Dresser of the stars

This front row picture only tells half of the story. Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley, Patsy Kensit and Meg Matthews stare in raptures as the most outrageous of supermodels, Naomi Campbell, struts her stuff at Gianni Versace's ready-to-wear show in March. That Versace could attract superstars and celebrities was one his greatest coups: his clothes intentionally reeked of sex, power, money, and glamour in equal, not ascending, order and have done since the mid-Eighties when dressing for success was as important as breathing.

If Elizabeth Hurley had not worn That Dress, would she be the star she is today? Everyone knew where the dress had come from at first sight, but they still had to ask, "Who's that girl?" This speaks for itself. Versace knew how to make women feel like stars, and men like studs. He described his clothes as Star Clothes. They said "Look at me. Lust after me." Needless to say, everything the Versace family did seemed not only covered in gilt, but it created a golden lifestyle around the brand and the people who wore them.

Who else other than Versace could have encouraged Elton John to pose in a lacy negligee dress (hairy legs and all) to be photographed by Richard Avedon. And no other designer could have feasibly encouraged Madonna, Prince and Jon Bon Jovi to model in his hefty seasonal catalogues. Other fans included the Princess of Wales, Joan Collins, Ivana Trump, Sting and Trudi Styler (for whom Versace designed matching wedding clothes), Bruce Springsteen and Elizabeth Taylor. And let's not forget the girls. As well as his mature clientele, the top models were among his biggest fans. Versace turned them into everything from overgrown school pupils to brazen sirens, gladiators and strumpets, and they loved him for it (much better than having to look grumpy and minimalist at the next show). The same can be said for the younger generation of celebs, such as Donovan Leitch, Tori Spelling, and Ivanka Trump, who wore Versus, a line conceived by Gianni and run by his sister Donatella.

Surprisingly, Versace launched his haute couture, an exercise which is both a creation for and haven of celebrities, in 1990, 12 years after launching his ready-to-wear line. One wonders what took him so long. Sadly for Elton John, a great friend and loyal fan, he missed Versace's last couture, but Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rupert Everett and Gabriel Byrne had the pleasure.

Melanie Rickey