At­tuned to youth cul­ture and in­spired by women, Donatella Ver­sace is older, wiser and stronger.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By An­drea Lee.

At­tuned to youth cul­ture, Donatella Ver­sace is older, wiser and stronger.


The news is that Donatella Ver­sace, 62, is “woke”. When did this hap­pen? Was it last Septem­ber, when she pre­sented her de­fi­antly wear­able spring col­lec­tion ex­plor­ing fe­male strength and set to a fem­i­nist sound­track fea­tur­ing in­spi­ra­tional sis­ter­hood lyrics, or con­tin­ued for au­tumn/ win­ter ’17/’18 with her paean to equal­ity and unity – words printed on dresses and bean­ies? Or in Oc­to­ber, when Michelle Obama slayed her fi­nal White House state din­ner in an Ate­lier Ver­sace rose-gold chain-mail gown? Was it the mo­ment she joined forces with pouty rock rebel Zayn Ma­lik, invit­ing him to de­sign a cap­sule col­lec­tion for her Ver­sus line? Or when the lat­est fab­u­lous Ver­sace cof­fee-ta­ble book ap­peared – ex­cept that for the first time it was not about Gianni but all about Donatella? When her In­sta­gram fol­low­ers reached one mil­lion, and mil­len­ni­als started call­ing her fierce? What­ever the an­swer, Casa Ver­sace is on a roll. Re­tail sales are up, hit­ting al­most $500 mil­lion in 2015. Thirty new stores have opened around the globe. Eq­uity gi­ant Black­stone has taken a 20 per cent stake in the com­pany. A Palazzo Ver­sace ho­tel of sybaritic luxe has sprouted from the sands of Dubai. And at the heart of it all is Donatella. It’s her mo­ment – some say her fem­i­nist mo­ment.

Vis­it­ing her to in­ves­ti­gate all this at the Ver­sace head­quar­ters in Mi­lan is like pay­ing court to the tsa­rina at the Win­ter Palace. She wears silk trousers and a match­ing shirt: black. (She should al­ways wear black, ex­cept when she wears white. Or jun­gle green.) She is tiny, age­less, with a mino­taur face that is prob­a­bly on an an­cient coin some­where. Those im­prob­a­ble lips, those eyes – some­how it all works. There is the hair, no longer mer­maid-length, now a blunt, wavy bob, but still nu­clear blonde. She talks too fast. Un­like the stony icon de­picted in her 1990s por­traits, she is vi­brant, funny, ir­re­press­ible. She is also smart as a whip.

What is power to you? “Real power means in­flu­enc­ing a new gen­er­a­tion. Peo­ple ask what I do in my pri­vate life, and I re­ply: ‘At this point, there is noth­ing pri­vate in my life. I want to give. Give ev­ery­thing I learned, gained, in the pe­riod since Gianni was no more. I try to work as much as pos­si­ble with young de­sign­ers, show them our ar­chive, and when I see their ex­pres­sions – when they see th­ese clothes, this work­man­ship, as if they were in Won­der­land – that is power to me. I don’t say I un­der­stand the lan­guage of young peo­ple, but I see that on so­cial me­dia they have an­other way of talk­ing, a kind of di­alec­ti­cal dis­cus­sion. I un­der­stand from this that they are not con­form­ists like we were. It is su­per-im­por­tant for me to have in­flu­ence in this world, even though I did not grow up with it.” So so­cial me­dia has changed your life? “Yes. I used to have this im­age that was very cold, off­putting. Peo­ple didn’t feel close to me. Now it is dif­fer­ent. They see that can be open, laugh­ing, jok­ing on In­sta­gram. So­cial me­dia has be­come es­sen­tial to my work, be­cause fash­ion is a blend of many things: what young peo­ple are do­ing, what they would like to do, their dreams. I ab­sorb all this in­for­ma­tion and then I present it as fash­ion. Ver­sace clothes are more wear­able now be­cause life has changed. I am mak­ing clothes for women all over the world. I cast dif­fer­ent kinds of mod­els on my cat­walk be­cause there is not just one kind of woman. You can’t make a revo­lu­tion for just one woman!” Who chose Michelle Obama’s fa­mous Ver­sace dress for the state din­ner? “She did. She is a woman who knows what she wants. The speeches she made dur­ing Hil­lary’s cam­paign should be writ­ten down – they make up a phi­los­o­phy of life. If she ever ran for pres­i­dent she would win.” What were you like as a lit­tle girl? “I was never a lit­tle girl. My brother Gianni would dress me and I would go out with a ciré jacket, a patent leather mini-skirt and tall boots.” When did you be­come aware of the power of style? “I only truly un­der­stood it re­cently, in the last five or six years. Be­fore that I felt I had to pro­duce the ‘right’ kind of Ver­sace col­lec­tion. But now I am de­sign­ing for a woman who works, who has chil­dren – or maybe she doesn’t work, but she def­i­nitely has power. The power to keep on go­ing for­ward. I have to suc­ceed in show­ing women that we can do more, that we are stronger than men. Men, well, they get a pro­ject in life – say, they want to be CEO – and they get there and it’s over. Women are more open. They ar­rive at a cer­tain point and they still want to go on. Men have other strengths, of course. But we have more courage.”

The de­signer at work in her ate­lier.

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