Versace: very sexy

The essence of many great designers can be captured in one word: `elegant' for example, or `radical' or `startling'. In the case of Gianni Versace the word is `sexy' - not subtly sexy or surprisingly sexy but blatantly, gloriously, ravishingly sexy. Only an Italian could have done it. By Tamsin Blanchard

Without Gianni Versace, fashion as we know it would be very different. His clothes, and who was wearing them, made news. More than his contributions to the wardrobe of Elizabeth Hurley, what the King of Glitz did for fashion is weld together high fashion with the very fabric of popular culture.

He is responsible for the dressing of Hollywood stars at the Academy awards, of rock stars on tour, of cultivating the public Hello! lifestyle of the rich and famous and inviting his friends, be they David Bowie and Iman, his star photographer, Richard Avedon, Elton, Sting or Madonna to spend time with him on vacation at his Miami home.

Without Versace, we would not have the cult of the supermodel, the Eighties catwalk stars who became celebrity clothes horses photographed wherever they went in the unmistakeable siren dresses that were the designer's trademark. It is impossible to imagine a fashion world without Versace. Over the past 20 years, he has been a dynamo in contemporary fashion. You either hated his clothes or you loved them. Whether you wore the safety- pinned dress, sat on the Medusa head printed cushions or wore the rip- off Versace sunglasses, or bought the jeans, you know the designer's look with your eyes closed.

Ironically, the Eighties, which were Versace's shining years, are now in vogue again. How were we to know that last Sunday's haute couture show for autumn/winter 98 in the Ritz was to be his last? The reactions to the collection were mixed. He had made a statement as only Versace can, that razer-sharp shoulders, thigh-high skirts and hard-edged power-dressing were The Look again. His vision of couture was at times vulgar, and always in your face.

Versace traded on sex, and made no bones about it. The women who wore his dresses looked instantly fabulous, as though they were the life and soul of the party. And usually, wherever there was Versace in person or frock, there was champagne, caviar, gloss and glamour.

While designers have long looked to the street for inspiration, Versace delved deeper, into the murky depths of the streetwalker herself. Divine Brown and her hooker friends were closer to Versace than the closeted world of Elizabeth Hurley. His mother made him cover his eyes as a child when he passed by the local brothel, and it only served to whet his appetite. Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, who worked with Versace on his book Without Ties, said last night: "Sexiness is key in Versace's work. He took declasse pornography and turned it into high style. His sexuality was completely unabashed. He's a great figure in fashion."

Versace was born in 51 years ago in Reggio-Calabria. His family has always been as tightly knit as his business, with brother Santo and sister Donatella in close cahoots. His first perfume, launched in 1981, was named Donna, after his sister. She now designs the diffusion label, Versus, which shows in New York in the true spirit of Versace, with a whole host of celebrities and music stars in tow.

In 1972, Gianni began designing for Italian labels, Genny, Complice and Callaghan. He set up his own label in 1978, ready and raring to go for the high-powered glamour years of the Eighties. Along with Mugler and Montana in Paris, Versace rejuvenated the Italian fashion scene of the late Seventies. He will be most remembered for the signature clashing prints and psychedelic patterns that used baroque imagery from South Beach to the Italian Renaissance and were copied from Bangkok to Top Shop. Then there was the recurring theme of bondage that manifested itself in leather bustiers, tiny buckles, and dresses that can only be described as deeply kinky. There was the chain mail, used in metallic pastels that acted like living, moving disco balls, just perfect for the Euro trash and their jetset lifestyles.

It was not until spring/summer 1990 that Versace showed his first haute couture collection. Whether or not it was couture in the real sense of the word was always up for debate. He caused controversy by using PVC to make shower-curtain ballgowns and by introducing decidedly un-couture fabrics like denim to his Atelier line. But it rejuvenated haute couture as much as Galliano and McQueen have done now. He brought to Paris a younger, hipper client, and the paparazzi were always guaranteed a star entrance to the venue at the Ritz Hotel. Prince, Hurley, Elton, Jon Bon Jovi, Sylvester Stallone. In the early Nineties in particular, the front row and the party afterwards would be solid with celebrities.

Love his style or hate it, Versace's death marks the end of a unique style. At times, Versace has dominated world fashion, from high fashion to high street. As news spread around the fashion world yesterday, the most common response was uncomprehension of life without the Italian maestro. At British Vogue, editors were shocked. Lisa Armstrong, fashion features director, said, "he was one of the top five designers of the world. It's a huge loss."

Photographs: Chris Moore, Richard Avedon (courtesy of Versace), Rex Features, Mario Testino

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?