Donatella Versace: A Legacy Of Glamour And Innovation

Donatella Versace’s design reinvention, along with her closeness to the celebrity crowd, has won the fashion house a reputation for sophistication and fuelled its enormous success. 

By Nichola Marie

This year, the 69-year-old celebrity designer was escorted to the Met Gala 2024 by not one but two dishy dudes – the “Mr Ripley” men Jude Law and Andrew Scott. She made a stunning sight on the red carpet of the annual fashion event in a dress that featured “clear droplets shaped like morning dew,” her iteration of the ‘Garden of Time’ that was inspired by the ivy details from Versace Spring Summer ‘97. But quite frankly, when you’re Donatella Versace, you automatically are the cynosure of attention even minus these gorgeous ‘accoutrements’!

Donatella Versace
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 02: Musician Lady Gaga (L) and designer Donatella Versace attend the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

This is, after all, the woman whose business and artistic contributions have single-handedly furthered Versace’s sophisticated high-end image, charting the growth of the group’s luxury clothing lines alongside its expansion into other fields.

Family First
Born May 2, 1955, in Reggio Calabria, Italy, Donatella was the youngest of four children born to father, Antonio, a salesman, and mother, Francesca, a dressmaker. A year after Gianni, the second oldest, started his fashion career by moving to Milan in 1972, Donatella started learning foreign languages in Florence. She was studying to be a teacher, but when Gianni founded Versace in Milan in 1978, designing clothes that “challenged the tasteful titans of European fashion with their melodrama,” he also entrusted her with the role of vice president. Functioning as a creative hand and critic for her famous brother, she also maintained control of her own lines, Young Versace and Versus. She was also the muse behind the Versace perfume Blonde, released by Gianni in her honour in 1995.

Donatella Versace

In 1997, she was propelled into the limelight after the shocking death of her brother Gianni Versace, after he was shot and killed outside his Miami Beach mansion by American serial killer Andrew Cunanan on July 15th that year. The two shared a close bond and she was Gianni’s natural successor after his demise. Post a long leave after Gianni’s passing, Donatella returned to take on the roles of Chief Designer and Vice President of the board. While she obtained a 20% stake in the company, her daughter Allegra with husband  Paul Beck, received 50%, while the remaining 30% went to Gianni’s brother Santo.

Any doubts about her capability were stunningly put to rest when Donatella debuted her first collection for Atelier Spring/ Summer 1998 held on a transparent catwalk over the swimming pool of the Ritz Hotel, Paris. It won instant acclaim from industry insiders. 

Donatella Versace

Stunning Influence
Helming the Versace empire as Artistic Director since then, she has overseen the growth of the group’s luxury clothing lines alongside the expansion into accessories, home furnishings and hotels. She has played a huge role in creating a luxury lifestyle brand that generated revenue of more than $1 billion in the financial year 2023. Also, as Vice President of the board, she is responsible for the overall vision of the house, from its catwalk collections and image, to its global growth and future in the digital world. And she has handled it all with eye-watering success. 

Donatella Versace

Donatella boosted the company’s image through her confident design direction and immense public relations skills. As her biography in ‘Britannica’ notes, “After her brother’s death, she significantly increased the company’s exposure in markets across the globe and enhanced its reputation. Advertising efforts grew in Europe and the US as Versace attached the faces of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and other stars to the Versace line. Versace also collaborated with celebrities to produce designs. Such connections put her in high social esteem, with people like Sir Elton John, Kate Moss, and Prince Charles attending her parties.”

Taking after her brother Gianni, she is notable in the celebrity scene. If Gianni is credited with inventing the supermodel vogue of the 1990s, by discovering and featuring major supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista on the runway and in his ad campaigns, Donatella went even further. She has designed advertising campaigns for Versace that included Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Courtney Love, Christina Aguilera, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Demi Moore, Nicki Minaj, and Lady Gaga, among others. 

Donatella Versace

More importantly, she led the company through a “design reinvention” – which involved the challenging task of removing herself from Gianni’s influence, to make the Versace look her own. In doing so, she earned the fashion house critical acclaim and a reputation for sophistication, especially in women’s fashion. 

Donatella has resoundingly retained a coveted status for the Atelier Versace and ready-to-wear lines. Take the green dress created under her direction and worn by Jennifer Lopez at the Grammy Awards ceremony in 2000: An instant classic in fashion history. And who can forget the sensation she sparked enlisting 1990’s supermodels including  Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer to walk the ramp in the lamé dresses made famous by Versace as a tribute to Gianni Versace on his 20th death anniversary? 

Donatella Versace

Holding Sway
As the brand continues to make waves, Donatella participated in several of Versace’s high-profile business collaborations and partnerships designed to pursue new markets and consumers. These included Versace’s collaboration with automaker Lamborghini beginning in 2006 and another with the clothing chain H&M in 2011. Whether it was Versace’s entry into real estate in 2000 with the opening of the Palazzo Versace luxury hotel in Australia, or the brand’s second hotel in Dubai which was completed in 2015, she is firmly in the driving seat. 

Interestingly, Donatella has maintained her leadership roles despite subsequent changes in ownership and management of the company, which have reduced the Versace family’s control. In 2014, financial services firm Blackstone purchased 20% of the company, and in 2018, it was announced that Michael Kors Holdings Ltd was acquiring the business for around $2 billion. Donatella continues to “lead the company’s creative vision,” with her and her family also reportedly owning $176 million in group stock. 

On the personal front, Donatella was formerly married to American model Paul Beck; the couple have two children – daughter Allegra Versace Beck (born June 30, 1986), and son Daniel Versace (born 1989). 

Accolades & Awards
Known for her active philanthropy, Donatella serves as patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. In 2010, she was awarded the ‘Do Something’ Award by VH1 for her contributions to charitable work. She was awarded the Fashion Icon Award at the Fashion Awards in 2017, followed by the International Award at the CFDA in 2018. There was more to come: That year she was honoured as Designer of the Year by British GQ and by GQ China, and also awarded the Fashion Icon Award at the GQ Awards in Berlin. At the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in 2018, she won the CNMI Award in recognition of sustainability.

Donatella Versace

Quote Hanger
Inside the mind of Donatella Versace…

  • “You can’t pretend that everybody likes Versace. It would be boring. It’s better to create a reaction than to create no reaction.”
  • “I love anyone who breaks the rules, and musicians always break the rules – in an aggressive way.”
  • “Die and born again, die and born again. It’s the story of my life.”
  • “The suit does not represent the businessman anymore. Nor does the loud shirt represent the rock star. The same man can now wear both.”
  • “It’s no good being too easily swayed by people’s opinions. You have to believe in yourself.”
  • “I think glamour all the time. I wake up in the morning and I’m already thinking glamour.”
  • “I always wear high heels – I simply feel naked without them.”
  • “Fashion is all about happiness. It’s fun. It’s important. But it’s not medicine.”
  • “Fashion is a weapon that you can use when you need it.”
  • “It’s very important for a brand to have an identity through the years, but it’s very important as well to evolve because times change so fast.”
  • “On a hanger, no dress is sexy. It’s just fabric on a hanger.”
  • “I don’t even know what my natural colour is. Natural? What is natural? What is that? I do not believe in totally natural for women. For me, natural has something to do with vegetables.”

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