Gianni Versace was one of the world’s leading fashion designers before his shocking death in 1997. Along with his family, he created the Versace fashion empire that continues to dominate the industry today. Gianni’s murder at the hands of serial killer Andrew Cunanan is the focus of the second season of American Crime Story (the first focused on the trial of OJ Simpson). Refresh your memory of the late designer with these must-know facts before The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premieres on January 17 on FX.
1. He came from a designer family
Before he became one of the biggest designers in the world, Versace grew up in the city of Reggio Calabria in Italy, where he learned how to design dresses from his mother. According to the New York Times, Versace’s mother was a dressmaker and he would pick up new tips when he visited her in her workshop. He eventually moved to Milan, where he established the Versace brand.
Once there, he brought in his brother and sister, Santo and Donatella, to help run the label. According to the Washington Post, Santo oversaw the financial side of the company while Donatella helped Gianni with design. After Gianni’s death, Newsweek reported that Santo became CEO of the brand and Donatella became the creative director of the brand.
2. He was one of the first designers to invite celebrities to his fashion shows
Versace was well known for his relationships with high-profile celebrities and musicians; some of his friends included Madonna, Sting, Princess Diana, and Elton John. According to the Telegraph, Versace was one of the first to move away from inviting rich socialites to his fashion shows and instead fill the front rows with stars and personal friends. While many buyers didn’t believe his lines would sell well, since they were markedly different from what other fashion designers were doing at the time, Versace became known for his party-like runway shows and creating the supermodel, and soon other designers followed suit, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
3. He designed “that” dress
Elizabeth Hurley was an unknown actress until the 1994 red carpet premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, which starred her then-boyfriend Hugh Grant. Versace was good friends with Grant and let Hurley borrow the dress as a favour, the Daily Mail reports. It has since become known as one of his most famous designs, and became a hit thanks to the giant gold paperclips that seem to hold the dress together. Today, the dress is credited with changing red carpet fashion forever.
4. He designed costumes for various theatrical productions
In addition to designing for his own collections, Versace was also known for his designs for theatre and films. He created costumes for various ballet and opera productions, often collaborating with Maurice Bejart, according to the American Ballet Theatre. Bejart later honoured Versace in 2007 with a special ballet written for the 10th anniversary of his death. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Versace also designed outfits for his closest friends’ music tours, including Elton John’s The One tour.
5. His last fashion show was a week before his death
Less than a week before he was murdered, Versace presented his final collection at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. According to the Telegraph, Naomi Campbell and Erin O’Conner were two of the supermodels who walked in his final presentation. Fifteen years after his death, Donatella hosted a fashion show at the Ritz Hotel in honour of her brother before the hotel closed for renovations. In 2017, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Carla Bruni, and Helena Christensen all reunited for the 20th anniversary of Gianni’s death and walked down the runway with Donatella during the show’s finale at Milan Fashion Week.
6. He had already beaten cancer
Before he was killed, Versace had returned to the company after leaving for about two years; he had been going through treatment for a rare form of inner-ear cancer. Donatella told New York magazine, “It was declared cured six months before he was murdered. We celebrated; we drink champagne and everything. Six months later, he was killed.”
7. He gave half the company to his niece
Versace believed he wouldn’t survive surgery to treat his cancer, New York magazine reports, and created a will dictating who would be left in charge of his fashion empire. He left 50 percent of the company to his niece Allegra, who was 11 at the time of his death, according to The Guardian. Allegra got her shares when she turned 18 in 2004 and has since joined the board of directors.
8. His legacy lives on
The name Versace continues to dominate pop culture and the fashion world 20 years after Gianni’s death. In 2012, designer Giorgio Armani wrote of the designer: “Fifteen years after his death, what I remember of Gianni Versace? His incredible exuberance, a sense of happiness that mixes everything—ideas, trends, memories, art—with a sort of nonchalant vitality. He was a great creator.”
Today, artists like Migos and Bruno Mars reference the brand and the lifestyle it’s attached to. M.I.A. once collaborated with the brand for a special collection and Lady Gaga was the face of the label and maintains a close friendship with Donatella. Models like Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Kaia Gerber have all walked for the brand in its fashion shows. The Versace brand shows no sign of slowing down.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premieres January 17 on FX. It will air on BBC 2 in the UK – an exact date has yet to be confirmed.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US