Larger than life and often described as a real life Jay Gatsby, Gianni Versace was the definition of style for an entire generation.
Gianni Versace was literally born into fashion. He was born on December 2, 1946 and quite literally learned his trade at the feet of his mother, who owned a successful dressmaking business in his hometown of Reggio di Calabria, Italy. As a child, Gianni would watch his mother intuitively draping a dress for a client, sometimes shortening it in front while leaving it longer in back, often breaking the rules just to be daring. As he perfected the craft he had learned from his mother, this innate desire to push the boundaries became his signature.
Gianni realized very early in life that he was destined to become a designer. By 1972, he had moved from Reggio di Calabria to Milan where he began freelancing as a designer for well-known Italian labels like Genny, Callaghan and Complice.
Like any young designer, Gianni’s early work provided few clues as to what he would become later in life. He played by the rules and kept his bosses happy with a succession of disco inspired creations that could easily have been worn in Saturday Night Fever. This derivative work did not leave the young Versace fulfilled and he longed to establish his own label. In 1979, he did exactly that and began a career that would change the world of fashion forever and eventually define a generation.
Asymmetry, Andy Warhol and Celebrity Appeal
Gianni Versace’s very first collections began to explore the themes that would eventually define his career. He was fascinated by Pop Art and was frequently seen with Andy Warhol and his entourage of “superstars.” Andy painted Gianni’s portrait in 1980 and the larger than life scene at the Factory became an ongoing inspiration for Versace throughout his life.
Versace’s fascination with Pop Art quickly influenced his designs. He liked Andy’s idea of taking the banal and glorifying it. Gianni saw something as simple as the shoulder pad in the same way Andy Warhol saw the famous Campbell’s Soup Can. He began combining silhouettes and materials that weren’t often used together in an effort to force the boundaries of fashion.
Versace’s unique blend of bright colors, sex appeal, classical references, and contemporary culture became his trademark. Many in the fashion world considered his early collections vulgar, but celebrities were drawn to their extravagance.
Gianni’s famous black dress held together by safety pins helped transform 17-year-old Elizabeth Hurley from a bit-part actress into an A-list celebrity when she wore the dress at the premiere of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral with Hugh Grant in 1994. Gianni let Elizabeth wear the dress as a favor when he learned she couldn’t afford to buy something new. Neither Versace nor Hurley realized at the time that this dress would forever mark the moment when the red carpet became more influential than the catwalk.
From Celebrity Friends to Celebrated Collections
Gianni Versace became the first designer to fully embrace the importance of contemporary culture. Celebrities knew his extravagant creations would make a memorable entrance and they flocked to him. He became the designer of choice for stars like Madonna, Princess Diana, Elton John and Tina Turner. Versace not only dressed celebrities, he created them. Versace singlehandedly created the supermodel, making household names of largely unknown runway models like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington.
Influence of Casa Casuarina and Miami
When Versace moved to Miami’s South Beach in the early 1990’s the fashion world followed him. According to his sister Donatella, Gianni was walking with her along South Beach and he stopped in front of an apartment building at 10 o’clock in the evening telling her “I want this house.” A few days later the fabled Casa Casuarina mansion was his and life in South Beach changed dramatically. Casa Casuarina, named after a Somerset Maugham short-story collection, began to influence the designer’s collections. The house and its contents became the basis for the entire Versace Home collection.
For the rest of Gianni Versace’s life, Casa Casuarina became a fashion hub, attracting the best and brightest from the worlds of music, fashion, and film. The walls of the 23,000-square-foot mansion, which had 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and a 54-foot-long mosaic pool lined with 24-karat gold, were lined with Picassos and the courtyard was filled with celebrities ranging from Richard Avadon to Madonna. Gianni loved this extravagant house and its many eclectic rooms became his muse until a spree killer named Andrew Cunanan gunned him down in 1997 on his own front porch as he was returning from buying magazines at the nearby News Cafe.
Tragic Death and an $800 Million Dollar Empire
In less than 10 years, Gianni Versace managed to build a fashion empire worth more than $800 million dollars. During his all too short life, this master of design singlehandedly moved the epicenter of the fashion world from the sedate salons of Paris and Milan to the streets of LA and Miami. Versace’s iconic designs have already been showcased in world-renowned museums, including Chicago’s National Field Museum, London’s Royal College of Art, Japan’s Kobe City Museum and Germany’s Kunstgewerbemuseum. Today, the House of Versace is one of the world’s most recognized brands and Gianni, the creative force behind the brand, will be remembered for bringing a rock and roll soul to an industry that was once considered out of touch with the street. Although Gianni Versace’s creative flame was extinguished far too early, his fabulous creations will live on forever.
About Gevril Group
Gevril Group, watchmaker and wholesale watch distributor, is the exclusive U.S. agent for exquisitely designed and crafted European luxury and fashion watch brands, distributing and servicing some of the best affordable luxury and Swiss watches and trendy fashion watches. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair, staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882.
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