Behind the seams
In an era of brand evolution and mutation, Versace triumphs by standing its ground
Versace triumphs in an era of brand evolution
SOME OF OUR readers may not be old enough to remember, but my childhood and early teen years were embraced by the fashion aura of Versace and its youth-celebrating diffusion line, Versus. The Medusa logo and Greek keys that were the emblems of the brand were coveted along with Moschino, Armani and other grand fashion labels back in the ’90s.
A theatre aficionado and costume maker for artistes and performers alike, Gianni Versace created ready-to-wear that communicated the same drama and flair on the street as it did on stage. The ’80s and ’90s were a loud and over-the-top era, full of overt personas who had lived through the era of glam rock and transited into punk. On the streets, logomania was a buoyant movement (discreet luxury was a generation away) and people who had wealth were not afraid to show it. Gianni Versace’s GrecoRoman inspired styles were ripe for this era.
Italian fashion is splendidly divided between two distinct values: the loud and the subtle. Both sides find some sort of connection with Italian art, architecture and Catholicism. In all these realms, a solid Italian sensibility in design and style find another external presentation that can be overt. It’s also a region divide: the quiet, almost austere north with the vivacious south. Versace’s provocative designs raised plenty of eyebrows back in the ’90s, but they also paved the way for today’s style leaders and their #ootds. The whispered joke late last century was that Versace dressed mistresses. Today, it’s the wives who’ve embraced that racy style.
Although Donatella Versace fully picked up the company’s reins after her brother’s untimely passing, she had already developed her own design vernacular through the Versus line. The punkish vibe of the diffusion line infused itself into the family’s eponymous line through her creative expression. Like Gianni, she sought to develop the idea that people should be free to dress as they wished, without fear of being judged for it. A guilt-free attitude towards fashion, if you will. It was about choice and fearless fashion individuality, and this confidence made Versace stand out.
Versace’s bold designs, blending couture with sexiness, took the world by storm. It wasn’t only the celebrities who embraced the brand’s ethos, the public loved it too.
It shaped an entire generation of fashion aficionados who challenged the strictures of propriety in society. But as the loud 20th century gave way to the desire for a more discreet style, the brand faced a pivoting moment: should it continue to provoke and outrage, or sing a quieter refrain?
Donatella Versace opted to stand firm on the brand’s foundations of being dramatic and theatrical. But she also embraced a more free-flowing and relaxed silhouette in her women’s collection.
In menswear, a more unconstructed form also emerged, and the voluminous silk shirts of the ’90s gave way to tonal colours and more sophisticated prints and patterns. She retained the dripping presence of sexuality and sensuality that defined the brand, while toning down on its raw energy.
A Return to Form
This showing of its spring men’s collection marked 20 years since Gianni Versace was gunned down in Miami by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The brand returned to its Via Gesu palazzo, where the Medusa logo was first established. It’s also 40 years since Versace’s first collection.
At the birthplace of the brand, Versace’s confident men and alluring women marched in sync. Pinstripe suits were cut in a jacket shape that resembled an old Gianni Versace design, and the same material was worked into a light, lace-trimmed dress with high-cut slits that danced airily around the model’s thighs. A silk shirt with an Opera Balletic Teatro Cinema print found itself loosely shrugged onto the frame of a female model.
Her male counterpart wore a similar piece in a variety of ways: under a glen plaid suit, in a light denim ensemble bearing the same motifs, or with shorts and paired with a light summer trenchcoat. This print was drawn from the brand’s archives, but had never been used till now. Another design was similarly turned into shirt dresses, jackets, bombers, pyjamas.
A monochrome silk print featuring the meander and a dozen other patterns jumbled up into a dizzying array of forms caught our attention for its blend of authentic Versace attitude with the gentle discretion of colour. It was classic Versace attuned to the world today. The brand bears the same sexy allure of its past, but a sensuousness that’s now tinged with experience and maturity. And that’s actually even sexier. AM
THIS SPREAD CLOCKWISE Contemporary classics; Donatella Versace; archival prints commemorate the brand and its history; Chadwick Boseman in Versace at the Met Gala this year