December 2, 2020: Today marks the 74th birthday of the late Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, whose impact on the fashion world is immeasurable but undeniably vast. Known for his daring designs, the southern Italian native made history throughout the years by essentially creating the supermodel on the catwalk at the Autumn-Winter 1991 show and turning up the sex appeal to debut the Fall 1992 “Miss S&M” bondage-inspired collection.
Gianni founded Versace in 1978, with the launch of his first women’s ready-to-wear collection in Milan. He hired his sister Donatella as vice president and his brother Santo as president. In 1993, the founder presented its widely recognized Medusa head logo. “When I asked Gianni why he chose Medusa’s head, he told me he thought that whoever falls in love with Medusa can’t flee from her.” Donatella Versace explained.
As the label’s influence grew, so did the designer’s relationships with celebrities and supermodels. He sat stars like Madonna, Elton John, and Demi Moore front-row at his fashion shows and hired the OG supermodels to walk in his shows, including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.
Perhaps the most epic design of all time was the safety pin dress (also known as “that dress”) that Elizabeth Hurley wore to the premiere of Four Weddings And A Funeral in 1994.
“Gianni made that dress for a woman who is sure of herself and who isn’t afraid to break the rules,” Donatella said in an interview. “Liz embodied all of this in an extraordinary way.”
Gianni was tragically murdered on the morning of July 15, 1997. He was coming back to his Miami Beach mansion after a walk to the News Café for coffee when he was shot by American serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The 50-year-old was later pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital that very same morning. In the wake of his death, Donatella became artistic director of the label and has remained in the role ever since—even when it was acquired by Michael Kors Holdings Limited for $2.1 billion in September 2018.
Just a day after his death, Anna Wintour told The New York Times, “He was the first to realize the value of the celebrity in the front row, and the value of the supermodel, and put fashion on an international media platform.”
“My late brother Gianni always told me to be strong and to be true to myself,” Donatella penned in an essay for GRAZIA. “He was a real individual, with his own mind and his own beliefs. So much has changed in the world in the 20 years since he was taken from us. It’s impossible to imagine the incredible ways he would’ve been inspired by the positive changes in societies globally and the changing role of women. All I know is that he had achieved so much, but had really only just begun. He had so much more to give to the world.”