Sexy, theatrical, tight outfits either slashed from neck to navel, up to thigh level or at the sides of the bodice to reveal plenty of skin sums up the quintessential Versace gown. Visions of red carpets, pool parties in Monte Carlos, private jets, pink champagne, and all-eyes-on-me Hollywood stars make up the brand identity.
The fashion house of Versace has been through several incarnations since its inception in 1978 and has overcome obstacles, both within the family – murder, addiction and heartbreak – as well as the added challenge of a rapidly changing world outside the Palazzo Versace.
Gianni Versace, born in Reggio Di Calabria in the South of Italy in 1972, designed for various brands in Milan until he started his own ready-to-wear line in 1978. He went on to become one of the most recognisable and era-defining figures on the 1980s fashion landscape. His signature brash prints on silky fabric, his ultra-short, ultra-tight minidresses, his ‘safety pin dress’ that was to launch the career of one Elizabeth Hurley, the image of five of the supermodels grouped together in co-ordinating Versace outfits in the video for George Michael's Freedom single, then again on the catwalk for Gianni. He once claimed that he was inspired by prostitutes in his home town in southern Italy, a theme that is not lost on the fashion critics. After his murder in 1997, the first line of his obituary in the Independent, written by acclaimed fashion biographer and journalist Jane Mulvagh, read: ‘Gianni Versace was a talented vulgarian’.
With such a signature '80s style, the fact that the brand managed to adapt, evolve and survive in a financially unsteady decade is a testimony to the skill of Donatella Versace, who did not set out to be head designer, but was thrust into the role after the death of her brother.
In recent years, Versace’s signature look, though still high-voltage sexy, has been tempered with more restrained outfits, some in the traditionally dazzling colours but also with more muted additions and with a renewed display of structure and drapery to the clothes. 2011 saw a bumper year of sales with the brand positing its first profit in four years. Versace Couture was relaunched for Spring Summer 2012, Christopher Kane continued to weave his magic for lower-priced sister line Versus and fierce collections for H&M caused fashion hysteria.