Giovanni Maria Versace was the son of a seamstress born in Calabria, Italy’s deep south in December 1946. Gianni’s mother, Franca, became known as Reggio’s best dressmaker and was his mentor. Donatella was born in May 1955. Gianni was fascinated by Franca’s fabrics and patterns in her workshop. By age nine he gathered the scraps of silk and wool that fell to the floor and stitched them into puppets. He made dresses for a friend’s doll at age eleven.
In 1972 he was offered to join Florentine Flowers, a knitwear company based in Lucca in Tuscany. Soon afterwards he moved to Milan, home of the burgeoning Italian fashion scene. He started working for Genny, a clothing line that wanted to revamp its company to appeal to a younger audience. Gianni experimented with different styles and combined masculine with feminine, sportswear with dressier items, leather with silk and he broke the rules of fashion. American department stores bought his collections and Genny’s sales tripled to ten billion lire ($6 million).
In 1975 Italian Vogue featured his clothes in a spread titled “Versace Versatile.” The following year French Vogue highlighted several of his designs.
Gianni’s younger sister, Donatella, became his muse and confidante. After their mother’s death in 1978, Gianni convinced Donatella to move to Milan with him. Gianni Versace showed his first Versace collection that year on the top floor of the Palazzo della Permanente, a contemporary art museum in Milan. Both Italian Vogue and French Vogue picked his trench coats to show in their fashion spreads.
Sadly, Gianni Versace was murdered on July 15, 1997 in front of his Miami Beach mansion by Andrew Cunanan, who had been on FBI’s most-wanted list for killing four men. Rumors swirled that Gianni Versace had connections with organized crime and the Calabrian mafia and that’s why he had been assassinated. Donatella wanted a grand funeral for Gianni at the Duomo in Milan. The guests were asked to make donations to a cancer charity rather than sending flowers. Princess Diana, Elton John, Valentino and Giorgio Armani were among the many attendees.
Men’s suits and jackets at the
#Reigning Men exhibition @LACMA
photo by Angela Cohan