Opening on a gluttonous helping of piercing, Prodigy-indebted synth and a battery of steel-toed boots (the house down), Donatella Versace’s message at the Versace Menswear Spring 2020 show was both composite and staggeringly clear. She sent her usual gaggle of unassailable superbeings down the halls of their Via Gesù showroom to reassert her expansive and heavily branded universe’s influence on modern culture.
Lurex flare-pants, oversized PVC suiting, rhinestone Greek border chokers, glittering race car embroidering, grommeted leather, the aforementioned calf-high clompers and seemingly endless Medusan adornments are just the tip of the Milanese iceberg, nearly all of which was somehow featured in the show. Neon buzzcuts and flat-ironed manes raced down a pink, plexiglass runway and around the glossy black body of a 1995 Corvette, swathed in a pile of matching roses, peonies and orchids, glacially spinning as a GIF would in the early days of the internet.
Visual hallmarks of the 1990s have been present, often in the form of direct regurgitation, in nostalgic digital art as well as trends and points of reference in the fashion industry for some time now. Versace’s visual legacy of elevating the gaudy and garish is cemented within almost every creative field that comes to mind, and it’s clearly come time to cash in.
Disparate elements of the Versace canon clash and clamor for attention yet manage to coincide with balance thanks to a shared design ethos (pure maximalism) and a masterful fusion of the two defining elements of the show. First is the overwhelming presence of Versace’s branding in all forms of art that fall under the umbrella of “Tumblr.” The most fitting example of the vague, amalgamated genre is Vaporwave, the Petra Cortright and early-aughts gamer-inspired atmosphere that playfully pokes at corporate identity and often features the pink and purple hues present in this year’s show.
The second source of inspiration is modern masculinity’s relationship to the tropes that continue to define it. Describing the collection’s architecture on their YouTube channel, the brand asserts that “Stereotypes of masculine character are challenged through tailoring, fabric and print — an interpretation of confidence through Versace’s maximalist style,” and that “The Versace man is free to self-express with no limitations.” It is evident that Versace not only seeks to challenge masculinity, including about as many women in the show as men and pairing emblems of virility with color palettes and style elements that cue the unmasculine; it mobilizes the irony and playfulness of those now defunct, yet massively influential art forms to inspire the same attitude toward the modes of social enforcement that attempt to dictate what brings us joy, how we view ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.
Versace is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t need to go out of its way to sell itself as a brand or try to invent something new. The groundwork has already been laid for that — the brand literally spawned Google Images. Much like Chanel and other labels of its stature, the house shines brightest when it finds new worlds to merge with and integrates established designs. In doing so, they’re taking every aspect of what they have come to be known for, a decade that they have become synonymous with, a creative movement that more or less owes its whole self to both, synthesizing a politics and communicating it clearly, which is about as much as anyone could ask for.