20 years af­ter Gianni's mur­der, Ver­sace has re­dis­cov­ered its soul

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Twenty years ago, stylist Gianni Ver­sace was gunned down in Mi­ami, plung­ing his fash­ion house into cri­sis. Two decades on, it is one of the world's top global lux­ury brands thanks to his lit­tle sis­ter, Donatella. He had gone out for the morn­ing pa­pers: as Ver­sace re­turned to his Mi­ami beach man­sion on July 15, 1997, he was shot dead by An­drew Cu­nanan, a ho­mo­sex­ual pros­ti­tute known for his ob­ses­sion with all things lux­ury.

The fash­ion world mourned deeply. The stylist to celebri­ties from Madonna to El­ton John had been just 50 years old. "He was a 360-de­grees cre­ator, a real artist, he had a pure cre­ative vi­sion on col­ors and ma­te­ri­als," Ste­fa­nia Savi­olo, direc­tor of the lux­ury and fash­ion cen­ter at Boc­coni Univer­sity, told AFP In Mi­lan. The group he had cre­ated with his brother Santo in 1978 had been one of the hottest fash­ion brands in the world.

It fell to Ver­sace's plat­inum blonde sis­ter Donatella-to whom Gianni had en­trusted the ca­sual line Ver­sus-to take over as artis­tic direc­tor. But the brand strug­gled to re­cover from Ver­sace's mur­der. Donatella, who had worked for 14 years along­side Gianni, was se­verely af­fected by the loss of her brother and con­fessed to feel­ing "vul­ner­a­ble".

De­pres­sion and co­caine

"You can't in­vent your­self as an artis­tic direc­tor overnight," says Savi­olo, par­tic­u­larly as Donatella took over "at a time when fash­ion was chang­ing a lot, with many col­lec­tions and great pres­sure on artis­tic di­rec­tors". Donatella, in­stantly rec­og­niz­able for her fa­mous locks and per­pet­ual tan, sank into a pe­riod of de­pres­sion and co­caine use be­fore detox­i­fy­ing in 2005.

The year be­fore, the brand had ac­quired a new CEO in Gian­carlo Di Ri­sio. The for­mer Fendi boss re­fo­cused the Me­dusa on the lux­ury mar­ket, stream­lin­ing li­cens­ing and fran­chis­ing deals and de­vel­op­ing the ac­ces­sories range. Amid ru­mors in the press of a fall-out be­tween the fam­ily and Di Ri­sio over planned cuts, he was re­placed in 2009 by Gian Gi­a­como Fer­raris, who moved over from the Jil San­der fash­ion house. Fer­raris wasted no time in launch­ing an ex­ten­sive re­or­ga­ni­za­tion plan to re­turn Ver­sace to prof­itabil­ity, cut­ting 25 per­cent of its work­force and clos­ing some bou­tiques be­fore open­ing new ones as the books im­proved.

His in­ter­ven­tion "dou­bled the turnover, which rose from 268 mil­lion eu­ros in 2009 to 645 mil­lion in 2015," ac­cord­ing to David Pam­bianco, who heads up a con­sul­tancy com­pany in his name. By 2011 the his­toric brand had re­turned to profit af­ter a gru­elling three years of losses.

'So much po­ten­tial'

"The right bal­ance was struck be­tween Fer­raris and Donatella, the di­a­logue be­tween them was good and there was great re­spect for Donatella's cre­ativ­ity and vi­sion," Savi­olo said. The fam­ily, which had al­ways re­fused to re­lin­quish con­trol to a lux­ury con­glom­er­ate like so many of its fel­low Ital­ian fash­ion houses, fi­nally yielded a 20 per­cent stake in 2014 to the US pri­vate eq­uity firm Black­stone.

The move, which Donatella said would al­low Ver­sace to "achieve its po­ten­tial", re­sulted in a cash in­jec­tion into the lux­ury de­signer and boosted its pres­ence in emerg­ing mar­kets. The bet paid off: de­spite a dif­fi­cult global con­text, sales in­creased by some 17 per­cent in 2014 and in 2015. The house said it was time to "move onto the next phase" and Fer­raris was re­placed in May 2016 by Jonathan Akeroyd, for­mer CEO of Alexan­der McQueen. Re­sults last year were mixed, with sales up 3.7 per­cent to 668 mil­lion eu­ros but the com­pany ad­mit­ting a loss of 7.4 mil­lion eu­ros due in par­tic­u­lar to funds sunk into its net­work of bou­tiques.

Th­ese re­sults "have caused some uncer­tainty", but "the com­pany is healthy, cer­tainly more than 10 years ago," said Pam­bianco. "Ver­sace re­mains one of the most beau­ti­ful brands in the world in the lux­ury sec­tor" and has "still so much po­ten­tial to ex­press", he said, point­ing out that lux­ury house Gucci for ex­am­ple "has a turnover that is seven times higher". Savi­olo agrees: "Ver­sace has re­cov­ered its lost "red car­pet DNA" and its style is cur­rently "very dar­ing, very strong." — AP

Photo shows Ital­ian de­signer Gianni Ver­sace (right) and Naomi Camp­bell af­ter a fash­ion show in Paris. — AFP pho­tos

Ital­ian de­signer Gianni Ver­sace ar­rives on scene to re­ceive the 1992 Coun­cil of Fash­ion De­sign­ers of Amer­ica In­ter­na­tional Award at the coun­cil’s an­nual awards cer­e­mony, 01 Fe­bru­ary 1993.

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