Over the years he created a very distinctive Versace style made of bold colors, baroque prints and gilt medusas, immediately recognizable all over the world. After working for Genny, Complice and Callaghan, he showed his first "Signature" collection in 1978.
In the Eighties he gained a greater fame with innovative cuts and eye-catching creations that made him very popular especially among socialites, Hollywood celebrities and rockstars like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Madonna, Liz Taylor, Elton John,Sylvester Stallone and Princess Diana.
Gianni Versace’s interpretation of fashion is original, somewhat exhibitionist and brightly coloured. He believed art and fashion go together and has been described by Time Magazine as the youngest of Milan’s "young tyrants".
Born in Reggio Calabria on December 2, 1946, Versace started working in his mother’s atelier at the age of eighteen. He often travelled to London and Paris on pattern buying missions and was quick to learn the secrets of dressmaking and design. 1972 marked a turning point in his life. He was called to work for the Florentine Flowers clothing factory of Lucca. By the following year he was working as a ready-to-wear designer for Genny and Callaghan. In 1974 Versace conceived, designed, and helped to launch the Complice label.
A few years later, in March 1978, encouraged by his success Versace presented his first signature collection for women at the Palazzo della Permanente Art Museum of Milan. His first menswear collection followed in September of the same year.
Versace liked to consider himself a tailor, rather than a designer. He knew how to cut and sew the clothes he made. He tried on the men’s collections personally and had his sister Donatella try on the female ones. He paid careful attention to the male and female body. The Versace look of the young, aggressive and sexy woman is well-known. He liked to create sexy clothes for his women, skin-tight with low cuts and high slits on the skirts. Versace was among the first to revive the cat suit, to bring back the mini skirt, to show tights worn as trousers, to bring the bustier out at night and bead it. In 1982 his dresess made with fine metal mesh first appeared and were a hit.
Versace has been referred to as the rock-and-roll designer and clients include Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, George Michael, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Michael Jackson. He has also made clothes for the Princess of Wales and Caroline of Monaco.
In 1982, Versace opened a new chapter in his career, making costumes for the theatre, opera and ballet. He began a close collaboration with choreographer Maurice Bejart. He went on to design accessories, jewellery, furnishings, and china.
Gianni Versace was assassinated in front of his home on South Ocean Drive in Miami Beach on July 15, 1997. His sister, Donatella, who worked with him for years, has taken over as chief designer for the company. Her first collections have met with considerable success, both from fashion editors and clients.
The Versace family now runs a veritable fashion empire made of various product categories and different lines (Atelier Versace, Versace Couture, Versus, V2 by Versace, Istante and many others). Production is generally licensed to leading manufacturers like Zegna (menswear), Ittierre (Versace Jeans Couture and versus), Ruffo (leather wear), ItaloCremona (sunglasses), Cesare Paciotti (men’s shoes), Sergio Rossi (women’s shoes), Laipe (leather goods) and Rosenthal (chinaware).
Couture and part of ready to wear is instead manufactured by Novara-based Alias company (100% owned by Versace). Prior to his sudden death, Gianni owned 45% of the company, his brother Santo – the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer – 35% and Donatella – the group’s Vice-president and in charge of the Versus brand – the remaining 20%.
Sales performance have always been extraordinary even during the early Nineties recession, a period in which many top brands saw their revenues slump significantly. Annual worldwide sales were 417 billion lira in 1993 and more than doubled last year (840 bn lira). Europe accounts for approx. 36% of total sales, Italy 23%, North America 18% and Japan 9%.
As for distribution, Gianni Versace products are currently sold through luxurious company-owned or franchised Versace boutiques and prestige department and specialty stores. Each shop is located in primary commercial avenues like Via Montenapoleone in Milan or Bond Street in London. The company opened a spanking 2800 sq. mt. 5-story boutique in Manhattan’s former Vanderbilt mansion, next to Cartier. There are 138 Gianni Versace boutiques in the world, and 345 sales points. Versus, the younger line, has 550 boutiques, and Istante, the less costly line, has 17 boutiques and 330 sales points.
Other imposing stores were opened on Vienna’s Graben and in Prague. Versace was one of the first brand names to expand in Russia where the company opened a franchised boutique in Moscow a few years ago. The location, Kuznetsky Most, is now home to many international designers like Ferré and Valentino.
Will the venerable house of Versace survive Gianni’s death? "That is the question", according to many financial analysts. Observers however are quite confident of the company’s strength and future sales performance.
A successful case history is represented by the Gucci brand: after the stormy exit of Maurizio Gucci from the family business, the Gucci brand gradually returned at the top of luxury goods market, surpassing competitors like Hermes, Prada and Ferragamo. Also Dior, Perry Ellis and Moschino witness that strong brands – if well managed – can successfully survive their founders.
Gianni Versace, Via del Gesu 12, Milan 20121. Tel: +39-2-760931 Fax: +39-2-76002635, www.versace.com