The Versace siblings were born to work in fashion. Their mother, Francesca, was a dressmaker, and her second son, Gianni, worked as her apprentice before going on to create the Versace fashion empire with his siblings Santos and Donatella. Although their success was undeniable, their personal lives were plagued with tragedy and heartbreak. Here are 42 fashionable facts about the Versace family.
The Versace siblings were born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, to parents Antonio and Francesca. The mother, Francesca, was a dressmaker, but she had something of an empire of her own, employing up to a dozen seamstresses at a time. It was in her shop that Giovanni “Gianni” Versace, the creative powerhouse of the family, would first work as an apprentice.
In 1978, Gianni Versace began his eponymous fashion brand. He held 50% of the shares, with the rest held by his siblings. Gianni's older brother Santo acted as president while his younger sister Donatella was vice president.
On the morning of July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace left his Miami Beach mansion to walk to a nearby coffee shop to get the morning papers. Usually, an assistant would be the one to perform this task, but that day, Versace decided to go himself. It would be a fatal mistake. When he returned home, he was shot twice in the chest on his front steps.
He was later pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Versace was 50 years old.
Versace's assailant was a 27-year-old man named Andrew Cunanan—but Gianni was just one of Cunanan’s many victims. By the time that Cunanan assassinated Versace, he had already killed four men over the course of three months. His victims included two of his ex-boyfriends, Jeffrey Trail and David Madison, a real estate developer named Lee Miglin, and a caretaker named William Reese. Versace would be his final victim, and there was no known motive for the murder.
In an interview with Vogue, Donatella Versace recently revealed that most people pronounce Versace wrong. She says that it’s not “Versachee…It’s Versach-eh.” Whoops!
Gianni Versace was sometimes called the “Rock n’ Roll designer” because of his ties to musicians. He frequently designed clothes for artists like Michael Jackson and Elton John, two icons that the designer also counted as good friends. Versace was also close with Eric Clapton, Madonna, members of Duran Duran, Cher, and Sting.
On top of that, it could also be said that he was at the center of one of the fiercest rivalries of the 90s. Versace outfitted famous rivals Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.
Versace’s iconic logo is a stylized head of Medusa, but few people know about its secret meaning. Medusa was the Greek mythological figure known for having hair made of snakes and eyes that could turn men to stone. Gianni Versace said that he wanted to use Medusa because her devastating beauty made everyone fall in love with her. He hoped that his clothing would produce the same dazzling effect.
Gianni, Santo, and Donatella were not the only Versace siblings. They also had a sister named Tina, but she faced a terrible fate. The young girl tragically died at the age of just 12 years old after she contracted a tetanus infection. It wasn’t properly treated, leading to her early death.
Gianni Versace was one of the few fashion designers who had a hands-on approach to not just design, but also to running the entire Versace brand. He demanded a say in the business side of the fashion line. One of Gianni’s ideas ended up revolutionizing the fashion world. He decided to feature celebrities in Versace’s marketing campaigns and to invite them to sit front row at fashion shows.
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Gianni Versace’s interest in Greek mythology heavily influenced his work as a fashion designer. When the Versace siblings were children, they played in architectural ruins near their home. That’s where Gianni saw the Medusa head that would become the iconic Versace logo.
Aside from employing his two siblings, Gianni Versace was always interested in keeping the Versace brand in the family. Donatella’s husband Paul Beck acted as menswear director, while Gianni’s boyfriend Antony D’Amico worked as a designer for Versace diffusion lines like Istante and Versus Sport. When Gianni Versace died, he left his shares in the company to Donatella’s daughter Allegra.
Gianni Versace was behind one of the most iconic fashion moments of the 1990s. In 1994, up-and-coming star Elizabeth Hurley wore a skimpy black Versace dress to the premiere of her boyfriend Hugh Grant’s film Four Weddings and a Funeral. The risqué nature of the dress, held together by gold safety pins in “strategic places,” garnered a ton of media attention for both Hurley and Versace. It’s likely the designer's best-known creation.
While it was Gianni behind that black dress, another of Versace’s most memorable creations was put on display in the year 2000—and inadvertently led to the creation of something that we use every day. When Jennifer Lopez wore a plunging green dress designed by Donatella Versace to the Grammy awards in 2000, it nearly broke the internet.
So many people were searching for photos of it that it became the motivation for the creation of Google Images.
Gianni Versace met Italian model Antony D’Amico in 1982, just as his company was expanding and gaining continued success. The pair would be together for years, though sadly, they were doomed to a heartbreaking end with Gianni’s untimely death in 1997. D’Amico cared for Gianni when he was diagnosed with cancer of the ear, and even took over designing duties for his ailing partner.
Gianni Versace is also credited with popularizing the idea of the supermodel in the 1990s. He frequently used supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista on his runway and in his ad campaigns. They were known as “the Trinity,” a name bestowed upon them by legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel.
There’s a good reason why Gianni Versace named his brother Santo as president of Versace. Not only did Santo work as a banker and an accountant, he has a degree in economics. He began working with Gianni just two years before the first Versace boutique opened.
Versace's killer, Andrew Cunanan, was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives after the death of Lee Miglin, and a manhunt ensued. However, the pursuit has received strong criticism and been seen as a maligned effort. In a terrible twist, it turned out that Cunanan was hiding in plain sight for two months before he killed Versace. Since then, many have speculated that law enforcement’s failure to capture Cunanan was the result of homophobia.
The police never arrested Cunanan for the murders he committed. Instead, Cunanan was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on a houseboat in Miami Beach. He used the same gun that he shot Gianni Versace with.
Gianni Versace left 50% of the Versace company to his niece, Donatella’s daughter Allegra, as well as his fine art collection, which she was to share with her brother Daniel. Versace also made sure that his partner, Antony D’Amico, would be take care of. He made arrangements to leave D’Amico with a generous lifelong pension and access to any of Versace’s homes.
However, the Versace family dealt D’Amico a heartbreaking blow. They disputed this part of Gianni’s will, leaving D’Amico with substantially less than he’d been promised.
Donatella Versace initially wanted to work in public relations when she joined her brother’s company, but Gianni admired her creative input so much that he wanted her in more of a “muse and critic” role. After Gianni’s death, Donatella became the creative director of Versace—and more informally, she is now the face of the brand.
Versace’s bold, colorful, and sexy designs were extremely popular in the famously excessive 80s, and he had a major rivalry with another Italian designer, Giorgio Armani. Fashion critics described their similar-yet-different designs with a coy comparison. They said that Armani designed clothes for the wives, while Versace made clothes for the mistresses.
Held at the famed Milan Cathedral, Gianna Versace's funeral was attended by a number of celebrities, including movie stars, supermodels, and royalty. Diana, Princess of Wales were among the guests at the funeral. While the public was happy to see their beloved princess, that terrible day held an awful secret. It was one of the very last times that Diana would be seen in public. The princess would perish in a car crash just weeks later.
Gianni Versace also had a strong interest in theater, with many ballets and operas hiring the designer to provide costumes for performers. Passionate about extravagant outfits and the performing arts, Versace also designed clothing for Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say” video and Elton John’s 1992 world tour.
After the assassination of Gianni Versace, it was rumored that Cunanan and Versace met in San Francisco in 1990 and traveled in the same circles during the early 90s. Their alleged meeting was included in a dramatized version in the TV show American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, but the Versace family always denied that Gianni had any connection to his killer.
In the critically acclaimed TV show American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Edgar Ramirez portrayed Gianni, Penelope Cruz portrayed Donatella, and 90s heartthrob Ricky Martin played Antony D'Amico.
Since the early 2000s, when Versace experienced a decline in sales, shares of the company have slowly been sold off to others. First, the Blackstone Group purchased 20%. More recently, Group Michael Kors purchased all remaining shares from Blackstone and the Versace family. This purchase marked the first time that the company hasn’t been controlled by a family member since its inception.
Donatella Versace married American model Paul Beck in 1983 (yep, he definitely appeared in campaigns for the Versace brand). Soon after, he graduated from model to head of menswear at Versace. The couple had two children, Allegra and Daniel, before eventually divorcing in 2000. To this day, the pair has never explicitly revealed the reason behind their split.
Gianni and Donatella Versace were particularly close, and when he died, she grieved deeply—but she was also under tremendous pressure to right the ship and steer the Versace brand into the next decade. Not only was she in charge of Versace and its numerous diffusion lines, there was also perfume, watches, housewares, and more. She was expected to present a dozen collections of her designs per year. It was all too much for Donatella. It wasn't long before she took a dark turn.
Donatella Versace first used cocaine in the 80s, but following her brother’s death, she turned to regular substance abuse to get through the days. She said that when she was using every day, her brain ceased to function normally, she was aggressive, and that even her children became scared of her. The brand suffered great losses, and it was during this period that Versace and Beck divorced.
In 2004, Donatella’s two children Allegra and Daniel enlisted the help of Versace family friend Elton John to make a heartbreaking gesture. They staged an intervention for their mother—on Allegra’s 18th birthday. Donatella went into treatment in Arizona and has been sober ever since. However, Allegra was hiding her own dark secret.
The location of the next Palazzo Versace is Macao, but the Versace company recently got in hot water for shirts suggesting that Hong Kong and Macau are separate countries, a political hot topic. Versace eventually apologized to its Chinese customers for the slogan, but not before one of their brand ambassadors quit.
In the early 2000s, as her mother balanced her addiction with the demands of running the Versace brand, some things began to stick out in event and paparazzi photos of her daughter Allegra: she was frighteningly slim. Reporters began to ask questions, and finally, in 2007, the Versace family revealed the chilling truth. They revealed that Allegra had been battling anorexia for a number of years, but that she was receiving medical treatment.
While their mother was a dressmaker and Gianni Versace learned his craft from her at a young age, Donatella Versace has never actually sewn a single thing in her life.
When Gianni Versace died, Donatella was in Rome getting ready for an upcoming fashion show. One of the first things she did was call her close friend Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. At the time, Madonna was working on an album in L.A. When Donatella arrived at Casa Casaurino, the Miami Beach mansion where Gianni was murdered, Madonna was already there waiting for her.
But how did she get past all the paparazzi stationed out front? Casa Casaurino had multiple private entrances, and Madonna was a frequent visitor, so she likely knew all about them.
If you’ve got a few hundred bucks to blow on a night out, you can live like a Versace and stay in one of their hotels. Gianni Versace began to develop the idea for a Versace hotel before his death. The first Palazzo Versace opened in Australia in 2000, followed by another location in Dubai in 2015. Both were designed by Donatella Versace, who was committed to making her brother's dreams come true, even after death.
Donatella’s distinctive look, with bleached blonde hair, tanned skin, high heels, and heavy makeup, as well as her deep voice and reputation for partying, have been parodied by Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live. Although Donatella is rumored to be insecure, she’s taken the imitation of her quite well, and has even befriended Rudolph.
As one of the most famous fashion brands on the planet, Versace is now a household name. The proof? It's widely referenced in film and television. In a memorable and meme-able scene from Showgirls, Elizabeth Berkley’s character receives a compliment on her dress. She replies, “Thanks, I got it at Ver-sayce.”
Showgirls wasn’t the only time that Gianni Versace’s designs appeared on screen. Versace had a passion for film, and worked as costume designer or on the wardrobes team for a number of movies throughout the 90s, including Judge Dredd and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
One of Gianni Versace’s most notable creations was the fabric oroton, a super-light kind of chainmail that he used in his designs for clothing and handbags. The metal fabric is polished for a super-shiny effect.
When Gianni Versace was 26 years old, he moved to Milan to work in fashion, starting with a job designing a youth collection for an Italian fashion line. From there, he went on to show his first collection and start his first boutique in 1978. Versace began with clothing and shoes, but in 1982 the brand began to produce jewelry and housewares, including textiles for the home and fine china. Imagine eating off a plate featuring Versace’s iconic Medusa logo? The brand's housewares are still sold today.
After the release of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Donatella Versace aired her grievances about the show. She said that she tried to have her lawyers sue to stop production, but that she was unable to. She did make one heartbreaking request that showrunner Ryan Murphy acquiesced to. Donatella implored him to leave her children out of the story.
Allegra was incredibly close with her uncle Gianni, and was just 11 years old when he passed away. She was allegedly shocked when his will was read and it was revealed that he’d left 50% of the company to her—to be held in trust until she was 18 years old. Allegra waited until she was 24 to begin working for the company, but she remains camera shy and stays behind the scenes.
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