When fashion designer Gianni Versace was murdered outside of his luxurious mansion in Miami Beach, Florida, the devastated fashion world assumed the iconic brand was dead. With the house’s fearless leader gone at a mere 50 years, designers and style connoisseurs alike were prepared to leave his brand in the dust. After all, in fashion, one day you’re in, as for the next day … well you know the rest.
The atelier was in shock. His death was coming off the knockout that was the Versace Ready-to-Wear collection at Milan Fashion Week in 1991, where model icons like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford walked down the runway as a force to be reckoned with, singing along to George Michael’s ‘Freedom’, all sporting bold colors and silhouettes: a style that can only be associated with the work of Gianni Versace.
It seemed artistic moments like this were no longer going to be a product of the renowned brand. Yet, how is it that today, in 2019, Versace is just as integral as it was in the ’90s? The answer: Versace never really died. The iconic namesake was never tarnished, in fact the entire house completely embodies the renaissance: In every corner of the Versace legacy from the evolution of Donatella Versace to the overall aesthetic of the brand’s recognizable pattern, color and silhouettes, Versace essentially started the trend of rebirth.
Models powerhouses like Gigi Hadid and Shalom Harlow regularly walk the Versace runway, and they do so proudly. Although the loss of fashion genius Gianni Versace was a setback, instead of giving up and abandoning what remained of Versace’s legacy, the entire atelier used this loss and change to completely revolutionize the brand, the center of this revolution being Donatella Versace.
Initially the muse for the company, Donatella Versace was her brother’s main source of inspiration. At the time of her brother’s death she was not completely involved with the designing of the luxury items, but rather the Versace poster child. But it is her shift in roles that completely defines Versace as the renaissance. Donatella Versace took what she knew about the company’s tradition and maintained it, embracing the changes and rebirth that came with her face as the new brand of the company. Ads for the company’s 2019 collections embrace the concept of change and breaking from tradition.
In an interview with The New York Times, Versace explains the pressure she felt to keep Versace relevant after her brothers passing and how to ensure their customers the brand would survive. In reality, instead of hiding behind the death of her brother, Versace pushed the brand further. “I like branding, all the time. It’s what I do,” said Versace. Where she could have stepped down, Donatella Versace gave customers and designers no excuses not to remember the Versace name, playing with patterns and layers so bold, one has no choice not to stop and remember a Versace design or textile. To this day, Donatella Versace is revamping what her late brother created, redesigning the iconic leather strap for the dress she wore in 1994 — undoubtedly remembered as one of the most iconic pieces of its time — for the 2019 Fall/Winter collection. In 2017, she even nodded to the aforementioned 1991 Milan show, paying tribute to iconic Gianni Versace by inviting models from the 1991 show to walk the runway in classic Versace prints, including butterflies and Vogue covers.
So, while Gianni’s Versace textiles have always visually and aesthetically embodied the renaissance — never straying from the boldest of patterns or layering — making even those most unfamiliar with fashion recognize a Versace print or silhouette, the true embodiment of the renaissance lies in the strategy of branding that Donatella Versace has focused in on so clearly that, 22 years later, the Versace atelier is still the key to luxury and extravagance in fashion and style. In today’s fashion world, consumers and designers are constantly encouraged to purge their fashion palettes, clearing room in closets and on sewing tables for new pieces and collections. Versace could have easily taken the traditional route, dividing the work of her brother Gianni from what she would create after his death. She could have completely rebranded the Versace atelier, but she chose to make her company even more bold and unforgettable, a strategy that has in turn branded Versace as one of the most consistent and powerful fashion houses in the industry.
When the phrase renaissance in fashion comes to mind, I would argue Versace’s oriental prints are the exact visual depiction of this era, the word change a close second thought. Yet Donatella Versace’s own renaissance involved little change, rather a focus on the existing, a choice that completely revolutionized fashion, a world where we are constantly ready to consume something new in order to abandon the old. The rebirth of Versace under Donatella’s name did not require completely going back to the drawing board for an entirely new aesthetic, and, lucky for the fashion world, a new wave Versace was never born. There were just constant reminders of the Versace name and focus on expanding the existing, pushing for something even bolder. A telltale that consistency can, against all odds, activate change: A true, modern renaissance.