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Historically Speaking: The History of Versace

Looking Back On Versace’s Journey

With American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace airing on January 17th on FX, there’s no better time to take a look back on the history and progression of the Versace fashion house.

Photo by Rose Hartman /Globe Photos/ZUMA

Photo by Rose Hartman /Globe Photos/ZUMA

Gianni Versace first launched The Gianna Versace Company in 1978 in Milan, Italy. From the beginning, Gianni largely involved his younger sister Donatella in the brand as a campaign supervisor and muse. The designer chose the Medusa head as the brand’s logo because according to Greek mythology, Medusa made people fall in love with her and they had no way to fall out of it. Gianni hoped his designs would have the same effect on customers.

Photo from E!

Photo from E!

The Gianni Versace Company continued to expand throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. In addition to designing high-end clothing, home products, and accessories, Gianni became known as the “Rock ‘n Roll” designer due to all the celebrities that he dressed, such as Elton John, Michael Jackson, Cher, Madonna, and Sting. Gianni designed clothes for Elton John’s album covers and tours and named a purse after Princess Diana called The Lady Di. He was one of the first major designers to link fashion and music together.

Gianni continued to take the fashion industry by storm, releasing Versace’s children’s line as well as Versace Haute Couture, which is the house’s second most successful line. He was deeply respected by those in the fashion industry and was given prestigious awards such as The Silver Mask Award and the first American Fashion Oscar from the CFDA in NYC.

On July 15th, 1997 the world seemed to sit at a stand still. At 50 years old, Gianni was shot and killed on the steps of his Miami mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Cunanan was a serial spree killer and Gianni was his fifth and final victim. The murderer committed suicide eight days later.

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In a 1997 excerpt from CNN recalling Gianni’s funeral, the article recalled,

“Some 2,000 people, including Versace’s brother Santo, his sister Donatella and his companion Antonio D’Amico, packed Milan’s Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral for the service. Sting and Elton John were to sing a setting of Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. [Naomi] Campbell, wearing a black dress and jacket and dark glasses, had to be supported prior to the service as she walked to the Versace empire headquarters in Milan. She was doubled over and crying.”

After Gianni’s death, Donatella, formerly the Vice President, took over as Versace’s Creative Director and their brother, Santo took over as Versace’s CEO. In an interview with The Guardian Donatella said, “When my brother was murdered, I had the eyes of the whole world on me and 99% of them thought I wasn’t going to make it. And maybe I thought the same, at first. My brother was the king, and my whole world had crashed around me.”

Donatella, now 62, has certainly proved critics wrong. Two decades since Gianni’s murder, Donatella is still seated at the head of the brand and has led it further and further into success. Much of Versace’s continued fortune is due to Donatella’s ability to know what women really care about: standing out and feeling confident. She has perfected the talent of making women feel special and beautiful, instead of focusing solely on rising trends.

When other brands seem to imitate one another, Versace stands out. Gianni’s legacy continues to live on as his family keeps the fashion house at the forefront of fashion, consistently inspiring and creating.

For a closer look into Gianni’s life and death, tune into American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. 

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