DONATELLA VERSACE | 2021
Interview Filep Motwary
FM: Ms. Versace, thank you for this great opportunity. I will start with some questions around Covid-19 that compelled the fashion industry for a restart. How did you and your company react to this emergency and what is the lesson you have learned from it?
DV: Not being together in the same room has been the biggest change. I was used to be with my team every day of the week. We do everything together. We discuss ideas, we talk about what is happening around us and what everyone thinks of this or that. Ideas and inspiration can come from the most obvious thing, but you need to have an open mind and look beyond the surface of things. We have now learned to work remotely as if we were in the same room. It was not all about sketching, but we did a lot of talks about what we thought people might want after all of this is over, about the meaning and the role of fashion in the new reality. Fashion shows have to become more open, inclusive, and able to adapt quickly to sudden changes. Teamwork has never been as crucial as it is today.
FM: Simultaneously with this progress, there is a feeling that most people are still in denial, they don’t want to look forward right now. How do you see the current world situation? What is there missing?
DV: I think we should hold on to our values. Those that make us who we are. The rest, not sure. I hear people talking about the new normal. But what is the new normal? Honestly, we have just reopened our offices and having a resemblance of life. The new “normal” as they call it, we need to understand what it is yet. This moment has given us all the time to think. It has made us change the way we look at the world, at people and their desires. It has made us change the way we work. It has forced us to look at our entire system and ask ourselves: is this still what people want? Is this still relevant, respectful, or ok for the world we live in?
FM: What did you do in lockdown on a personal level?
DV: I tried to create a routine that would make the days flow in the most productive way…training early in the morning, watching the news, and having lots of calls with the style team, marketing, the executive team to keep a continuous dialogue with people from the various department. This stimulates me. I always want to learn the point of view of the people I work with, I want to understand when they do not agree with me and why because I think that through the friction of cultures the best ideas are born. This is why I love working with different groups of people and with people with different backgrounds and nationalities. I dressed up every morning as if I was supposed to go to the office – I only switched my high-heels with something more comfortable for staying at home, but I think it was important mentally to maintain a certain level of “normality” – if there is still such a thing…
FM: How can we get over the digital aspect that has been forced on us by the pandemic and perhaps return to experiencing a collection using our full senses again?
DV: A Versace show will always be a Versace show, whether it is digital or in presence. The organization of my latest show was indeed a learning experience, one that has opened my eyes in many ways because, of course, we had to adapt, we had to deal with the various restrictions for the safety of everyone, and so on… However, this is something my team and I have been preparing since we were in lockdown. You’ve seen some of the usual Versace girls and some new faces. You’ve seen glamour and blasting music, but we had to do without a front row of VIPs… Who knows me, knows also that for me a show is always about the energy and the expectation and the crowd and the audience on top of the collection. But this was the very first time that I had an audience made of all the people who work for Versace. It was a way to thank all of them for having been strong, for having worked even harder than usual, and to offer them the opportunity to see their work come to life. Right now, we are still observing and understanding what’s there to do. Do we want to get over the digital focus of the last few months? I am not sure! For sure we are not stopping, we never stopped.
FM: Being an Italian, your country’s heritage relies on quality and artisanship. How possible it would be for fashion to restart based entirely on these two qualities. Could it be possible?
DV: Being a Made in Italy brand is very important for me. Not just because I am patriotic, but because I strongly feel that the “Made in Italy” is a value that we have as a country as well as an industry and it needs to be preserved. Made in Italy is not just something we put on the labels of our clothes. It is synonym with the highest standards of quality, of the use of the best materials and fabrics, of research and innovation that live along with one of the longest-lasting traditions in fashion. In my team, I have tailors that have been with us for decades and who are now training the younger ones to the art of creating a dress from a sketch, embroidery, draping, and so on… I cannot even begin to give value to this richness because it is something unique. Without Made in Italy there would be no Versace! I think today with human rights, environmental issues, the pandemic, people are looking for better quality and long-lasting things.
FM: A few days ago you presented the Versace collection for SS2021. Could you walk me through the design process? How easy was it to put a collection under these circumstances?
DV: The world has changed and we have changed. We have been repeating this almost as a mantra for months, but at the end of the day, for a designer, this means to start all over again. The greatest challenge was to try and understand who would I be talking to and how to give fashion meaning in such a unique historical moment. I wanted to do something disruptive and to break the rules because I think that what worked a few months ago, does not make any sense today. Creatively, that meant finding a way to bring the DNA of Versace to a new reality and to people who have undergone a deep change. It wasn’t easy, as I was mentioning before we had to adjust to zoom calls, digital fittings, selecting colors and fabrics through a screen but we made it.
FM: There was a sense of clarity and sensuality to it. Some of the silhouettes took inspiration from mythology, the sea environment. There was something undeniably youthful in the outline of each silhouette and the color palettes you have chosen. In what ways youth matters in fashion? How does youth inspire optimism when viewed in the context of fashion?
DV: This collection is about dreaming, escapism, and being disruptive. We have all gone through a lot in the past months and I wanted to reconnect with fashion’s power of making people dream. Personally, the first thing I have dreamt of was a new world, a world in which we are all more conscious of what we are doing to our planet, a world in which people are treated equally and with respect and a world in which we do not have to talk anymore about being inclusive, because we will have achieved that too. The starting point of the collection was the Trésor de la Mer print. I wanted to communicate fun, joy, life and that is why I have used a lot of pop, bright colors like yellow, orange, blue… My girl is La Medusa. She is not afraid to show her inner self through her style choice and she bewitches you at first sight. My boys go from the boardroom to the beach, simply undoing their ties and shirts and revealing printed T-shirts under the impeccably cut linen suits.
FM: Do you see this as a collection for the times we are heading towards?
DV: Of course! This collection is about positivity, optimism, hope, desire, dream… Overall, a joyful state of mind.
FM: What was the biggest risk you take when designing a collection? What does freedom mean to you as a designer?
DV: I experiment, I explore, I’m not safe, I take risks. To me, freedom means staying true to what I love, keep fighting, and have integrity.
FM : So, Ms. Versace, are you ever in conflict with your own taste?
FM: Versace has always been a brand about excess. Could you kindly explain this need, this philosophy – I wonder if there is a moment when much is too much?
DV: Minimalism is so boring! I am not even sure if the concept of excess is really relevant today. What does it mean excess in a world in which anything goes, in which you are finally free to express yourself no matter who you are, where you come from and what you look like? Today, we live in a world that needs to embrace diversity because that what makes you special and unique. Do you know what I mean?
FM: For a long time, people would think of fashion as a place of exclusivity. Should fashion have followership limitations? Who puts these limitations at the end? How important is fashion to our society’s own evolution?
DV: No limitations at all! Inclusivity has always been such an important value to me! Versace is about reinventing the rules and ignoring the boundaries, making anything possible, chic, and shocking! If a good thing is coming out of the current situation is that we are all more united than ever. Fashion is the mirror of society and it will have to adapt to a new world and new way of living. Maybe this is our chance to fix a couple of things that were not right before… who knows? Creativity arises from the most difficult times, we should not stop, we cannot stop. I am still working and still creating. Together with my team, we are finding new energy to create new collections carrying an even stronger, breaking message. They may be more limited in terms of the number of pieces, but I would like them to speak directly to the heart and make everybody say: I want it! Fashion has always been a dream, it has always wanted to be hope and part of the cultural conversation. All this could not be truer, today.
FM: Do you look differently at the fashions you create than fashion in general? Do you for example find that when you like the work of a designer, let’s say, it could be something you would like to have designed yourself?
DV: Sure! Why not? I am curious and I always like to know and see who’s out there and discover new things. I think it is important to keep an eye out for new talents and inspiration!!!
FM: What about the female body — why does it always appear in such a dominant way in Versace?
DV: Freedom of expression is the first thing we need to embrace. Women did it a long time ago, at least with the way they dress and despite criticism of all kinds. We have a lot of examples of women who do not care about what people think. They want to wear a certain something and do it with their heads high and proud. Sexy is an attitude. Is a glance. Is the way you wear something or the way you walk. A simple gesture like applying your fragrance. A look is important, but today it’s more about attitude. Women, and men too, still want to look amazing, but at the same time, they deserve to be taken seriously. Sexiness is not about how much skin you are showing…it’s a state of mind, it’s about the way you move, how you talk, how you treat others…
FM: There is a calculated consistency in your signature and I cannot help but wonder about the balance between refining the signature of Versace each season and doing something new?
DV: Fashion has to reflect the life of today’s women and men, and while I like to remain true to the brand codes it is only natural that an evolution is necessary. I would say that shapes and fit have mostly changed during the years both in the brand and in my personal style. But then, if I look at it, everything has changed! Fashion as we knew it 20 years ago has evolved into something completely new. Versace has always been perceived as a brand that breaks the rules, daring, colourful, even provocative. Today, it is still the same, but the rules and values in which the Brand operates have changed. In that sense the perception has changed. Not because Versace is something else, but because the world is different, and Versace has evolved with it. The lack of a definition that can be fulfilling or encompassing, and truly describing who is the man – and the woman – of today, is another testimony of how borders have become blurred and are always morphing into something different. I think this is the real challenge designers are currently facing: grasp that fleeting moment and immediately act upon it as the taste and desires of the society change.
FM: Allow me to go a few years back. What did you come across at Versace when your brother passed away, leaving you as the creative director? Were you afraid of the comparison with him?
DV: The comparison was there for many years. And, in a way, I understand there must have been some confusion at first: the younger sister stepping in suddenly. The comparison was inevitable, especially when you think of how big of genius was Gianni. And who was I? People did not know what I was doing when I was working with him, no one really knew of my role within the company. As a matter of fact, I was not expecting to be running the company one day. It was very hard in the first years, but I have changed, things have changed and I am now enjoying the ride so much!
FM: How easy it was to stand on your feet after such a sudden loss and take life again in your hands and lead a company that was already on top of the world? I admire you!
DV: For many years I have lived under the pressure of expectations, judgments, wrong advice. Now after so long, I think I have found my own voice and that the brand is where I want it to be.
FM: What were the challenges when you took over and what are the greatest challenges you have accomplished since then you feel, as the leader of the company?
DV: I do know how it feels like entering a boardroom full of men who are waiting for you to say just the wrong thing and long it out. Still today, women have to prove themselves more than men do, they have to fight harder to have their voice heard. I know…it sounds absurd in 2020! But we are finally seeing the first results of all this struggling. Women are more united than ever, they stand together for what they believe and they fight for their ideas. In the end, I have learnt that we can be all we want to be – I’m Chief Creative Officer, I’m a businesswoman, I’m a mother, I’m an advocate for change and I’m a friend. A woman can do anything.
FM: Are you ever misunderstood as a designer?
DV: I don’t know. I want to hope that people can always see the person behind a dress. My passion, the love for what I do, the hard work, my sense of humor as well as when I make a mistake and learn from them.
FM: Do you think fashion critique still matters to designers? Are you curious to hear how others observe what you create? The reasons these observations might interest you?
DV: I love irony and I accept criticism. Life can be difficult at times, so we need to face each day with a smile, a little irony, and a good dose of criticism, especially when it is constructive criticism.
FM: What does rebellion look like in fashion these days? What does it mean to you as a leading brand in the industry?
DV: I believe that fashion today is more exciting than it has ever been. I love that people all around the world can connect with their favorite brands and be part of our world. Fashion used to be so stiff, with such a wall between brands and the public. I’m a rebel and pioneer and I love to break the rules. Smashing through that wall has created whole new energy in fashion, one that to me feels like the future. Young people today have grown up with social media. It is part of their lives. They are our future customers, the people who will define the rest of the 21st century. Social media is now part of fashion, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
FM: Ms. Versace, what would you like debuting designers to take away from the Versace legacy? How important is youth in fashion, what are the elements that youth is infusing in the industry and how can the industry learn from it?
DV: The reason why I like to be surrounded by young talents is that they make me see things from a different perspective. I learned a language of a generation different from mine, what they love, their sense of belonging, and that cannot be further apart from the one I had experienced myself. Being with people of different ages, cultures, backgrounds is key for me to keep doing this job. Versace is about strength, individuality, and empowering other people. It’s about supporting one another and being inclusive. It’s about enjoying life! It’s pure energy that pulses through your vein. But it is as well superior craftsmanship, creativity, innovation…this is what I think debuting designers could “learn” from Versace legacy.
FM: Allow me to ask, what is your biggest struggle Ms. Versace and why? How constant is it in your life?
DV: I struggle for being an example for the younger generations, to go beyond fashion and be a part of the cultural conversation. An example of inclusion, of mutual support and acceptance of what is different from us.
FM: Lastly, what would you say has had the biggest influence on your creative journey?
DV: Gianni will always be the king of Versace and his influence always present. But also, strong empowering women like Lady Gaga and Madonna or even a man like Prince who was not afraid to wear high heels shoes back in the days! That was so brave for me.
The interview was published in Vogue Greece hard print – March 2021 issue.
Portrait by Mario Testino ©
Donatella Francesca Versace is an Italian fashion designer and businesswoman. She is the sister of Gianni Versace, founder of the luxury fashion company Versace which she inherited a portion of upon her brother’s death in 1997. She sold the company to Capri Holdings in 2018, but remained its chief creative officer.