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Who was Versace? The assassinated fashion designer who partied with Princess Diana and Elton John

Ella Braidwood April 3, 2018
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Gianni Versace (George Rose/Getty)

Gianni Versace, the internationally-acclaimed Italian fashion designer who partied with the likes of Elton John, Sting and Princess Diana, was suddenly shot dead on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion in 1997.

The murder was committed by gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who killed himself eight days later, and it shook the world. Versace was only 50 when he died, and left behind his international fashion house – worth $807 million, with 130 boutiques worldwide – and partner of 15 years, Italian model Antonio D’Amico.

Versace loved to break fashion boundaries and subvert the trends of the time. He was once quoted as saying: “I think it’s the responsibility of a designer to try to break rules and barriers. You have to break a barrier everyday. ”

But who was the man behind the Versace brand? Here’s everything you need to know.

Gianni Versace (George Rose/Getty)

Gianni Versace Made in Italy

Giovanni Maria Versace was born on 2 December 1946 in the city of Reggio Calabria, Italy. His dad sold appliances and his mum was a dressmaker. Versace grew up with his older brother Santo, his younger sister Donatella, and his older sister Tina, who tragically died aged 12 from a tetanus infection.

Related: Who was Andrew Cunanan, the privately educated compulsive liar who murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace?

Early on, Versace became interested in fashion, and worked as an apprentice in his mum’s sewing business. Growing up, Versace was inspired by the Classical World and enjoyed exploring ancient remains.

These influences were apparent throughout Versace’s life – he even chose the head of Medusa, a mythical Gorgan with snakes instead of hair, as the logo for his international fashion brand. Before pursuing a career in fashion, Versace studied architecture.

Aged 26, Versace moved to Milan to work in the emerging global capital of fashion, where he designed collections for key designers including Florentine Flowers and De Parisini of Santa Margherita.

Soon after Versace designed women’s clothing for design houses like Callaghan, who were renowned for knitwear, and Getty’s collections which featured suede and leather.

By 1974 Versace had set up his own clothing label, called Complice, and designed a collection entirely made from leather – a groundbreaking move for the time.

Setting up Versace

With Versace’s success growing, his brother Santo left his business in Reggio di Calabria and moved to Milan help him launch his “Gianni Versace Donna” label in 1978, which would later become known as the Versace international fashion house.

In the same year, the first Versace boutique was opened in Milan’s Via della Spiga and in March, Versace launched his first signature women’s collection with his first menswear line following in September.

Santo was made president of the company, and Versace’s sister Donatella joined as vice president, with Versace later employing her husband Paul Beck as director of menswear.

Versace ensured his company was independent, making him one of the few designers to do so at the time, meaning he was in charge of everything from the designing to the retailing.

Versace soon became known for breaking away from the simplicity and muted colours in fashion at the time, instead using bold prints, vivid colours, and sexy cuts.

 

Versace with his sister Donatella in 1990. (Wikimedia Commons)

Related: American Crime Story used real-life footage of Jeffrey Trail talking about being gay in the military and it’s haunting

According to the V&A, his outrageous style “combined luxurious classicism with overt sexuality”. He has been quoted as saying: “I don’t believe in good taste. I don’t believe in bad taste. I believe in quality and in fun, in things that make our life better or happier.” He became known for using mesh fabrics and leather bonded to rubber using lasers.

In 1982, he developed an ultra-light chainmail – known as ‘Oroton’ – which became a signature material in his collections. In the same year, Versace won his first of many awards – the “L’Occhio d’Oro,” (Golden Eye) for his fall/winter collection for women.

At the same time, his company expanded into producing jewellery and homeware. It was also in 1982 that Versace met the love of his life, Italian model Antonio D’Amico, who he had a 15-year relationship with until his death in 1997.

Versace’s designs often included elements inspired by Greco-Roman art, such as the decorative meaner motif known as the “Greek key”.

He was also influenced by modern artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol – in 1991 Versace produced a jewel-encrusted version of the latter’s iconic Marilyn Monroe prints for his Pop art collection. He once said: ”I think it’s the responsibility of a designer to try to break rules and barriers. I’m a little like Marco Polo, going around and mixing cultures.”

 

Versace is also credited with the creation of the supermodel, paying huge sums to models like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington.

Gianni Versace ON THE STAGE

Throughout his career, Versace branched out into costume designing for theatre productions and performance artists. In 1982, he collaborated with La Scala Theatre Ballet in Milan to design the outfits for the Strauss ballet Josephslegende in, as well as for Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Related: Glee’s Darren Criss plays Versace serial killer

He also designed costumes for five productions by the Béjart Ballet. Versace went on to design Elton John’s clothing for his 1992 world tour.

Versace was arguably the most important and influential fashion designer of a generation.

MURDERED OUTSIDE HIS MIAMI MANSION

 

Versace’s home in Miami Beach. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On July 15 1997, Versace’s life was tragically cut short when he was shot dead on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan.

 

(Andrew Phillip Cunanan, H/O/AFP/Getty Images)

He was returning from a morning walk on Ocean Drive with his morning papers. Versace’s partner D’Amico heard the shots from the veranda, where he had been drinking coffee and ran round to discover Versace sprawled on the steps.

Cunanan, who was already wanted for three other murders, killed himself eight days later using the same gun he killed Versace with. At the time of his death, Versace’s fashion empire was valued at $807 million, with 130 boutiques worldwide.

Related topics: explainer, Versace

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