Blonde Am­bi­tion


Donatella Ver­sace has con­fronted death and ad­dic­tion and come out the other side. Still stay­ing true to the baro­quein­spired sex­u­alised and glam­orous aes­thetic es­tab­lished by her late brother, Gianni, she is stag­ing the ul­ti­mate come­back, one that is to­tally Donatella.

Donatella Ver­sace can be drawn in car­toon strokes: the blind­ing plat­inum hair, the tan, the eyes panda’d with mas­cara, the teensy body in reg­u­la­tion rock-chick gear. It has been an act of mass dis­trac­tion on her part. I must have been face to face with her dozens of times over the years – but I’ve never re­ally looked into her eyes be­fore; I mean deep into her eyes. Win­dows of the soul and all that. It’s not just be­cause ex­po­sure has al­ways been quick, con­trolled, limited. Donatella her­self has also de­flected the gim­let stare by dis­guis­ing her­self as Donatella. Not any­more, how­ever. Be­fore her haute cou­ture show in Paris a few weeks ago, we sat chat­ting in a stag­ing area in the base­ment of Ho­tel Ge­orge V and I was trans­fixed. It was as though a to­tally dif­fer­ent per­son was star­ing back at me from a face I thought I knew so well. And it was all down to the eyes. She has changed. And the change is all over the cur­rent Spring/sum­mer 2016 col­lec­tion, which she showed in Mi­lan last Septem­ber. Donatella marched a Ver­sace army down her cat­walk, a fiercely mil­i­tant vi­sion of an em­pow­ered woman in khaki and camo, matched to a cel­e­bra­tion of Ama­zo­nian fem­i­nin­ity in draped, slashed, knot­ted an­i­mal pat­terns. On pa­per, that reads like a fash­ion show but with the Por­tuguese pro­ducer and DJ Vi­o­let’s up­date of the old Un­der­ground Re­sis­tance rave piece, ‘Tran­si­tion’ on the sound­track (“There will be peo­ple who say you can’t/you will”), the live pro­duc­tion surged with the ir­re­sistible force of a man­i­festo. It was a kind of com­ing out for Donatella. “For so long, I had so many peo­ple around me telling me, ‘This is Ver­sace.’ No, this is Ver­sace. They were all hired years ago, so they knew what Ver­sace was. But if you want that, go to the archive – of course, I re­spect it a lot but that’s ridicu­lous to me. So, for the first time, it was to­tally me. I didn’t try to please any­body else. I had the courage to say no, to say to them, ‘You help me to give the mes­sage, not what you think, be­cause what you think is you.’” Change has been a long time com­ing. “I took too many years al­ready,” Donatella con­cedes. “There were my prob­lems, which every­body knows, so I was con­fused. And I was afraid if I didn’t do things like Gianni, peo­ple would think I was fin­ished.” So she lis­tened to ev­ery­one else un­til she couldn’t hear it any more. “This thing of ‘print, print, print, print, you’ve got to do print’ – Ver­sace is not print,” she snorts im­pa­tiently. “Ver­sace is tai­lor­ing. Gianni’s tai­lor­ing was im­pec­ca­ble, with the most beau­ti­ful jack­ets.” In fact, Gianni left her a blue­print for the very same, with the last col­lec­tion he showed be­fore his mur­der in July 1997. But the gears re­ally be­gan mov­ing for Ver­sace about five years ago: a new CEO for the com­pany, new peo­ple around Donatella and a new part­ner in the form of New York­based Black­stone Group, which bought a 20 per cent stake in the busi­ness – it’s a lot of change, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally – and the im­pact on the busi­ness has been ob­vi­ous. It has ex­panded to in­clude pre­c­ol­lec­tions, chil­dren’s wear, beach­wear and the re­birth of Ver­sus, the sec­ond col­lec­tion that was Donatella’s do­main un­der Gianni. Af­ter re­turn­ing to prof­itabil­ity in 2011, the busi­ness posted to­tal rev­enues in 2014 of

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