The Things That Shaped Our Year: Gianni Versace
From the death of Diana to the birth of Dolly, and from the rise of Bridget Jones to the fall of the Spice Girls - our writers choose the 10 people and events which made 1997 so special
Sunday 28 December 1997
How they grieved over the gravy-skinned god of all things gaudy! Naomi, Elton, Liz and George - red-eyed and deeply, deeply shocked. Kate, Claudia, Giorgio and pout- rocker Jon Bon Jovi - who had recently figured in a Versace poster campaign - thumbed the lexicon of loss to pronounce themselves stunned, distraught, devastated. They just couldn't believe it.
Why? Partly because the murder was so brutally efficient - shot dead on the steps of his own house - but mainly because it was too damn close to home. Darling Gianni, after all, had been one of them. If not a star, at least a household name, an international media personality, who had built his pounds 400m fortune by marketing narcissism as a lifestyle choice.
This, in fact, was the key to his success: Versace understood the anxieties of the nouveaux riches, and taught them to relax, to luxuriate in their aesthetic shortcomings. He took nightclub drag upmarket and gave it a trademark, inventing a sartorial shorthand for the garish display of wealth; flashy, colourful, cartoon clothes that railed against fashion's minimalism and intellectual snobbery. Versace's top-dollar glad-rags proclaimed defiantly: "I'm gonna wear my dough on my sleeve. And my hips. And my shoulders. And my arse. And ..." He also purchased magazine advertising by the kilometre and threw lavish parties for the media's upper echelons. Unsurprisingly, the fashion press acclaimed his genius.
In a way, they were right. Versace clothes effect a strange alchemy, conferring a golden glow upon the dowdiest showbiz dross. Their power lies in sardonic caricature. In Versace's universe, gender is exaggerated beyond parody: women look like rich hookers and men look like queer pimps and closeted gangsters - except for gay men, of course, who look like Miami Beach gigolos.
As for Versace as the champion of liberated sexuality, this is tugging the tassels a bit. Sure, his clothes are about sex, but not in the way that Hello! readers imagine. As fashion statements go, wearing Versace is more a cry for help than a seductive growl, rather like thrusting one's hips a little too frantically to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" at the office party. (Rod Stewart, incidentally, is a noted Versace wearer.)
Always looking to grab headlines, Versace courted celebrity in all its ludicrous shapes and sizes, fuelling the supermodel phenomenon and kissing up to Demi, Sly, Tina and, er, David Copperfield. It was a mutually beneficial situation; celebs believed they seemed more cosmopolitan and sophisticated hanging out with a gay Italian designer, while Versace got a touch of that Hollywood glitz.
In this era of image saturation, any brand that transcends fashion's boundaries is priceless. Versace created just such a brand. Whether he did this with innovative, challenging clothes, or by knocking out sensational tack and manipulating a star-hungry media is a matter of opinion.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
- 4 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Fifty Shades of Grey banned by Indian censors despite sex scenes being edited out
The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, TV review: Alexa Chung impresses, but Chris Moyles makes Paul Hollywood gag
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin