Donatella Versace may have garnered 3.6 million followers on Instagram, but there’s definitely more beyond her cold ice blonde exterior, heavy eye makeup and audacious clothing. “I used to have this image that was very cold, off-putting. People didn’t feel close to me. Now it is different. They see that I can be open, laughing, joking on Instagram,” she told W Magazine last February. Being on social media has definitely helped her and the brand grow — have you seen their “It’s Versace not Versachee” video?
“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,” she added.
But before all of that internet and social media stuff, she was a force to be reckoned with — as a fashion designer, style icon or someone to look up to for her inner strength. She always had a tough exterior despite many fallouts in her life, including the passing of her brother Gianni Versace, founder of the brand. The world applauded her on being able to take charge despite battling her own demons and to continue on such a big legacy up until today.
Donatella was just the supporting sister and muse
She’s often seen in the spotlight with her brother, Gianni Versace, but Donatella was simply just an ‘advisor’ for the fashion giant. Organising some of the biggest Versace fashion shows, dealing with campaigns and advertisements (eventually got involved in a Givenchy campaign herself a few years later) and even made full use of her connections with celebrities like Madonna to come on board with the label.
The Versace brand flourished under her supervision, and it continued to do so even when her brother was battling cancer. Donatella held bigger roles and responsibilities in the mid-1990s, which eventually prepared her to combat life-changing situations she never thought would come her way.
“The last two years of Gianni’s 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. It was like a year and a half that I did everything,” she told New York magazine.
The unexpected fallout
Things took a turn when Gianni Versace was found murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach home in 1997. His sudden departure left the head of Versace Group empty but filled by his brother Santo Versace who became CEO and Donatella as the new artistic director of the company.
Even though a decade apart, Gianni and Donatella were inseparable. She was often seen in clothes designed by him just for her alone, dyed her hair blonde to his request and even left university to help Gianni with the company. Despite being thrown to the front line all of a sudden, Donatella took over the reigns with pride and grace.
Four apparel brands — Versace, Versace Atelier, Versace Collection and Versace Jeans Couture, and lifestyle products such as perfumes, watches, belts, shoes and more — were all under her belt. And at the same time, she was battling substance use disorder following her brother’s death. “For the first five years, I was lost. I made a lot of mistakes,” she told The Guardian.
In 2002, the company posted losses of $7.1 million. And it took both of her children, Allegra and Daniel, and good friend Elton John to convince Donatella to get treatment for her addiction — which she did in 2004.
It’s Versace not Versachee
The worst seemed to be over as the Italian giant continued to climb up the fashion ladder at a consistent pace. The brand grew with strong popularity in 2008 when Donatella sought assistance from Scottish fashion designer, Christopher Kane to help with resurrect the brand and also designing for Versus. Adding up to the brand’s long list of collaborative efforts are H&M, 2 Chainz and the latest Ronnie Fieg for the Kith x Versace collection.
The brand’s aesthetics were very much alive, with loud prints, swirling gold and black Baroque pattern and the iconic Medusa head that stayed on since the Gianni’s era. Their famed yet criticised form-fitting pieces that only slender-looking models were able to pull off had much evolved into something bigger. Now Donatella makes her designs to be more inclusive and what she thinks would fit every woman — women who work or don’t, have children or not, and the modern women of power.
“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!” she told W Magazine in an interview.
Up until today, Donatella Versace is still often compared to her brother’s legacy. “Next to Gianni, I feel like I’m nobody. But at the same time, I was there by his side throughout his career and I remembered all the incredible moments we shared together. I was always pushing him to be bolder, more daring and more provocative in his work.”
Even as the current chief designer of Versace, she still finds inspiration within her late brother’s work and is never afraid to admit it. The reason, she added: “To show them how relevant Gianni is today. No story, no filter.”
Now that the brand has just recently been bought over by Michael Kors, Donatella still maintains her stride and position as creative of the brand. “I am NOT going anywhere, so for those who wanted to get rid of me, well…it ain’t happening!” she posted on her Instagram.