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THE ICONS: DONATELLA VERSACE

She is the recipient of a multitude of fashion awards and the one who kept Versace alive and thriving after the tragic loss of Gianni; She is Donatella Versace. Despite not being the one to start Versace, Donatella has long-since acted as the head of the brand, and her career has been a beautiful journey.



Born in 1955 in Italy, Donatella was the youngest of four kids raised by a salesman father and a dressmaker mother. Despite nearly a decade in age difference, she was very close with her brother Gianni. Already a fashion icon in the making, Gianni was the one who encouraged Donatella to dye her hair blonde when she was a child, a choice that has become her signature look over the decades. The pair would go to discos together, with Gianni instructing Donatella on what to wear.


The closeness of Donatella and her brother lasted throughout their lives. And when Gianni decided to start working as a designer in Milan in the 70s, Donatella acted as his muse and advisor while she was studying to become a teacher in Florence. Versace opened its first boutique in 1978, and when it began to catch on, Gianni appointed Donatella as the Vice President of the brand.


Source: The Guardian


While working with her brother on the growing Versace brand throughout the 80s, Donatella married model Paul Beck and had two children with him, Allegra and Daniel. By the end of the decade, Gianni created the secondary Versace line, Versus, as a gift to Donatella. The brand was an outlet for her to express more of her individuality and bring her more edgy, rock and roll persona into Versace.


Though Gianni was still in charge of Versace, Donatella became a very important figure to the brand in the 80s. While Gianni slowed down and began living a much less party-centric lifestyle, Donatella was the one who went to parties and mingled with celebrities as the face of the brand. She brought out the more wild side of the brand and fully lived in that lifestyle (it is said that cocaine was abundant at any Versace afterparty once Gianni went to bed). The duo, despite living entirely different lives, worked together to make Versace the name that is was.


Source: Yahoo


In the 90s, when Gianni fell sick with cancer, Donatella took on a more primary role in Versace. She shared that for the last two years of his life, "I was going up into his apartment, showing him the work, getting the approval from him, but I ran the company because he wasn’t showing himself." He was deemed cured of the cancer, and the pair celebrated.


However, six months later, in July 1997, Gianni Versace was tragically murdered. Donatella, still grieving the loss of her brother and close friend, was catapulted into the head spot at Versace. Looking back, she said, "For the first five years, I was lost. I made a lot of mistakes." Battling a cocaine addiction, marriage troubles, and the loss of Gianni, Donatella did not have it easy when she acquired the Versace empire.


Source: Vanity Fair


Months after the Gianni's death, Versace presented its first show with Donatella in charge at Milan Fashion Week. The show was dedicated to and in honor of Gianni, and the entire event was said to be riddled with grief and sadness. Before the show, Donatella told journalists of how scared she was and said, "I would like to be judged for what I am doing, not compared to him. If you compare me to him, I can only fall short."


Though people attended the show in tears for the loss of an icon, the reviews, though respectful, showed that the actual designs fell flat. While the show honored Gianni in its use of patterns and sheer dresses, people felt that Donatella was struggling to find her way in incorporating her own vision into the work. However, the great strides made by her in the following years showed that this was not something to worry too much about.


Source: ET


One of Versace's first big moments under the direction of Donatella was the green jungle-print dress worn by Jennifer Lopez at the Grammy Awards in 2000. Versace first debuted the dress in October 1999, and Donatella herself wore it to the Met Gala a couple of months later. But it was not until Lopez wore it that it began receiving increased attention. Not only was it seen as a risqué choice for the red carpet, but it was so iconic that it went down in history.


This dress was so talked-about that it actually led to the creation of Google Image Search! Before this, Google searches only resulted in text and links, but people wanted to see this dress so badly that it showed executives the flaw in their system. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, "We had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: JLo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born." The new function was launched in July 2001.


Source: Vogue


Despite having such an iconic moment at the turn of the century, the early 2000s were not easy for Donatella. She went through a divorce in 2000, and in 2005, she was admitted into rehab because of an 18-year-long cocaine addiction. It was not until the latter half of the decade that she truly began finding her way. She shared, "I had been listening to everyone else, and then I realized, who was the person my brother listened to? Me. I worked with him every day. I was much more than a muse. It was a dialogue between us."


Her newfound confidence aligned with the rising success of Versace since she had acquired it. By 2007, the brand's $1.4 million debt had turned around into assets of $10.7 million. The following year, Donatella was appointed as an honorary chair of London’s Fashion Fringe initiative to support emerging designers. She has long-since worked with and supported young designers as they break into the industry.


Source: Vogue


In 2014, Versace entered a new phase of development when they partnered with Blackstone, who bought 20% of the company shares. Despite this, Donatella, her daughter Allegra, and her brother Santo remained active parts of the brand with Donatella still acting as Vice President and Artistic Director. Four years later, the Versace brand was completely bought out by Michael Kors Holdings, launching the parents company called Capri Holdings. With this, Donatella remained at the forefront of the brand's image and design.


In 2018, Donatella was awarded with the CFDA's International Award for her achievements in fashion with the Versace brand. When discussing the honor of receiving this award, Donatella said, "I felt humbled and honored at the same time. Receiving this award crowns a very special moment for me and for Versace and I couldn’t be happier. We have worked so hard to get to this point and I am so proud of what we are achieving."


Source: Dazed and The Guardian


Throughout decades in the industry, Donatella forged both personal and professional relationships with designers and celebrities alike. She has long since acted as a mentor and friend to Lady Gaga, who said Donatella is "like a sister." Just earlier this year, Donatella put Gaga in a show-stopping, low-waist gown for the 2023 Oscars that gained the attention of nearly every recap of the red carpet. In addition to this, she has become close friends and business partners with Dua Lipa, with whom she released Versace's La Vacanza collection just months ago.


In all of her years of work, starting out as Gianni's left-hand-woman and becoming one of fashion's most prominent figures, Donatella has made her mark on the industry. From her signature blonde hair to decades of impressive work, her legacy will live on forever.








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