Discover the aesthetic world of Versace and breathe in the art of Magna Graecia that imbues the creations of this fashion genius
Born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, on 2 December.
His mother is a seamstress, and from an early age, he helps her with her craft, collecting precious stones and gold threads to create decorative embroidery.
He moves to Milan – the Italian fashion capital
at that time. There, he studies architecture and creates his first prêt-à-porter collections for the brands Genny, Complice and Callaghan.
He presents his first leather collection for the company Complice.
He creates the company that bears his name, supported by his brother Santo’s business know-how. On 28 March 1978, is first collection takes to the catwalk in the Palazzo della Permanente in Milan.
He wins the L’Occhio d’Oro award for best designer for his Autumn/Winter collection, which features his metallic mesh fabrics for the first time. This year, he undertakes his first collaboration with the theatre world, designing the costumes for Richard Strauss’s ballet Josephs legende (The Legend of Joseph) for La Scala in Milan. He does this once again for Gustav Mahler’s Lieb und Leid (Love and Sorrow).
His collections this year tell of the influence of Chanel and Madame Grès. Their styles are transformed by the violent contrasts of materials and prints, although some of his designs also preempt the minimalism of the 1990s.
Exhibition of international artists in Paris, based around the work of Versace. In October, he receives a call from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to talk about the Arts & Fashion exhibition. He shows a collection with the catwalk centred around one of the museum’s own Hellenistic sculptures for the occasion.
The Spring/Summer collection from this year is crucial to the designer’s career. Embroidery with precious stones begins to play an important part and there are a greater number of cultural references, with big volumes inspired by 19th-century bustles and crinolines. Meanwhile, he also develops cuts with cleaner lines, preempting the tastes of the following decade and taking a particular interest in colourful, sporty styles.
January sees the release of the film Le Bonheur de l’Amitié (The Happiness of Friendship), about his relationship with Béjart, and the opening of Atelier Versace as a laboratory of high fashion. In April, the exhibition L’Abito per Pensare (Fashion for Thought) opens at the Sforza Castle in Milan.
First Atelier Versace catwalk show at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Costumes for Strauss’s Capriccio at the San Francisco Opera. Fluorescent colours overrun the Spring/Summer catwalk this year.
Versace Theatre Exhibition at the Royal College of Art
in London. He creates Signature – a classic cut clothing line. The exhibition L’Abito per Pensare (Fashion for Thought) is shown in the Kobe City Museum in Japan.
Versace’s 1991 collections are a defining moment in his glorious career. Overflowing with creativity and imagination, the Italian produces spectacular catwalk shows starring the top models of the day.
His work continues along the same lines as the year before, but takes a wider frame of reference. Bomber jackets following the same cut as 16th-century men’s fashion, influences from the American cowboy aesthetic, the use and abuse of denim, combined
with Baroque prints, swimsuits and skirts with bustles.
Council of Fashion Designers of America’s best designer award, considered to be the Oscar of fashion. New collaboration with Béjart on Sissi, the Anarchist Empress. Versace’s style softens a little, with a particular interest in 18th-century fashion, and especially neoclassicism, which can be seen in the delicate necklines and empire waists.
The first model to tread the catwalk in this year’s
Spring/Summer catwalk show is Kate Moss which, in itself, already defines the change that can be seen in his designs. More minimalist, without ever actually being minimalist, they are heavily influenced by the rocker aesthetic.
Opening of the Richard Avedon 1944–1994 exhibition, sponsored by Versace. His designs this year include new print motifs that are combined with a return to classical origins, embodied by dresses reminiscent of Greek Vestals.
Takes part in the first Florence Biennale, dedicated to the theme of Time and Fashion. This year’s collections are less Baroque, opting for surprisingly nuanced tones, especially in his classic metallic fabrics.
Performance of Béjart’s Barroco-Bel Canto ballet in Florence, with costumes by Versace. He dies on 15 July in Miami. Franco Zeffirelli dedicates the following words to him: ‘With Versace’s death, Italy and the world lose the designer who liberated fashion from conformity, giving it imagination and creativity.
Folds and Drapes
From his earliest collections, the shapes of classical Greco-Roman art are present in his designs. One of the defining characteristics of sculpture in this period in the history of art, particularly the Hellenistic style, is the treatment of clothing. The folds and drapes characteristic of cloaks and tunics play a prominent role, often melting into the body in an attempt to show the physiognomy of the figures without undressing them.
This art of controlling the way that the cloth falls over the female body (mastered by both Phidias, the great Classical Athenian sculptor, and Vionnet, the first fashion designer to use the bias cut in a dress) was revitalised by Versace in his tireless search for new draping effects. For example, he used metallic fabrics to achieve a dynamic tension never before seen in fashion.
Byzantine Mosaic Art Inspiration
The decorative richness and dazzling lustre of Byzantine mosaic art were another of the designer’s other sources of inspiration. It has been said that, in the same way that Ravenna’s mosaics visually lighten the architectural heaviness of Byzantine temples, the designer’s metallic fabrics, which are made from small plates similar to tiles, display this visual paradox between the heaviness of the metal and the lightness of the visual effect.
Both the previous design and this one are reminiscent of the metallic fabrics worn by gladiators.
Cocktail Tunic Dress
In the same way that Venus’ cloak climbs up her back without it being possible to see where it is attached, while achieving the desired effect of the view from the front, the black evening gown accompanying the sculpture suggests an inversion of the curve of the neckline at the back to surprise the onlooker.
This idea, taken from the metal corsets worn by women in the early modern period, was one of the leitmotifs of his mid-1990s’ evening gowns, reinforced with rigid internal structures.
Black cocktail dress
A Taste for Sensationalism
This dress demonstrates a taste for sensationalism, which was undoubtedly one of Versace’s traits, just as it was in Hellenistic sculpture. This is aided greatly by the decorative excess that lent a mysticism, similar to that of religious art, to the Italian designer’s work.
Silk Cocktail dress
The Influence of Miami’s South Beach
This jacket is one of the creations imagined by Versace under the influence of Miami’s South Beach. Versace’s move to Miami resulted in the designer entering a world of stimuli that brought about a new twist in his perception of clothing, mainly in terms of colour.
From the relative chromatic sobriety of the 1980s, he threw himself into fluorescent tones and created an unmistakable and eclectic aesthetic with his prints, which combined pop-culture references with classical motifs and animal prints.
Comme des Garçons and Versace
It is interesting to compare Versace with another reinventor of fashion at that time, Rei Kawakubo, who was astonishing people in Paris with her brand Comme des Garçons. Kawakubo deconstructed fashion to create a mystical, monastic aesthetic, which formed the basis for minimalism in the 1990s. In contrast, through a reinterpretation of materials and forms, Versace paved the way for glamorous mystique, without closing the door on feminine flirtation.
Brown wool long coat
1920s, 30s and 40s Inspiration
When designing his evening gowns, Versace placed a special emphasis on studying materials with the aim being innovative in the way that fabrics fell and reinventing the aesthetics of fashions past, particularly those of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, to which he turned time and time again for inspiration.
This dress showcases Versace’s interest in using contrasting materials and techniques as a tool for revitalising them. The lace sleeve only serves to emphasise the asymmetry of the neckline, whose wide lapel alludes to the draped necklines created by Vionnet and reinterpreted by Versace in his 1989 Spring/Summer collection.
Black Cocktail Dress
A Continuous Experimentation
This design is evidence of Versace’s continued experimentation: once again, the break from symmetry; once again the effect of contrasting materials, here in the shoulder pad on the sleeveless side, in back-stitched leather. This, in turn, emphasises the military style of the 1940s and is a passing reminder of the protective clothing of the Roman gladiators.
Black crepe wool dress
A Laborious Technical Work
This mini dress was worn on the catwalk in Milan in the spring of 1994 by Naomi Campbell, who managed to attract more attention than the garment itself. Far from the glare created by the media spectacle, it is possible to appreciate the laborious technical work with which this design was created.
Flattering the Beauty of Female Body
It is also important to note the designer’s ability to dilute the stridency of his statements when he thought it appropriate, without ever losing sight of the “erotic” style that defined him. This purple suit jacket is a good example of this: classically cut in comfortable fabric, nonetheless, it does not lose the slender lines essentially designed to flatter the sinuous beauty of the female body.
Suit jacket in purple wool
Prints: a Rich Iconography
Prints are possibly the feature most characteristic of Versace’s style in the popular imagination. While the classical gold motifs are remembered most, the many influences that the Italian poured into his work yielded a rich iconography. In this ensemble in particular, the designer opted for abstract motifs.
Ensemble printed with graffiti
When Popular and High Culture Meet
The gleam of the gilt metal of Athena’s patera bowl, seen on the previous slide, immediately brings to mind the prints on this short denim jacket by Versace. The big difference is that the ornamental exuberance appears on two completely different backgrounds.
While the original patera is silver, Versace has chosen denim – the fabric of cowboys; the quintessential informal, working material – on which to print the most ostentatious of decorations. The Italian thereby harmonises two extremes that were reluctant to meet: popular and high culture. Every time Versace turned to denim, it was to elevate it to the grade of luxury, in the same way that he took the entire history of art and brought it onto the streets. In this instance, the classical motifs that sit alongside shells and starfish have been presented in an original way: in relief, giving them a Baroque appearance.
A Beauty and History Lover
Byzantine art can be singled out among the fragments of history that the designer brought to life. Its most breathtaking manifestation can be found in Ravenna, in the mosaics of the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, or in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
The meticulous work in the mosaic does not detract from the splendour of the Byzantine gold work – one of the most ostentatious examples that exists. The consolidation of celestial and earthly power required, then as it does now, a strong propaganda machine in which the display of wealth was one of the greatest tools.
A lover of beauty and history, it was logical for Versace to absorb the forms and ideas of Byzantine gold work.
There is no better example than this embroidered jumpsuit. It seems miraculous that the tulle, cut to fit the body to the millimetre, can take the weight of the jewellery that covers its surface.
Squeezing Claudia Schiffer, the most famous of Versace’s supermodels, into this bejewelled dress is surely one of the most convincing expressions of power imaginable. Yet in this instance, the girl isn’t the prize; the power resides in her mystical sensuality.
This design is inspired by Praxiteles’ Diana. The designer’s intention was to highlight the brooches of the ancient world in the Medusa straps on his evening gowns.
The folds of the skirt allude to the fluting on the shafts of the columns – a parallel emphasised by the use of white – and the asymmetry of the skirt can be seen as a reinterpretation of the wet drapery effect seen in the relief of Orpheus and Eurydice.
White Pleated Silk Dress
A Decorative Style
Shells, corals and starfish, intermingled with plant and animal motifs reminiscent of the prints on Hawaiian shirts, as well as gold acanthus leaves, tritons and caryatids taken from classical iconography, form a tapestry overflowing with imagination. It is typical of the unmistakable decorative style that was one of the hallmarks of the house of Versace in the early 1990s.
Exuberance and cultural eclecticism are closely linked to the atmosphere in Miami, which inspired a decisive turning point in the designer’s work towards fashion characterised by radical confidence.
Printed Blue Silk Shirt
Marine Motifs & Abstract Expressionism
Naomi Campbell wore this top on the catwalk, combining it with red cigarette trousers. The piece alludes indirectly to Versace’s affiliation with marine motifs. In this instance, the abstract style is the first noticeable artistic influence, particularly the abstract expressionism of Pollock or Twombly. However, despite the lack of definition in the motifs, it is not unreasonable to suggest a certain Mediterranean influence in the colours and shape of the long brushstrokes that form the print.
Jacket printed with expressionist motifs
15 years without Gianni
Curator: Juan Gutiérrez