The murder of Gianni Versace has loomed large over the house that bears his name and, especially, Donatella, his sister and lifelong right-hand woman, for decades. Versace became known for a specific kind of Italian glamour--colorful, sexy and unabashedly luxurious. The use of modern chainmail to make gowns and reinterpretations of Warhol’s silkscreened portraits became symbols of the brand’s whip-smart vision. But Donatella has struggled to honor her brother without being trapped by his legacy, not to mention the parameters of the iconic look he created. That struggle often showed in the clothes with presentations that had flashes of brilliance but weren’t always consistent, something her personal battle with addiction made even more difficult. Once she rehabilitated herself, it took her time to find her footing, but now she’s finding a voice that’s translating her family’s heritage of sex appeal for a new age.
For someone who grew up with JLo’s plunging necklines being synonymous with Versace, it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the new direction that began in earnest a couple of years ago. Where once there were slinky champagne-colored silk satin gowns with crystal embroidery, there are sporty tailored coats in black with smoky chiffon peeking out from beneath the hem, as was the case during Versace's Fall 2017 runway show.
As incredible as Gianni’s interpretation of femininity was, I often wonder how it would be received were it to be shown for the first time today. With fashion’s move toward sensuality rather than overt sexiness and sportswear’s takeover of even the most vaunted high fashion labels, it would seem out of place (although his emphasis on actual design and not mere styling would do that on its own). A shift was called for, but how well suited that shift is to the Versace ethos is hotly debated. Effortlessness, or, more accurately, the appearance of it, reigns supreme in fashion at the moment. But is that really at the heart of Versace?
The mystique of Versace is not entirely gone though it is different. Like always, the clothes and accessories themselves are beautifully made with impeccable fit and finish. Donatella’s recent shows have become more coherent, however, they lack the spark of collections past and the ability to generate the same kind of captivating images they once did.
Riccardo Tisci, the famed designer who recently resigned from his post at Givenchy, is heavily rumored to be Donatella’s pick for a successor to steer the label going forward. The Versace canon is so rich that if the rumor proves true, Tisci should have no problem reenergizing the establishment even though his tenure at Givenchy had grown tired. What’s worrisome is that Versace will become too bogged down in the everyday with its overcoats, fitted dresses and chunky knits--things better left to other brands. In order to retain its core identity, Versace should not ignore its roots in the search for progress. The fashion world needs its allure now more than ever.
Written by: Martin Lerma