There was no one like him. Greatly creative and with a sunny disposition– polite, generous, a person who loved life and loved beauty, whether that of ancient art or of nature. Able to transform an outfit into a sublime picture, between Baroque fantasies and Medusa heads.
His fashion house–the one with the golden symbol– was founded in the late seventies by Gianni Versace, who was born in Reggio Calabria on December 12, 1946 and died in Miami on July 15, 1997 in front of his villa, Casa Casuarina, at the hand of an assassin; a hustler named Andrew Cunanan, who shot him from behind. That was twenty-five years ago, a very long time for those who loved and admired him as supremely creative; for those that miss him with passion and love, for those that understood right away that a “king” of international fashion had been murdered. He was an Italian that in a handful of years had made our country great with his fame for being the Maestro of Elegance, and for those that today view his fashion almost always badly imitated and often insulted by bad taste. An offense, an insult, that Gianni Versace does not deserve, for his fashion that was so marvelously and gigantically luxurious and lusty, for his charisma and verve, for his flair and genius, that made him recklessly and genuinely loved by the fashion world.
Twenty-five years ago a couple of gunshots to the neck and face took him away from those of us who loved him so much as fashion critics, for the excellence and perfect sumptuousness of his runway offerings, for that endless zest to always exalt and magnify the bodies of beautiful women and men, a kind of coterie of the elect, who in the feminine will give birth to the unique and unrepeatable phenomenon of the super top models. Modern heroines, muses of absolute beauty, alpha females who went by the names of Jerry Hall, Helena Christensen, Christie Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Kate Moss — an army of statuesque thighs and bodies, perfect faces, sexy hair that brought to life his unparalleled clothes.
Above all the others was the famous “comma” dress, held together only by a pin, perhaps the most copied model ever conceived.
Even today rivals and mediocre imitators–at times even bearing lofty names–while daring to take apart, piece by piece, a Versace evening gown bought perhaps at vintage or loaned by rich and famous friends, have never managed to equal the secret of his style. Unique and inimitable Gianni Versace, a good man, who did not gossip about his friends or alleged friends, perhaps competitors, but forged ahead on the road that had started in his mother Francesca’s tailor’s shop in Reggio Calabria and then carried on with the foundation of the brand–a beautiful adventure that included his older brother Santo and younger sister Donatella.
A triumvirate? Not even a bit, because it was Gianni the emperor of the new elegance of the 1980’s who still exercises his magic of a New Renaissance on contemporary fashion, as if death had not dented his fame and bravura.
I still remember that hot afternoon of July 15, 1997, when I was in Rome, in the editorial office of my newspaper the Quotidiano Nazionale in Piazza San Silvestro, and I was about to write about Roman haute couture with the still very vivid memories of twenty days earlier in Florence when Gianni Versace, host of Pitti Uomo, had enchanted the world with the men’s fashion show for spring summer 1997, a fashion show/event/great show “Barocco Bel Canto”, directed and danced by Maurice Bejarat. At the end, Naomi Campbell showed up on the runway holding a gun and fired a shot in the air. Maybe that was an omen.
So, as I started to write, the phone rang in the newsroom. Gianni Versace had been shot, in Miami where he had gone on vacation; he was wounded, and shortly after he was dead. A moment of severe pain, bewilderment and disbelief. But how? We had left each other at Boboli just a few days before in an immense triumph of beauty and sartorial art, in the Medici Gardens that Gianni had filled with his supreme and sumptuous style, and now he was gone, his life had ended in a terrible and absurd murder. I remember how difficult it was to write that review and that obituary and since then my eyes always light up whenever I see a portrait of him, hear the voice of his great friend Elton John, read about the sensual transformation of Lady Di in her magnificent gowns.
And my heart sinks when I see one of his rare original pieces in a vintage store, but also when I rearrange my closet and see his gold jellyfish shirts, sublime patterns, dazzling colors. And I think of him in heaven surrounded by his Greek amphorae, his kouroi that graced the stairs of his house on via Gesù, almost an ascent to Olympus, and then sinking into the sweet sofas of Versace prints, and admiring with childlike eyes his collections of ancient and contemporary art, which he kept on dazzling display even in his pharaonic New York home. How I would love to have another one of his hugs and smiles, that of a loyal and respectful friend, of a good man.
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