versace Redux, Blonde, Baby Rose Jeans, Baby Blue Jeans, The Dreamer, Green Jeans, Yellow Jeans, Black Jeans, White Jeans, and V/S were also added to the line. Versace developed several licensing agreements for products that would complement his customers' lifestyles, including sunglasses by Color Optics, neckwear by Ermenegildo Zegna, and watches by Franck Muller. He also licensed a home accessory collection, a rug collection, and a line of porcelain dishes designed to replicate the colors and patterns in Versace's apparel. Versace also designed costumes for several theater productions including Richard Strauss's ballet Josephlegende in 1982, Gustav Mahler's ballet Lieb und Leid in 1982, and Donizetti's ballet Dionysus in 1984. He continued as the head designer at the House of Genny until 1994.
In 1997 Gianni Versace was tragically killed by a gunman in front of his Miami home. The nation was shocked at the loss of such a gifted designer. Two years prior to this tragic incident Versace had been diagnosed with cancer. To prepare for the inevitable difficulties that lay ahead, Versace persuaded his sister Donatella to take a stronger role in the company. As image consultant she was responsible for the extravagant runway productions, fashion show parties, and advertising campaigns. Donatella also designed the junior Versus label. Versace's brother-in-law, Paul Beck, managed the marketing for the menswear collections and organized the photography for the advertising campaigns. After Versace's death, Donatella became the head designer for Versace. Although she lacked the technical training of a designer, she executes the collection by staying true to Versace's philosophy, "Don't be afraid of breaking the rules." Fashion designers from around the world and close friends gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on September 8, 1997, for a memorial service for Gianni Versace. A few months later, Versace's life and work commemorated in an exhibition at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of art. The exhibition provided to reflect on Versace's life, work, and contributions to the fashion world.
Costin, Glynis. "Gianni Versace." WWD Profile (September 1999): 36. Foley, Bridget. "Donatella's First Collection." Women's Wear Daily 174 (October 1, 1997): 1.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989. Reed, Paula, Chris Endean, and Nicholas Moss. "Fashion Victim." The European 3 (July 17, 1997): 14.
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