The man, his house, his legacy: With “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” airing on FX, learn more about the larger-than-life fashion brand and the designer who launched it.
Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty ImagesHis Roots Were HumbleThough the brand that bears his name has become synonymous with grandeur and opulence, Gianni Versace was born in a southern Italian industrial town, Reggio Di Calabria, on December 2, 1946. He was the first-born child of Antonio and Francesca, an appliance salesperson and dressmaker/clothing store owner.
Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty ImagesHe Was an Artist and a BusinessmanWhen the designer launched and helmed his eponymous label in 1978, he took the reins for many aspects of the business, not only creating his pieces but also managing details related to retail and display design. In the course of two decades, Versace went from a boutique Italian brand to an international phenomenon worn and coveted by the biggest celebrities and figures in the world, from Princess Diana to Tupac Shakur to Jennifer Lopez.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesMythical LogoThe Versace emblem is the head of Medusa, the female monster from Greek mythology who had poisonous snakes in the place of hair. As the legend goes, she was so hideous that if anyone looked upon her face, they would turn to stone. This choice of logo may seem ironic for a brand focused on aesthetics, but before Medusa was transformed into a grotesque creature, she was a beautiful maiden that nobody, not even the gods (namely Poseidon), could resist.
Estate Of Evelyn Hofer/Getty ImagesDonatella Was 'His Doll'Though she would take the lead of the brand after Gianni’s death, little sister Donatella (10 years his junior) inspired many of her brother’s designs during his life. As Donatella told "The Guardian" in 2017, “I was his doll and his best friend. He dressed me up in cool clothes, took me out to discos and clubs from when I was 11. I loved it. It was the best time of my life.”
Ron Galella/WireImageSibling Versus SiblingIn the 1980s Donatella became more involved in the company, eventually earning her own separate brand in 1989: Versus Versace. She led the offshoot label and had sole creative responsibility and freedom, exploring more daring themes and revealing designs.
Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty ImagesGianni's It GirlsNowadays, the runways are ruled by the likes of Gigi and Bella Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, and Kendall Jenner, but the first and arguably most influential group of supermodels ever assembled — then dubbed the start of the “Supermodel Phenomenon” — was thanks to Gianni Versace and included icons Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, and Helena Christensen.
Dave M. Benett/Getty ImagesHe Was Out in a Mostly Closeted WorldGianni was the first Italian designer to come out as gay, which was groundbreaking at the time, and the only other openly gay celebrity in the world was Sir Elton John. Despite the often violent homophobia across the United States in the 1990s, highlighted in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” Gianni lived his life openly and cohabitated with longtime boyfriend Antonio D’Amico in his Miami mansion.
Dave Benett/Getty ImagesThe Man Knew How to Work a Safety PinModel and actress Elizabeth Hurley would have had people talking regardless of what she wore to the 1994 premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (especially with then-boyfriend Hugh Grant by her side), but her Gianni-designed dress — a revealing black number held together by oversized gold safety pins — turned heads all night. “Unlike many other designers,” Hurley later said, “Versace designs clothes to celebrate the female form rather than eliminate it.”
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImageHis Name Is Huge in Hip-HopThe flashy aesthetic of the brand proved irresistible to rappers who had in earlier years embraced a laid-back ethos, but now were trading up for the conspicuous opulence of Versace’s designs, evidenced by both their lyrics and wardrobe. The hip-hop elite who coveted the brand in the early days ranged from Notorious B.I.G. to Puff Daddy, Lil’ Kim, and even Tupac Shakur, who not only rocked Versace in music videos and at the Grammy Awards, but also walked the runway as a Versace model in 1996. Two decades later, the brand still appeals to heavy hitters in hip-hop, from Jay-Z and Kanye West to Drake and Migos, M.I.A., Pharrell, and Nicki Minaj.
JON LEVY/AFP/Getty ImagesFashion or Art?The lines have often blurred as there are often nods to famous works of art and architectural elements in the Versace designs. His creations have also been featured both during his lifetime and posthumously in numerous prestigious museums around the world, such as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Milan’s Royal Palace, Chicago’s Field Museum, and Kobe’s City Museum.
Georges De Keerle/Getty ImagesHe Was Gunned Down in Broad DaylightOn the morning of July 15, 1997, Gianni left his Miami mansion and headed to a local cafe he frequented. He returned home around 8:45 a.m. and was unlocking the front gate to his property when Andrew Cunanan shot him twice in the head before fleeing the scene. It’s unclear if there was a link between the men, but 27-year-old Cunanan had killed four other men in the few months leading up to the murder of Gianni Versace. Eight days later, as authorities were closing in on the serial killer, he turned the murder weapon on himself and committed suicide on a houseboat.
GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty ImagesHis Death Ended a Feud Between Famous FriendsIn the 1990s, Gianni became close friends with Princess Diana and Sir Elton John. But according to Tina Brown’s biography “The Diana Chronicles,” a rift between the three occurred when the designer released “Rock and Royalty,” a book benefiting John’s AIDS charity and featuring photos of Diana and sons William and Harry amid other pages of semi-nude male models. It was only after Gianni’s death that Diana and Elton made up, with the princess reportedly holding the music star’s hand during the funeral. (Eerily, Diana herself was killed in a car crash just a month and a half after Gianni’s death, inspiring Elton to record his revised version of “Candle in the Wind.”)
Andy Zakeli - PA Images/PA Images via Getty ImagesHe Kept It All in the FamilyAt the time of his death, the designer left behind an $807 million business with 130 boutique stores worldwide. After Gianni’s murder, the Versace Group named a new artistic director, his sister Donatella. Through his will, Gianni bestowed a 20 percent share of the company to her, while their brother Santo received 30 percent and became CEO. Nephew Daniel inherited Gianni’s multi-million-dollar art collection.
Dave Benett/Getty ImagesAn 11-Year-Old Inherited HalfGianni had no children, but ensured his legacy would live on through his family business, especially niece Allegra (Donatella’s daughter), who inherited the largest percentage of the family business at age 11. When she turned 18, she legally took control of her 50 percent stake in the company.
Scott Gries/Getty ImagesYou Can Thank Versace for Google Image SearchIn 2000, this jungle-goddess green dress was hardly new to the scene: It had already been down the runway, in an advertising campaign, and worn by Donatella herself the previous year. But when Jennifer Lopez famously wore it to the Grammys, it commanded so much media attention it inspired the creation of Google Images search. Both Donatella and Lopez have said they were shocked by all the hubbub. "It was a nice dress,” Lopez has said. “I had no idea it was going to become such a big deal."
Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesIt's So Much More Than ClothesThe brand extended beyond fashion and accessories when it opened its first Palazzo Versace hotel on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2000, then expanded to Dubai, with a third location to be built in Macau. Palazzo Versace is the first hotel to be branded by a luxury company, allowing visitors a taste of a fully immersive 5-star Versace lifestyle complete with bespoke Versace furnishings and artwork, private rooftop lounges, individual jacuzzis, and stunning views. In 2014, Villa Casa Casuarina, the infamous South Beach mansion where Gianni was murdered, reopened as a luxury hotel with views overlooking Ocean Drive, a “Venus Suite” boasting 1,428 square feet, and a 24-karat lined pool that Gianni himself designed.
Nick Harvey/WireImageThe Brand Goes Both High and LowYes, Versace has collaborated with other high-end brands on everything from a luxury helicopter to a line of 10 Lamborghinis. But over the years Versace has also become more accessible and budget-friendly via fast fashion, home goods, and footwear. When Versace collaborated with retailer H&M in 2011, the sale crashed the site within minutes of launch due to overwhelming demand; even paper shopping bags emblazoned with the two brands’ logos were being resold online. The following year, Versace and H&M collaborated again, with Prince performing at the New York City launch party.