“To me, Versace represents empowerment,” Jennifer Lopez once said of Versace. No word better represents the Italian luxury house. And no better word describes its matriarch, Donatella Versace.

In an exclusive essay penned by Versace for GRAZIA in 2017, Versace surmised the “feeling” of Versace in these six words: “Strength. Power. Fearlessness. Passion. Bravery. Femininity.” Indeed, it is these qualities that have come to define the brand, the pillars on which the House was built by Gianni, and today, that House not only survives – but thrives – because of his sister. Donatella is the personification of the brand, the most pure extension of all Versace stands for: she is female empowerment.

Here, while in lockdown in her Milanese home, GRAZIA talks exclusively to Donatella Versace about how she’s battling her hyperactivity whilst in isolation, why it’s time to put the self aside for others and what the future of fashion really looks like.

Credit: Courtesy Versace

You decided to spend the lockdown in your Milan home making a concrete contribution to the fight against the virus. Together with your daughter Allegra, you donated 200 thousand (EURO) to the intensive care unit of San Raffaele hospital. You have also announced that you are going to give up your salary for the fiscal year 2021. How important do you think it is for each of us today to do our part?
I think it is fundamental. After months of fighting this virus, I think everyone; individuals and governments, understand this is a battle we can only win if we remain united, help each other and follow the rules. There are no shortcuts and there are no tricks that work: we are fighting an enemy who does not look anyone in the eye and has overcome all possible and imaginable barriers. Providing help is the least that can be done and honestly, it does not matter what kind of contribution we make, everyone does what they can. It is essential to follow the rules that have been imposed on us, not only for our health, but above all for the respect we owe to all those who are fighting this virus on the front line. Those who expose themselves and their families to the risk of contagion, so that we can all have food on our tables, adequate medicines and treatments. This goes beyond those examples that make it into a “newspaper headline”, all the small gestures that each of us can and must do will in the long run be what will allow us to win this challenge.

“It’s time to put the self aside for others,” you have declared. Can this crisis be an important moment of self-reflection for each of us?
Absolutely. We are forced to stay home and cannot go outside, however we can look inside of us ourselves. I am proud to be part of a community that has joined forces in a long-distance embrace and that has been able to bring out a sensitivity, generosity and altruism that I have only ever noticed on a few occasions. I believe that this imposed social distancing has made us realise how many important things from our daily life we took for granted. Nobody could have imagined an apocalyptic scenario like this, in which we were deprived of all the basic forms of freedom and in which a gesture of love, like a hug and a kiss, could be transformed into an instrument of death. But this confinement has also brought out something that had perhaps been dormant in the hearts of us all: national identity. I am thinking of the songs sang on the balconies across the country or the flags displayed on many houses in Italy, which I have seen in newspapers and on social media. We have rediscovered ourselves as fellow countrymen, proud to be so and united in wanting to overcome this moment so that our country will shine again in the eyes of the whole world.

What has struck you the most in these difficult weeks?
People, and the spontaneous gestures of solidarity that have been born from the understanding that we are only strong when we team up, when we are united and do not discriminate. Then I saw the true strength of us Italians, which lies in being a nation that stands united in times of need and which has been an example for everyone else. I was also struck by the way we are facing these painful moments; many people have lost someone dear in the past few weeks, without even being able to give them one final goodbye. The composure with which they have managed to face the greatest pain there could be while having the eyes of the world set on them, touched me and moved me deeply. I know what it means to lose someone you love and I know how much greater the pain is when you see them on the newspaper’s front pages.

How has your daily life changed?
For a hyperactive person like me, being confined to the house is really difficult. I know very well that I am more fortunate than some in many ways, but this does not take away the fact that we are all deprived of the most basic freedoms in the exacts same way. Having said that, I have tried to build a new routine, different from before. I continue to work and create, not only because it is my job, but because I also have a responsibility towards all the small companies that depend on Versace to be able to start again. I work, of course, remotely thanks to video conferences, but I must admit that it does not feel the same for me. I love working with different groups of people. I like having people next to me who do not necessarily think like me, because I believe that only from the combination of cultures new ideas arise. Right now, I really like the aesthetics of young Japanese and South Koreans, their way of mixing colours and fabrics that I find very innovative. Now, if I were to find a positive thing about this forced new reality, is that I finally have the time to do some research like I used to do at the beginning. To take time to reflect on what to do instead of following the tight rhythms imposed by todays fashion market. I spend time with Audrey, reading and watching my favourite TV series or on the internet discovering new music groups.

What is your first thought in the morning and the last one before going to bed?
It depends on how the day went. I obviously think of my children who are not here with me, and my friends. Then I wonder what our society will look like when we are finally ready to start again. I am a positive person by nature, who always sees the glass half full. So, I think, that for the first time in a long time, we have the opportunity to create a new society, to start again, but to do so by first asking ourselves what we would like to keep from the ‘old world’ and what can now be changed and improved. These are all questions that are difficult to answer as a single individual, but I hope we will be able to ask ourselves this because I see this crisis as our chance to make up for the many mistakes we have made.

What do you miss the most of the ‘normal life’
Real contact with people and travelling.

What is the hardest sacrifice during this time?
To be self-isolating and unable to see my children.

In the era of Coronavirus, is there anything you have discovered or rediscovered in everyday life?
DV: The beauty of spending time on my sofa reading with Audrey next to me keeping me company.

Do you ever feel lonely these days?
Like everyone else I would imagine. Luckily my job keeps me busy and at least I get to speak to many people on a daily basis.

Do you virtually meet your friends? How do you manage to stay close, to care for each other, to
embrace virtually? And with your children?
Yes, of course. Apps like Face Time or Houseparty and others are used daily. It is the presence, albeit virtual, that keeps us together, that reassures us and that manages to transmit, even just by looking at the smile of my children, that affection that for now we cannot physically demonstrate.

Does spending time with Audrey, your dog, give you peace of mind?
Audrey is always with me, even before this crisis. I believe it is true that our animals take a little bit of our character because I see that sometimes she quivers from the desire to go outside (which of course she can do but in a very limited way …) or to come in the office with me. For the time being, she has to settle with being on the sofa reading or watching TV with me, or watching me while I work.

Optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Optimistic, always!

Credit: Courtesy Versace

Do you think that, once the emergency is over, the fashion business will have changed? Do you think
shows will take place in September?
I think that the whole world, not just fashion, will have changed. We will have to rethink many things starting from seasonality. Due to the fact that stores have been closed for months now, the Spring Summer collection will be the first available to purchase once we reopen while, in what could be defined as the ‘traditional calendar’ we were ready to deliver the new collection (Pre Fall). Honestly, I don’t mind the fact that for the first time we will have light weight dresses and swimsuits in the shop windows in Summer, whilst it is hot outside. As designers, we have complained for years about the tight rhythms imposed by the market. Now, for reasons beyond our control, we can and we should find a way to get back to work in a different manner, to have warm jumpers in Winter and light dresses in Summer. I honestly do not know if there will be a fashion show in September. I hope so, because the show for us designers is not only a moment of work, but also the means by which we make people dream, we get them inspired. Maybe, even in this case, different formulas will have to be found, I don’t know. It is difficult to give certain answers to these questions because there are so many variables in the current state of things, and there are no certainties anymore.

This experience, this global emergency, what inner lesson does it leave us with?
It will leave me even more convinced of the importance of being united, of tolerance and acceptance of diversity. For me, there is only one way to be united, and that is to be able to live in a society that not only allows you to be yourself, but that supports you in your individuality.

How do you think Italy will come out of this health crisis?
Recognising that our health system – as well as the entire operations network related to basic necessities, such as supermarkets and pharmacies – must be protected, supported and valued. During these past months, companies and citizens have contributed to the emergency firsthand, donating sums of money to support the crisis, but no one can – or should – replace the state. We will be able to come out of this crisis only by funding. Research, building structures capable of dealing with emergencies, with a suitable number of staff, trained and properly paid for the responsibility they have
on their shoulders: our lives. I don’t want to do petty demagoguery or politics, but if there is one thing we have understood from this crisis it is that we are not well enough equipped to sustain emergencies of this scale. Our doctors and nurses, but also those who work in supermarkets and pharmacies, have paid a high price for this inefficiency. I have seen heartbreaking images and unacceptable situations for a State that defines itself as modern. In conclusion, I do not think it is acceptable or possible to ask them to pay with their lives for the structural lacking of a system that evidently needs major improvements.

This interview was originally conducted for GRAZIA Italy.