Generally, interviews with Donatella Versace follow a fairly standard schedule. You’re ushered into her humble abode – either in Milan or in Paris, where she presents Versace’s haute couture Atelier line – which comprises fabulously gilded and marbled enclaves conveniently and carefully colour-coordinated to a pantone-perfect match for her platinum-blonde hair. Donatella (singular epithet, like Madonna) is immaculately attired – usually in black, always in heels – warm, polite, welcoming. And you always emerge smiling. The in-between is the trickier part, because Donatella Versace is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best fashion designers you can ever interview. Erudite, intelligent, self-deprecating and frequently hilarious. She has a point of view on everything, and isn’t afraid to express it. For a PR, that could wind up a nightmare, but for a journalist, it’s a dream.
I’ve had the pleasure of being welcomed into Donatella Versace’s confidence about a dozen times over the past decade. Sometimes, it’s an all-too-brief preview before one of her shows, where she’ll discuss a few looks, throw out one-liners, and steal the headlines from any other fashion house unfortunate enough to share a show day with Versace. On other occasions, we’ve taken time to curl up in the amber-coloured apartment formerly occupied by her brother Gianni, in the company’s palazzo in the heart of Milan, and spend some serious time speaking about why she does what she does – what Versace means today, how she sees men and women, what fashion means now. I got the opportunity to do so for the AnOther Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2018 issue – devoted to the theme ‘Sensory Overload’, which inevitably lead us right to Donatella’s Medusa-embossed door. An interview with Donatella Versace is always a sensory overload – the rooms, and the woman, are fragranced (she’s recently admitted to wearing four scents, at once); her voice is a low purr; I love asking her questions about taste, on which she has a distinct and unique point of view. And of course, the eye-socking aesthetic of Versace’s collections is inimitable, despite many attempts.
As Donatella Versace makes final preparations on a womenswear show that marks her 21st year as creative director, we took this opportune moment to revisit a few of her choicest bon mots, culled from my interviews with her. Think of it as a love letter, to probably the most entertaining, quotable and all-out fabulous woman in fashion.
- “Versace is very sexy. Gianni, he had a lot of courage. Gianni came out and said he was gay when it was very difficult to say that. 35 years ago. Even in fashion… you wouldn’t say it loud. Gianni had the courage to say it loud. I’m very proud of that.”
- “I am surrounded by impossibly sexy men. Sorry! That’s my reality! How can you think about not making them sexy?”
- “The [couture] clothes I did in Paris are not for a grande dame de Paris. She can’t wear it. I don’t want her to wear it, basically.”
- “I know fashion is not something that can change the world, but it can change the woman. It can empower the woman. It can make her strong, in herself, and to believe in herself more.”
- “It’s not apologetic, it’s not shy. Unlike most of fashion.”
- “Italian men are very vain.”
- “I can’t sit in a super-modern chair. I like the rich.”
- “In a way, it was a shame to take the something from the archive and put it on the runway, because it’s my Versace. But then I said, fuck it! Keep the cult alive!”
- “[On giving up smoking] It’s been three months and a half. The first month, it was fine. To go from two packets a day, to zero. At first I didn’t mind, now I want to kill someone!”
- “Every woman likes sex. If they don’t like it, they should go to a shrink!”
- “I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes with my children… But if you stay home, I think you make more mistakes!”
- “For a woman to have credibility, they have to work three times more than a man… I sit on the board of directors, I’m the only woman. And I dress some of the most powerful women in the world. So I think I’m a feminist. I show to women that you can do it.”