Known for his glamorous styles, Gianni Versace had a high profile clientele of the likes of Princess Diana, Madonna, Elton John and Tina Turner but was shot dead on the steps of his house by serial killer Andrew Cunanan on July 15, 1997.
Born in 1946 in Reggio di Calabria, Italy, Versace was exposed to the world of design from an early age. He learnt the basics of the trade working for his mother, who had her own dressmaking business. Versace moved to Milan in1972 and started freelancing for Italian labels Genny, Callaghan and Complice. In 1978, he launched his own ready-to-wear women’s collection – his first clothing line. He launched his first couture collection in 1989. In the 90s, he added two clothing lines, ’Versus’ and Instante to his already expanding business. His designs were not limited to clothes only; his business empire included home furnishings and perfumes as well.
Versace became famous for his siren dresses; the most remembered is a black dress held together at the sides by safety pins of gold. Elizabeth Hurly wore it a movie premiere in 1994. It is believed this dress transformed her into a star from an actor. His designing included the innovative use of aluminium mesh and using ‘neo-couture’ laser technology to fuse leather and rubber. The head of Medusa was a recurrent image in many of his clothes and accessories.
Versace won many prestigious awards for his contribution to the fashion industry. He won an American Fashion Oscar in 1993 and four L’Occhio d’Oros. He received the Maschera D’Argento prize for his costume designs for ballets. He also designed stage costumes for pop stars including Madonna, Elton John and Tina Turner.
Versace’s designs have been showcased in several museums the world over. He even has several published books to his credit, the popular ones being ‘Rock and Royalty’, ‘The Art of Being You’.
His highly illustrious career came to an end when at the age of fifty, he was shot outside his home in Miami by a twenty-seven-year-old spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Memorial services were held for him the world over and were attended by every celebrity and fashion designer worth a mention. Elton John, Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi performed at his memorial.
His business was taken over by his sister Donatella who already was working for him. In a decade, Versace had managed to build an empire of $807 million. He is credited for bringing art and vitality to the fashion industry and taking it to the international platform.
Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala