Founded in 1978, Versace is an Italian fashion design house established by the late Gianni Versace and continued to this day by various members of his immediate family after his untimely death in 1997 . Debuting with a line of clothing for women, the house was an instant success and was followed by a line of clothing for men and its first boutique in Milan the next year. Drawing from influences in contemporary street life, films, art as well as classical Greek and Roman history and design, he became a favorite amongst celebrities and often used the rich and famous jet-setters in his advertising campaigns. His lavish shows were pop-culture events and in fact Versace is often credited with contributing to the “supermodel” phenomenon of the 1990s when the design house cast every top fashion model for its 1991/1992 Autumn and Winter runway show.
Versace Couture, the house’s main line, manufactures and distributes fashion and lifestyle products such as jewelry, accessories, fragrances, cosmetics and furniture. Versace perfume itself dates back to Gianni himself when his self-titled fragrance for women, Gianni Versace, launched in 1981. And of course, where would the Versace-brand be without Gianni’s sister and muse, Donatella who a perfume dedicated to her famous tresses, Blonde in 1995.
Gianni was born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, on December 2, 1946. After an apprenticeship at his mother’s dressmaking business, he began working as a freelance designer. At age 25, Versace was creating prêt-à-porter collections for top fashion houses of the time, including Genny, Complice and Callaghan.
In 1978, with the help of his brother, Santo, he founded the Gianni Versace company. Later that year, the first Gianni Versace collection for women was shown in Mirant.
Gianni’s bold creative genius consistently challenged the boundaries of the fashion industry. His distinctive cuts, vibrant prints and unconventional materials brilliantly united high art and contemporary culture, and he quickly earned international praise. In 1982 Gianni won the Cutty Sark and Golden Eye (L’Occhio d’Oro) awards for his 1982-1983 Fall/Winter women’s collection – in which he presented his famous metal chain-mail dress. Versace also received the Golden Eye in 1984, ’90, and ’91
Also in 1982, he began work for Teatro della Scala, designing costumes for Veronesi’s production of “Josephlegende”. Gianni’s engagement with the theater sparked a passion that would span his career. He was an ardent patron of the performing and visual arts and an esteemed member of the international artistic community. Versace’s spectacular costumes were featured in stage events worldwide, among them Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (1984) Bob Wilson’s “Salome” (1987) and “Doktor Faust” (1989), and several Béjart ballets, including “Dionysos” (1984), “Leda and the Swan” (1987), “Malraux ou la Métamorphose des Dieux” (1986) and “Chaka Zulu” (1989). In 1985 Versace was awarded the “Maschera d’Argento” (Silver Mask) award for his contribution to the theater.
In 1988 the jury of the Cutty Sark Award named him “the most innovative and creative designer in the world.” In 1993, the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded the American Fashion Oscar to him, and he was honored by the Italian and French presidents.
1994 marked the opening of the Versace flagship boutique in the prestigious Kurfürstendamm, Berlin. In September, the “Versace Signatures” exhibition opened at the Kunstgewerbemuseum.
Also in 1994, published “Designs” the English version of his book, “Vanitas – Ricami e Decori – Decori e Ricami.” Collaborating with publisher Leonardo Arte, photographers Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber and others, Versace produced three more highly-acclaimed volumes: “Men Without Ties” (1994), “Do Not Disturb” (1995) and “Rock and Royalty” (1996).
In 1995 the first his fashion show was held in New York. That year, he sponsored the Haute Couture exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as Richard Avedon’s “1944-1994,” both of which met with great success.
Gianni died on July 15, 1997 in Miami, Florida.