Delving into one of the most prolific murders in the history of fashion, DDW re-visits Gianni Versace’s heritage, influence and love life.
July 15th, 1997. Two shots, straight to head, killed Gianni Versace instantly — a murder which has withstood the passing of time as one of the darkest and most mysterious occurrences in the fashion world. Now, 25 years down the line, Versace remains a brand as sultry and iconic as Gianni left it a quarter of a century ago.
Born to a dress-making mother in Reggio Calabria, Gianni Versace’s first fashion venture was in designing clothes for his sister Donatella, at a scarce and impressive 10 years of age. Despite his apparent early love for fashion, the Italian fashion mogul had a brief love affair with architecture, which he studied before moving to Milan and deciding to create his own brand, Versace, along with his brother Santos.
From his very early designs, it was clear Versace was all about exploring the Italian legacy, in art, architecture, and culture, but doing so through prints, colours and fashion motives. The whole brand was built atop the concepts of bringing Italian culture and history into the runways, prompting women to be seen in a different light; exuberant no matter the occasion.
It was also Versace who put the word “super” in the booming 1990’s supermodel phenomenon. For his A/W 1991 show, named “Freedom! ’90” after the George Michael song, the Versace runway featured the holy trinity of supermodels; Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, all of whom appeared in Michael’s music video. It is because of Gianni’s disruptive acts which blended fashion, culture, music and celebrities that we see the likes of Kim Kardashian or Dua Lipa walking couture week besides runway superstars like Bella Hadid these days.
Gianni worked intelligently. From 1981 to 1992 he expanded into fragrances, couture and home furnishings. His designs were seen on some of the most influential figures of the time (aka, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, Elton John or Madonna). He was skyrocketing, famous for shaking the foundations of an industry which had previously felt outdated.
One of the most peculiar things about Versace, which at the time was often brushed off by the press, was his sexuality. Gianni was vibrantly and openly gay, in a relationship with Antonio D’Amico, whom Versace dated for 15 years until his murder. Following Gianni’s death, D’Amico appeared in Versace’s testament, which allowed him to use his houses in Miami, New York and Milan, and made him recipient of 30 thousand dollars per month. Unfortunately, due to disputes between D’Amico and the Versace family, Antonio never took any of the inheritance for himself.
What Gianni did leave behind is a series of design influences and trends which the Italian fashion label carries, to this day, with great pride. Take the Medusa imagery, for example, or the Baroque themes – two legacies which were still very present in the latest Versace runway at men’s fashion week this year. Same thing goes for the more subtle Versace fashion touches, Oroton (the mesh-like metallic fabric)or the use of safety pins (hello to that dress worn by Elizabeth Hurley in the Four Weddings and a Funeral première) remain intrinsically linked to Gianni Versace’s bold touch.
But what about his death? What happened there? Many motives and scandalous theories have sprung to life, as is often the case with high-profile media murders. It is believed by the FBI that Andrew Cunanan, the murderer who had already taken several lives prior to Gianni, targeted ex-lovers in his killings, some of whom were believed to have given him HIV. Now, 25 years later, and the reasons and motives behind one of the most prolific fashion murders in history remains, unfortunately, unclear.
The murder was of course the principal focus of the 2018 miniseries, titled The Murder of Gianni Versace. A visually striking production casting some very big celebrities (Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin or Joe Adler, amongst others), the show was reason enough for D’Amico to surface from hiding. Having been the one who found Gianni’s body on the steps of the designer’s Miami home, D’Amico wasn’t even consulted prior to the making of the show. He even told the Observer that “The picture of Ricky Martin holding the body in his arms is ridiculous. Maybe it’s the director’s poetic license, but that is not how I reacted.”
D’Amico went on to speak about the dark depression that followed the years after Gianni’s murder, although even then he only opens up ever so slightly. “The house had stained glass windows so we couldn’t see what had happened from inside, so we had to open the gate. I saw Gianni lying on the steps, with blood around him. At that point, everything went dark. I was pulled away, I didn’t see anymore.”
Nowadays Versace is known and most often attributed to Gianni’s little sister, Donatella, who takes to Instagram to commemorate her brother which, as far as her photo captions claim, she misses every day. She carried the fashion label up until 2018, when it was acquired by luxury group Capri Holdings, which happens to own Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo. Ever since, the brand has seen a large push for its expansion, as well as sustainability implementations which Donatella Versace has been also applying to her life. According to a 2020 Elle interview, the fashion mogul no longer flies private.