Today marks 25 years since the unfathomable death of Gianni Versace. The founder of the eponymous fashion brand Versace was returning to his villa in Miami Beach after a morning walk, only to find his murderer, armed with a pistol, waiting for him outside his home. He was 50 years old when he was tragically shot and though a quarter of a century has passed since then, the waves of influence he pulsed through the fashion industry, and beyond, are still felt today.
Born in the southern coastal city of Reggio di Calabria, Italy, in 1946 to an appliance salesman and a dressmaker, Versace grew close to his mother and her trade, observing her like any good apprentice would, as she crafted wedding dresses for local brides in her workshop. After completing school where he studied architectural drawing at a local college, he worked as a buyer for his mother’s store as her business grew, and was soon creating his own dresses. In 1972, his ambitions as a fashion designer led him northbound to Milan, where he presented his first collection six years later, launching the Versace as we know it today.
True to the familial essence of the designer’s creative roots, Versace plucked his business colleagues from his family tree, appointing his brother Santo Versace as CEO, managing the business operations, and his sister Donatella Versace as a vice president, primarily aiding in Versace’s creative output through styling and brand image. The designs were sensuous, provocative, and ornate, seducing customers with an Italian-Greek spirit. In the brightest colours and patterns, precious fabrics, on the most beautiful women and the hunkiest men, Gianni quickly defined his mission statement: beauty, sex, and luxury rules. Over the years, through commercial success and industry esteem, Versace snowballed to include homewares, accessories, fragrance, and couture, forming not only a fashion brand but a fully-scoped world, selling the unmistakable splendour of the Versace dream.
Credited with creating the ‘supermodel’ phenomenon, the runway shows were spectacular meetings of a fierce, empowered beauty swathed in fantasy. “He made fashion a pop culture phenomenon,” Claudia Schiffer, the model and muse to Gianni told AnOther in 2020. “We’d walk to an amazing Prince track with hundreds of photographers lining the catwalk, only to see him sitting there on the front row. He made his runway into a live show with choreography, great lighting effects and timings similar to a theatre experience.”
Today, Donatella and Santo Versace continue to build upon the brickwork left behind by Gianni, with his sister succeeding him as creative director. Few have been able to so concisely articulate a luxe, desirable lifestyle through fashion design, so instantly recognisable from the black and gold tones, to the baroque Medusa motif. With Gianni Versace’s enduring legacy in mind, we have compiled a list of words of wisdom from the man who melded past and future to create a sensual, 24-karat world.