10th anniversary of Gianni Versace's Death: Donatella talks

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  1. Donatella Versace poses with her two children Daniel and Allegra, and estranged husband Paul Beck
    Gianni Versace and his niece Allegra in January 1997

    'Gianni would be proud'

    On the 10th anniversary of her brother's death, Donatella Versace talks to Hilary Alexander about his legacy, drugs, and her daughter's anorexia

    'It is hard to believe that it's been 10 years," said Donatella Versace, as we talked between rehearsals for last weekend's memorial ballet at La Scala, in honour of her beloved late brother, Gianni, who was gunned down on the steps of his Miami mansion in 1997.

    The ballet, which featured costumes by Gianni, was, of course, an emotional event, but Donatella was poised and graceful.

    She presented a rare, united family front with her estranged husband, Paul Beck, and their two children - Allegra, 20, who is undergoing treatment for anorexia, and the ebullient, Daniel, 16.

    "For the last four months, I've been going through the archives for the ballet," she told me. "Each costume I found represents a memory. I still hear Gianni's voice, saying, 'don't make a mistake', and I know he would be proud. I couldn't think of a better way to mark the 10th anniversary. If there is a superpower, he's there."

    Not only is it 10 years since Gianni was murdered, but it is a decade since Donatella, 52, took charge as creative director of the multi-million pound Versace fashion empire.

    "The hardest part was the expectation that I somehow had to be my brother, to become Gianni," she said. "But how could I? But everyone was watching me. The comparison was always there. Was I more like Gianni, or less? Were the clothes what he would have designed? I felt lost, confused. But I had to keep going."

    The strain showed in an escalating cocaine problem, ultimately mixed with sedatives, which culminated in a moment of truth at a dinner on June 30, 2004: Allegra's birthday, which was celebrated with family and friends, including Elton John. It was there that she was persuaded to go into rehab.

    "I had to clean up what I didn't like," she said. "Now, I'm in a happy place. I'm not stressed. I'm not looking any more for something I can't achieve. I've learned how to appreciate what I have. And it's a lot. I'm very lucky. In the last four years, I have grown stronger as a person, found my own identity, my way."

    This strength is apparent in the business. At the height of her drug problems, Versace was in the red for five years; sales had dropped and the value fell from £500 million to £250 million.

    Donatella implemented a new management team and growth strategy; a new CEO was hired, boutiques were rationalised and the fashion approach streamlined. These days, the collections are as much about daywear as red-carpet gowns.

    The brand was saved. Last September, it went back in the black and reported pre-tax profits of £2 million, an upswing that has continued, with net profits of £19.1 million announced in March.

    "I found I had the courage and the confidence," said Donatella. "I made the dramatic change in myself and I had to do the same with the brand. Everything had to change."

    Her goal for the House of Medusa is to develop a global brand that stands for luxury in everything, from clothing to super-yachts, private jets and six-star hotels.

    The couture collections continue, but are no longer shown on a catwalk laid over the swimming pool of the Ritz hotel in Paris, as they were in Gianni's day.

    "We show it in Milan for exclusive clients who like to be private," she said. "They don't want to wear the same clothes they see celebrities wearing on the red carpet. Rich people want exclusivity. That is what luxury is about."

    For Donatella, luxury is feeling happy. Next month she is off to America with her family.

    "Daniel is studying and wants to be a rock musician. Allegra is involved with her studies and she is getting better. Each person has their own way of reacting to pain," she says in a rare comment on her daughter's struggle with anorexia, "but she is doing well. I'm proud of her."

    And, no doubt, Gianni would be proud of Donatella.
  2. ahhh she has had an awful time, and its good that it seems she is in a happy place in her life now.

    I was really pleasantly surprised recently when I saw some of the Versace accessories, the bling had gone, and in its place were some seriously nice, understated luxury leather bags :smile: