Designer Profiles: Donatella Versace

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The driving force behind Versace

Donatella Versace is an Italian fashion designer and a key figure of the Versace fashion house. She is the sister of Gianni Versace, the founder of the international brand.

Donatella was born May 2, 1955, in Reggio di Calabria, Italy; she was the youngest among the four children in the family. Growing up with two major fashion influences: her mother who had a dressmaking business and her older brother, Gianni who was a budding designer, Donatella was always best dressed in her town. She was remarkably close to her older brother, Gianni, who would take her out with him at night and make outfits for her to wear. It was also her brother who persuaded her to dye her hair blonde at just 11 years old, because he was a big fan of Italian singer Patty Pravo. This was when Donatella’s trademark look of platinum blonde hair and dark eyeliner began.

Becoming a fashion designer

Donatella Versace went to work for her brother in the late 1970s, serving as his muse and adviser. She was responsible for advertising, photoshoots, and PR campaigns. It was Donatella’s creative thinking and charisma that brought celebrity connections to the line through her friendships with Madonna and Elizabeth Hurley. Donatella Versace became the designer for the company's Versus line in the 1980s. After her brother was murdered in 1997, she became artistic director of the Versace Group.

Three months after Gianni’s death, she debuted with her first collection line. Although the public and experts were a little underwhelmed and not very impressed, Donatella persisted in creating her own models and shaping the old collections that had not been presented before. Her vision was to develop a unique and feminine style of her own instead of copying her legendary brother.

The defining moment that made him famous

American entertainer Jennifer Lopez wore a green silk chiffon dress designed by Donatella Versace to the 42nd Grammy Awards ceremony on February 23, 2000. The sheer fabric was printed with a tropical leaf and bamboo pattern and cut with a very low neckline that extended well past Lopez's navel, while the waist of the dress was studded with citrines.

This garment instantly received significant global media coverage, and the “Jungle Dress” was discussed by those in the fashion and entertainment industry for weeks after the event. It has been cited, along with Elizabeth Hurley's black Versace dress, as one of the most high-profile dresses that made the designer Versace a household name.

In addition, this dress was described as a turning point in designer Donatella Versace's career after the death of her brother, Gianni Versace. Donatella explained in an interview saying that the media now had confidence in her own work. She declared to the Canadian press, "It was an unexpected success. The next day she [Jennifer Lopez] was everywhere and people were talking about her in that dress. It was one of those moments like the one that Gianni [Versace] had with Elizabeth Hurley and clothes-pins." The dress has been referred to many times as "notorious" and "infamous" because of its boldness

Soon, Donatella shocked audiences and the fashion industry again as she leaned on her connections and invited top celebrities to participate in her fashion show: Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Demi Moore, Beyoncé, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and others. Thus, Donatella was the first designer who used this strategy. Another way to restore her family’s reputation was the luxurious resort, Palazzo Versace, in Australia; a second hotel of the same name was built in Dubai and Donatella created the unique furniture and bed-clothes collection for them. Donatella sold the company to Capri Holdings (Michael Kors) in 2018 but remained its chief creative officer.

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  • Posted on by Tara

    I still argue with my mum over the pronunciation for Versace. After all these years, she still says it wrong! It was really J.Lo’s dress that did it for this brand? I remember that dress and still adore it but wow I had no idea that is what put this brand on the map. It is crazy because that is still one of the most iconic dresses for the 00’s!

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