Gianni, they hardly knew you

He was the fondant fancy to Armani's Rich Tea: flashy, trashy - and irresistible. Homophobes tut and feminists cringe, but he made women feel good, says Annalisa Barbieri
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The fashion designer Gianni Versace died on Tuesday. The man who designed bright, tight clothes for men and women; the man whose name Chris Eubank could not pronounce; whose sister, "Donnartellarrrr", reminded you to keep out of the sun and stay a brunette. I wish I had some personal insight to give you into the man, but I do not. I have never been to one of his shows, much less been invited to any one of his big houses to dine off marble tables that seated 400. But I liked his clothes, even - if you can follow this - the ones I hated. They were cheeky.

Generally, Italians can be divided into two camps: those with understated style, and those whose style can best be summed up as "Middle Eastern flashy". Once I was invited to the house of a friend of a friend in southern Italy. The living room was resplendent with the latest fittings. They were obviously very proud of the sofa. It was white leather with very shiny metal arms and legs, coloured gold. However, so proud were they of this sofa, that they kept the plastic delivery covers on.

Versace always reminded me of this sort of Italian, except he could afford to take the plastic covers off. Giorgio Armani and he were said to said to be enemies, and you couldn't get two more different designers: if Armani was a Rich Tea biscuit, Versace was a fondant fancy. Both tasty, but each for a different mood.

Versace's untimely and tragic death has thrown up all sorts of nonsense in the press, the most annoying of which is the hectoring tone of some - implying that we somehow shouldn't be surprised he was killed if he wanted to move in the "seedier" world of the homosexuals; that he designed for the pseudo putana and set women back years; that it is ridiculous that his death should be given so much coverage, it's only fashion after all. These reports miss the point. But only completely.

For those who still believe anything other than heterosexual love, lust, sex is perverse, any excuse to bang away at gays is a good one. Especially if it has a harsh moral at the end of it. His death was, is still being, so widely reported not just because he died, but because they think he was murdered by a serial killer. That's kinda newsworthy.

But of all the rubbish that has been written this week, the one point that really makes me cross is that his clothes "forced" women into being seen as sex objects. First, Versace's best known designs for men were not exactly forward-looking, in the sense that they made men look like the studs of yesteryear, when men still thought a clitoris was a climbing plant. He hardly singled out just women for this overtly sexy look.

Second, how stupid, how insulting, and how much does it say about the writer, to suggest that just by designing clothes for women that are tight, revealing, bright, slashed and slit, women will be forced to do anything, other than wear them if they want to. It takes more than dressing like a hooker to make a woman a sex toy. We are hardly talking about taking back the vote. If anything, Versace knew that the time had come when women were confident enough to show a bit - or even a lot - of bosom or thigh, and they did so because they wanted to.

Some of Versace's designs were too flashy for me, but some were wonderful and gorgeous, and were I able to do them justice (sadly too short and too curvaceous) I should have worn them, because, like any outfit that makes you feel sexy or sensual when you wear it, they made you feel supreme. Women have always ruled the world, and Versace knew that.

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