The Big Story
By Cayte Williams

The bizarre murder of Gianni Versace took fashion bloodily centre stage this month as haute couture reeled at the loss of its most flamboyant practitioner. But the shows (especially those of Versace's natural heirs, McQueen and Galliano) must go on, as must the shoots, quotes, sales and cover girls. Read on for our monthly round-up of the fashionable world

The photograph looked like a particularly gruesome fashion shoot by Dazed And Confused. Marble steps, magenta blood, murder-scene markers and one strategically placed designer shoe - all in glorious technicolour. Versace was shot dead at close range on the steps of his mansion, Casa Casuarina, in Miami on Tuesday morning, 15 July. The next day it was front- page news in every national British newspaper. On 16 and 17 July there were more than 120 articles in the Telegraph, the Times, the Independent, the Guardian, the Evening Standard, the Mail, the Mirror and the Sun. If Versace had popped off in his sleep most of these reports would have been confined to the fashion pages and obituaries, but the lurid way he died guaranteed optimum exposure in tabloids and broadsheets alike. And with chief suspect Andew Cunanan gone, the speculation continues.

But now that Versace is dead, what of his reputation? What kind of post- mortem has the British press given "The King Of Glitz" and did journalists get their knives out? It didn't look good. The Times front-page report began "Gianni Versace, the designer who dressed the world's so-called beautiful people with a flamboyant style straddling the boundary of bad taste... ", and the Express wrote of his "murky secrets", bracketing "Mafia links" and "gay lovers" as if homosexuality was as bad as organised crime. But pop stars by the pound offered tributes and measured obituaries filled the back pages.

The Telegraph's Hilary Alexander, perhaps the most complimentary, wrote, "He was both gentleman and genius, a generous spirit with a lust for life." The Guardian was also kind. "I will miss the flowers and handwritten messages sent to every single fashion editor, regardless of their status," said Susannah Frankel. "A charming man who not only remembered journalists' names but those of their children or cats, and never forgot to ask how they were," echoed Lisa Armstrong on the same page.

His achievements were celebrated by the Independent and the Telegraph. He "rejuvenated haute couture as much as Galliano and McQueen have done now," said Tamsin Blanchard. "He brought to Paris a younger, hipper client." He "virtually single-handedly invented the 'supermodel' of the Eighties," said Alexander.

From there it was all downhill. Jane Mulvagh's obituary in the Independent was cynical of Versace's achievements, and Grace Bradberry in the Times said his creations "often crossed the line into bad taste". And talking of bad taste, Cindy Weber-Cleary, fashion director of Glamour magazine was reported in the Times as saying, "He was one of the most knocked-off designers in the world," apparently without irony. Non-fashion writers had a field day, with an unimpressed Melanie McDonagh describing a trip to the Bond Street shop in the Evening Standard, and Suzanne Moore damning his clothes as "sexually conservative". The overall message - either subtly or blatantly delivered - was that Versace was a superb craftsman with appalling taste who knew how to flog clothes. But, on to sexual politics.

A debate raged. Brenda Polan in the Mail claimed Versace demeaned woman. "His clothes implied that sexual availability was the most important thing she [woman] had to bargain with", she insisted. "He broke no moulds. On the contrary, he forced women back into some very old and dusty ones." This paper's Annalisa Barbieri countered with "how insulting... 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. We are hardly talking about taking back the vote."

Meanwhile, pens were turning to sister Donatella, designer of the Istante and Versus ranges, as the hot tip to replace Versace by the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Evening Standard. She even has his rock star cache. "She dances with Kate Moss at hip New York nightclubs," said Mimi Spencer of the Evening Standard, "she goes laden with gifts to Madonna's baby."

Tuesday's funeral in Milan reached every paper, with all except the Mail and the Guardian using the "Di comforts Elton" snap. "Among the big fashion names were Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino," said the Mail. "But the other personalities were surprisingly absent - no Madonna, no Demi Moore, no Stallone." Never mind. The 28 July issue of Time magazine included a 16-page supertribute, for which Madonna wrote about her stay at Versace's villa at Lake Como. "The cook prepared delicious meals, the Sri Lankan servants waited on us with white gloves, and my dog, Chiquita, was taken for long walks by gorgeous Italian bodyguards with walkie-talkies." Bodyguards. Where are they when you need them?

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