From Humble Beginnings to Fashion Empire
For over 30 years, the House of Versace has been known throughout the world for bold, glamorous fashion, and the infusion of fashion into entertainment and pop culture. Founded by Italian designer Gianni Versace in 1978, Versace has become synonymous with posh living and ostentatious style, giving the brand ‘must-have’ status among the wealthy and well-to-do.
As the first to knit together the worlds of fashion and popular music, the late Gianni Versace birthed a cultural legacy that is now carried on by his sister and current head designer at Versace, Donatella. With a vision to make women and men feel beautiful and empowered, the House of Versace is an established fashion force that continues to inspire both trends and people.
The Founder, Gianni Versace
Born in Reggio Calabria, Italy in 1946, founder Gianni Versace, the son of a respected dressmaker, emerged as a top designer on the Italian fashion scene in the mid 1970’s, freelancing as a designer for Italian labels Genny, Callaghan, and Complice. Known for his knits, and later to gain notoriety for his edgy approach using materials like leather and lace, Gianni Versace debuted his own line in 1978 and soon became an international sensation.
In the fashion world, Gianni Versace is credited with being the first to blend fashion and Rock & Roll, influencing pop culture with a force never seen before. Having been a costume designer for many years, Versace dressed top celebrity artists for stage, including Tina Turner, Elton John, and Madonna.
The merging of fashion and music cultures quickly translated into the now common practice of seating celebrities in the front row of fashion shows, giving credibility to the fashion labels in the minds of consumers. Becoming a celebrity himself through this practice, Gianni Versace went on to dress some of the world’s most distinguished people of his time, including Princess Diana of Wales.
Versace’s celebrity also helped to establish the celebrity of others, launching the careers of “supermodels” like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington. Actress Elizabeth Hurley was virtually unknown before wearing the now famous “Safety Pin Dress” when she accompanied Hugh Grant at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994.
Gianni Versace was a highly decorated designer, with truly award-winning style. He received an American Fashion Oscar in 1993, as well as theater’s Maschera D’Argento prize for his achievements in theatrical costume design. Versace’s designs have also been featured around the world in prestigious museums, such as Chicago’s National Field Museum, London’s Royal College of Art, Japan’s Kobe City Museum and Germany’s Kunstgewerbemuseum.
Gianni Versace’s Untimely Demise
After having influenced the world through fashion culture, the House of Versace experienced a nearly fatal blow when founder and visionary, Gianni Versace, was murdered in front of his Miami home in 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Versace’s killer would later commit suicide with the same gun, leaving officials and the family no answers concerning the reason why Versace was targeted and killed. Cunanan senselessly murdered at least five people including Versace on a killing spree that lasted three months.
Suddenly without Gianni, the House of Versace found itself in the midst of worldwide media attention and grief, leading to a sharp decline in the brand. For a time, the glory of Versace seemed to be shrouded in despair. However, succeeding her older brother as head designer, Donatella Versace soon revitalized the brand. Breathing new life into the style empire, she established a new direction for Versace for a new century.
Donatella Versace – A New Vision
Credited by her late brother, Gianni Versace, as his muse, Donatella Versace has risen to power in the fashion world by revitalizing and redefining Versace style for modern times. Having worked as a stylist for her brother Gianni and being a designer in her own right, Donatella was the clear choice to continue the line. Through hard work and innovation, Donatella Versace has become notorious for rebellious but elegant sensuality in her designs, and her connection to some of today’s most bold and outrageous music artists, including Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.
Although the death of Gianni Versace rocked both the fashion world and the House of Versace with an impact that would be felt for years to come, Donatella Versace successfully rose from the ashes. She continued to influence popular culture through music with the donning of Jennifer Lopez in the now famous “Green Versace Dress” she wore when she accompanied Sean “P Diddy” Combs to the Grammy Awards in 2000. Versace would officially enter the 21st Century with a fresh interpretation of celebrity style, and go on to become an illustrious symbol of American affluence and influence.
Since Donatella’s personal rise to fame as a designer on the pulse of what is new and fresh in Hollywood, Versace has dominated the fashion world and influenced popular culture with haute couture, fashion ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories that are coveted by celebrities, style gurus and fashion enthusiasts worldwide.
Versace in Pop Culture
Today, Versace is a household name. The star power of both Gianni and Donatella Versace has translated into infusion of the Versace brand and style into music and entertainment media, appealing especially to young and urban audiences.
Lady Gaga, an admitted muse of Donatella Versace, modeled for the brand in spring of 2014, and released an upbeat song called, “Donatella”, homage to the fashion icon and style mentor.
The fame of the House of Versace has even been expressed on screen, in the made-for-TV movie, The House of Versace, by the Lifetime network. Supposing to be a biographical account of the events surrounding the untimely death of Gianni Versace and Donatella’s rise to power, Donatella Versace calls the film “a work of fiction” and refuses to endorse it.
Versace – The Design Concept
Now recognized worldwide, Versace is best known for the Medusa head, Greek key, and gold chain design elements. These quintessential features were made popular by the brand and have been essential to the Versace fashion line since its inception. Of the Medusa head logo, Donatella Versace says, “In mythology, the Medusa can petrify people with a look — which is a good thing, I think. But the Medusa is a unique symbol — something strong. It’s about going all the way.” Connecting their Italian roots to the strength of Medusa, the House of Versace seeks to make women and men feel bold, strong, and empowered through beauty and expressive personal style.
The Versace ready-to-wear brand aesthetic is an evolution of edgy, modern chic, meant for men and women who use their look to turn heads and express power. Versace haute couture embodies sensual elegance, yet uses strong lines and colors to contrast hard and soft in a way that causes classical glamour to evolve into a new look that is modern and relevant. The Versace brand is iconic for intense, sleek, fashion forward style.
Versace – The Iconic Brand
The name Versace now covers a wide range of fashion offerings, from haute couture to retail fashion, making the luxury of Versace available to everyone. The Atelier Versace line is a custom, handmade, one-of-a-kind haute couture line that is responsible for dressing international celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Claudia Schiffer, and Angelina Jolie.
Versace, the primary line of the design house, is homage to extravagance and elegance, the expression of the original vision of Gianni Versace and his sister, Donatella. Versus Versace, the first diffusion line at Versace, was created in 1989 by founder Gianni Versace as a gift to his sister, Donatella. The line was resurrected in 2009 by Donatella and has since has grown to become an impactful, youthful representation of the Versace aesthetic.
Much of the flair and fancy of the Versace brand is found in its accessories that include timepieces, shoes, handbags, eyewear and writing instruments. Accessories tie together any look, and essentially express the vision of the designer in a way that applies the design aesthetic to an individual’s personal style. Versace and Versus Versace accessories are highly coveted finishing touches that are impactful and stylishly rebellious, making them an important aspect of the Versace brand.
One of Donatella Versace’s first acts when she became head designer at Versace was to add a line of timepieces to the Versace brand. Her fashion instinct was spot on, and now Versace watches and Versus Versace watches have become a huge success, adding an entirely new dimension of style to the Versace look.
Versace is also known for their super sexy shoes, handbags, and sunglasses. Inspired by classic Greek footwear and designed with a modern twist, Versace shoes are always an indication of where fashion is headed. Made with the richest materials, Versace shoes are indulgent and bold, with a style signature that is highly recognizable by the fashion elite.
Versace Handbags and Eyewear
Perfectly complementing the shoes are Versace handbags, which often feature oversized classic Versace design elements, like the Medusa head, Greek key, or gold studs and safety pins. A favorite of celebrities, Versace eyewear is glamorous and ostentatious, yet sleek in execution. The often oversized sunglasses demand attention, and have become an important fashion accessory.
More by Versace
In addition to clothing and accessories, Versace produces many fragrances for men and women. Versace also offers luxury home furnishings, including furniture and tableware. The brand will no doubt continue to grow under the design leadership of Donatella Versace, introducing new products and lines as the demand for Versace style in every area of life continues to grow.
Versace – the Company
Today, Versace is currently valued at $5.8 billion. The success of the brand over the past three decades has caused the net worth of the company to continue to rise, despite the brief period of decline after Gianni Versace’s untimely death.
Since 1997, the leadership at Versace has remained primarily in the family. Older brother Santo and Jorge Saud, fashion industry insider who would also become a partner with Giorgio Armani, are co-CEOs of Gianni Versace S.p.A., the umbrella under which Versace Group, the family of lines that don the Versace name, is run. Donatella Versace is Vice President of the Board and Creative Director of Versace Group.
The leadership and the ownership at Versace, however, is uniquely diverse. Gianni Versace left 50% of his company and its assets to Donatella’s daughter, Allegra Versace. Daniel, her younger brother, inherited Gianni Versace’s art collection. When Allegra turned 18 in 2004, she inherited her stake in Versace, worth around half a billion dollars. Santo Versace holds a 30% stake in the company, and Donatella possesses a 20% stake.