Sister in line to take over empire

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What will Versace be without Gianni Versace? Probably, little different from Dior without Christian Dior, or Givenchy without Hubert de Givenchy.

As the fashion world continued to reel in shock yesterday at the loss of one of its leading celebrities, the hard-headed financial analysts and business consultants were in no doubt about the continuing prominence of the clothes that made him famous.

"The brand has got its own identity by now," said Andrea Morante, a former employee of the Gucci empire now working as an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "It is no longer dependent on its founder."

At first, the impact of Versace's death suggested the end of a fashion era. Across the world, boutiques were closed for the day and company offices surrounded by nervous security guards. The group's flagship store on Via Montenapoleone, in Milan, was shuttered and deserted apart from a small sign reading "Closed for Mourning".

But, after nearly 20 years of phenomenally successful trading under his own name, even Gianni Versace was not big enough to be indispensable. The group now includes four separate brands, from the top-of-the-range ready-to-wear wardrobe, to a line in casual jeans, to the two sportswear brands Istante and Versus.

Gianni remained the creative force behind the empire until his death, but his brother, Santo, holds the purse-strings and his sister, Donatella, has considerable creative and administrative responsibilities. The chances are they will continue to expand a world-wide business that generated around 1.7 trillion lire (pounds 600m) turnover last year.

The profile of Donatella, 42, has grown enormously. Gianni had already handed over creative control of the younger Versus line to her to the extent that she takes the bow at the end of the shows in New York. She is famous for her encyclopaedic knowledge of the music industry. "If I hadn't been in fashion, I would have been a rock star," she has said. She is well equipped to continue cultivating the links between music and fashion that Gianni so cleverly exploited.

The logical step will be for Donatella to take over creative control of the company. Fashion insiders were yesterday confident that she could take on the role. She has the power and confidence. Nobody will replace Gianni in terms of the charisma and personality he gave the brand, but she had increasingly been contributing more and more to the running of the business. Gianni once said he owed everything to Donatella.

There is a strong enough brand image in the ranges to keep the company thriving for years to come. The only element of the company that may suffer is the couture and ready-to-wear which will lack Gianni's personal touch and his unique eye.