'A part of my life died with Gianni'

Versace's flagship store in Bond Street, London, was closed yesterday as a mark of respect. Crowds gathered outside and flowers were placed in the doorway.

Some of the most influential names in fashion and showbusiness paid tribute to the designer. One of his closest friends, Elton John, said he was shattered by the news. "I am devastated to have lost one of my closest friends, who I loved so much, and who I had been so looking forward to seeing him again on holiday very soon. We were so close that it is like a large part of my life has died with him. I'm in deep shock at the news and it hasn't really sunk in yet. The world has lost a wonderful creative genius and I have lost a very dear friend."

Jeff Banks, the former host of the BBC's Clothes Show, compared Versace's death to the murder of John Lennon in 1980. "I had known Gianni personally for 10 years ... Versace was at the height of his powers when he was shot down. He was a terrific designer who brought so many things about modern fashion to the fore."

Elizabeth Hurley, whose career took off after she wore a black Versace dress held together with safety pins to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, said: "Gianni was a very dear friend of mine and I am going to miss him terribly. He was always very kind and lovely to me and he will be hideously missed by everyone."

Diana, Princess of Wales, who choose to wear Versace the first time she appeared in a non-British designer's outfit, said she was "devastated".

Claudia Schiffer, who also modelled for him, said: "Words cannot describe how much I will miss him. He was not only a gifted and talented designer who was extraordinary to work with ,but was also such a wonderful and caring man."

The designer Bruce Oldfield said Versace was a master. "Gianni always went for the grand entrance. He was uncompromisingly glitzy. He was glitz, glitz, glitz. But he was a modest man and a lot of fun. He made fun of himself and he will definitely be missed."

Vivienne Westwood said Versace's death was a great tragedy. "He was obviously one of the most talented and famous designers of the last few years."

Franco Zeffirelli, the film director, said: "I have lost a dear person. I knew of the slight melancholy that existed beneath his image of vitality. There was a sword of Damocles hanging over his soul. The tragic manner of his death seems almost like an atrocious fulfilment of his destiny."

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