Italy is truly embedded into the DNA of the fashion house Versace. It is a house that was built on the values and traditions of Italy from the very beginning, by a family that highly respects and sees these values as part of their DNA.
Versace’s founder Gianni Versace regularly spoke of how he was inspired by his surroundings in Italy and how in a way, it was this that urged him to create his own fashion brand. From the first Versace runway show in Milan in 1978 to the most recent collections almost fifty years later, the essence of Italy runs through and through the Versace House.
Who better to interpret this into words that Chief Creative Officer Donatella Versace? Donatella famously took over at the helm of the brand after the shocking and sudden death of her brother Gianni in 1997. While she had moved the brand forward in her vision, something that has always been crucial to Donatella is to withhold the values and beliefs that her brother put in place when he created Versace, values that have always been intertwined with traditional Italian values. Here we discuss with Donatella how Italy is truly the heart and soul of the fashion house and how the values and traditions of her family influence the way she moves the brand forward today.
What does Italy mean to you as a person?
Italy is my home! It represents my roots and where I come from. Like every country, Italy has a specific set of values and I grew up according to them. These include family, traditions, history, literature, art, creativity to name a few. Being Italian has a much deeper meaning than just a nationality and I believe I am who I am because of that simple reason. It resonates within me in whatever I do. Without Italy, there would be no Versace!
Tell us more about the importance of “Made in Italy” and why do you think there is such a fascination with this concept globally?
I am proud to be the Chief Creative Officer of an Italian brand with a global reach. I believe Italians have creative abilities in their DNA and I think we use our creativity to generate desire. “Made in Italy” means being a leader in innovation and fashion made with genuine, traditional craftsmanship. I am glad to see the world appreciating what is unique about Italian fashion.
How important is it to you to preserve traditional crafts and handmade techniques?
Being a brand that is “Made in Italy” is very important for me. Not just because I am patriotic, but because I strongly feel that the being “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 synonymous with the highest standards of quality, the use of the best materials and fabrics and having the best 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 they are now training the younger ones in some of their skills like the art of creating a dress from a sketch, embroidery, draping and so on… I cannot even begin to give a value to this richness, because it is something unique.
When it comes to these techniques – what do you think Italy offers that is unique?
Being made in Italy naturally means luxury, the most extraordinary craftsmanship, the best materials. The creativity to find new ways to produce high standard products, the ability to make something unique and the will to adopt, adapt and preserve traditional techniques. It’s a cultural identity. It also means keeping an eye on the environment, being conscious and offering products that can assure clients that we are taking the necessary steps to be environmentally conscious.
How do you think the values and culture of Italy are seen throughout Versace?
There are very few brands that scream “Italy” more than Versace! Italian history has deeply influenced me since I was very young and it means everything to the Versace brand. This is where the brand was inspired and started in terms of imagery, culture and craftsmanship. Of course, we can’t just look the past and this is why today and moving forward, we are playing with the new and startling ideas of using the past to create something completely new, re-inventing our codes with. One thing is for sure, though; Versace will always break rules, will always be daring, and will always evolve.
How is the legacy and history of the brand still relevant today?
The new generations are discovering old treasures. For them, the fashion of the 80s and 90s is new and we all know that fashion and tastes tend to be reinvented. I noticed that there was a fascination for the fashion of the past from all the questions I was asked by younger people, especially on social media. It is incredible to think that they are living all of this for the rst time. Little by little, I started to see the first signs of a return to specific tastes and it is fascinating to see how young people are attracted to the world of Versace. This is what pushed me to re-imagine the DNA of the brand with the eyes of today. To show them the Versace codes and history, elaborating it in a way that is relevant for our culture so that they would understand it and make their own. Relevance is the keyword: being relevant for me, and the brand, means talking the language of today’s society, being able to understand what it is about and being part of the cultural conversation, because fashion does not live in a vacuum.
Italy has suffered greatly throughout the global pandemic we are currently experiencing – when all of this is over what do you expect to see from the recovery of this crisis?
We have just rediscovered the importance of being kind to one another, to support each other, to be a real community. I pray that this sense of unity will remain intact even after we overcome this virus. For the rest, I honestly don’t know. This is one of the same questions I keep asking myself too and one that I think is in the minds of everyone right now. What I do know, is that we won’t be the same after this is over. Maybe this is our chance to x a couple of things that were not right before… who knows? There are too many variables at play right now to have any certainty.
In every crisis, there is always an opportunity – what is something positive that will come out of this painful situation?
This moment has given to all of us the time to think. If the world has changed forever and if fashion is the mirror of society, then fashion will have to adapt to a new world and a new way of living. Unfortunately, right now, we still do not have the answers as we are in the middle of this crisis. All I can tell you is that I am still working and I am still creating. Not only because it is my job, but also because it is my duty to my team, the company and all the other industrial realities that are looking at us to be able to restart when all of this will be over.
When all of this is over will you be changing any of the strategies of Versace and has it had an impact on how you will move forward?
A lot of things will probably have to be looked at from a different perspective. For example, seasonality, how big a collection should be, what should be in it. If fashion is the mirror of the society that creates it, if that society has changed, probably what people will desire is going to change. I think all of us designers are looking for direction right now. I think the fashion industry will be different and maybe, in a good way.
Right now, it seems inappropriate to even think about fashion when you know there are so many people dying or risking their lives. But, on the other hand, fashion has always offered an escape from reality, a way to dream…and that can help in a moment when everything around you seems to be falling to pieces. There are so many contradictory thoughts in my head right now. I am still processing everything and because the situation changes every day, I have no certainties.
Do you think it will impact the buying behaviour of customers?
I guess so yes, but right now I want to be positive and keep on doing what I know how to do best.
What is the motto you are living by during this time?
Stay positive. I always see the glass half full and that’s what has helped me in difficult moments.
Looking forward, what does the second half of 2020 hold for Versace?
I have so many plans for the second half of the year. Stay tuned!
We want to talk a little about the spring/summer 2020 collection – what can you tell us about it?
For this collection, I decided to honour an iconic moment when fashion and culture became a catalyst for technological progress. I’m referring to the 2000 Grammy Awards when Jennifer Lopez garnered international attention wearing the Versace jungle dress. The world had the same reaction: jaw-dropping. Today we live in a technological world, but back then, one event prompted the creation of a new tool that now has become part of our lives. Thanks to the friendship that I have with Jennifer, while I was working at the collection, I texted her asking if she would walk, never expecting her to say yes. Instead after a few minutes, I receive her enthusiastic reply and it was like a dream come true.
Who is the Versace woman of 2020?
She is every woman. Versace is more of an attitude than a set of physical characteristics. I like to think that what I create speaks to every woman in a different way and that each of them can find something in my collections that is in line with her style and her personality. Generally speaking, I am inspired by women who are self-con dent, strong, supportive of one another and are not afraid to speak their minds. But today, it does not make much sense for me to think that there is one Versace woman. On the contrary, I think that there is a bit of Versace in every woman.
Growing up, what is your first memory of Italy?
I grew up in Reggio Calabria. My home was in front of the sea and I remember that Gianni and I loved to go and take a look at the antique ruins in the city. That was the beginning of a love story with art and a fascination with history, that my brother made even stronger. He loved art, especially the neoclassic art and he passed this passion on to me.
Where in Italy do you like to travel to?
I love Milan, it’s a city of secrets. Much of its beauty lies behind closed doors, in galleries, museums and meeting places. But I also love amazing Italian cities like Rome and all its splendours or Venice and its uncontested beauty.
Can you share with us any Italian traditions that you to this day continue with your family and friends?
The art of hospitality and talking for hours!
What’s your favourite Italian dish to eat?
Pasta! Even if I do not eat it often, there’s nothing that screams Italy more than pasta. It’s what all Italian mums would cook when you go back home.
What’s your favourite Italian phrase?
“Mai arrendersi” – it means never give up.
How would you describe Italy in one word?