Ahead of her S/S18 show, Alexander Fury sits down with Signora Versace for a candid chat about what she looks for in a man
A few days before her S/S18 menswear show, Donatella Versace is reclining in the creosote-coloured confines of the sumptuous Versace apartment, all gilt and marble and lush barocco-print cushions sandwiched between the design studio above and the show space below. We’ve met to talk about men, which always feels like one of her favourite subjects. Because while Donatella obviously relishes designing clothes for the Versace woman (namely, herself I once asked if she wore clothes by other designers. She replied: “the house of Versace is my wardrobe”), she simply loves men.
“I like to dress women, of course,” Donatella states. “But I don’t understand that much, what really men want. Because the kind of men I like shouldn’t wear these kind of clothes. He should actually wear whatever. But of course I don’t do that.” She grins.
Very few designers would say something so honest about their work; but Donatella Versace isn’t like other designers. This years is her 20th anniversary as creative director of Versace, a post assumed when her brother Gianni – the original Versace man – was shot outside his Miami Beach mansion, Casa Casuarina. Her S/S18 collection is, in a sense, an homage to Gianni, using the prints he devised and adored, and shown in the old-fashioned style, up close and personal around the courtyard of Palazzo Versace, the 18th century mansion Versace bought in 1981 and made an emblem of both his success and style. “It’s to make a statement,” says Donatella. “This, here, is where everything began for Versace.”
“The kind of men I like shouldn’t wear these kind of clothes. He should actually wear whatever” – Donatella Versace
The wonderful thing about Versace – the thing that makes it feel pure, which is a word Donatella was using a lot around her S/S18 show, but which always feels applicable to Versace – is its honesty. Just like those comments about her ideal man actually not wearing her clothes – as she spouted, grinning from ear to ear from under her preternaturally peroxided bob, you expected a PR rep to smother her into silence with a quilted Versace bedspread. But there’s no stopping Signora Versace. If Donatella believes it, she’ll say it; and if doesn’t like an outfit, it won’t go on the runway. It’s a matter of taste – and Donatella trusts her instincts.
Speaking of taste, another indomitable woman, Diana Vreeland, once stated that bad taste is better than no taste. She also said, “Never fear being vulgar, only boring.” Donatella once gave me her own spin on that: speaking of the early years of the label, working alongside Gianni, she reminisced, “A word I heard a lot at the beginning was ‘vulgar’” She skipped a beat. “Which was better than ‘shit’.”
From those early good taste-bad taste shows, the word fearless has always been synonymous with Versace. That’s stayed the same – it’s how Donatella likes her Versace man – the kind who’ll wear, say, a hooded jacket in silk twill patterned with balletic angels in a dozen pastel shades, or a suit finely pinstriped with filigree chains.
“Nowadays, we talk about gay men and straight men. Now gay men wear straight men clothes. Straight men tend to wear gay men clothes. They’re not afraid, and that I like very much” – Donatella Versace
Ironically, she doesn’t see him as a ‘fashion’ man. “You know, many young designers do these kind of different shapes…” begins Donatella, with something of a pensive looks on her face. She sips some water, from a Versace goblet like a crystal chalice, etched with the same swirly-whirly motifs that coil across half the spring collection. As she lifts it up, there’s a flash of a three-dimensional Medusa etched into the bottom. She carries on. “Shoulders like this, short sweater’ – she mimes Dynasty padding, and karate-chops her own ribcage. “That’s fine. But I like men – if I see a man dressed like that, I’ll kill him!” Donatella cracks up. “But I understand, fashion-wise, they’re right. And I admire them. But I’m a woman, looking – I’m a straight woman looking to have a man. I want to see a man with a different proportion, but still a man. A masculine proportion.”
Her Versace man has, undoubtedly, evolved. “It’s just completely different to the Versace of my brother,” she says. “It was a different time. It was the 90s, always fun. Nowadays, we talk about gay men and straight men. Now gay men wear straight men clothes. Straight men tend to wear gay men clothes. They’re not afraid, and that I like very much. It completely changed, the man. Completely changed.”
Sexuality is one thing Donatella doesn’t care about. “I find so many gay men attractive,” she muses. “And I find a lot, a lot of straight men attractive.” Another megawatt grin, sparkling like the diamond the size of a pigeon’s skull that weighs down her right hand. “I grew up in a family where a brother was gay and the other was straight – and a womaniser! So I have both examples.” Donatella shrugs. “Of course, I love both of them. They are different but the same. For me, maybe for me it’s easier because I grew up in a family with a gay brother and a straight brother, to understand that there is not gay or straight, he is a man. In general, it doesn’t define you.”
As long as you’re having sex – lots of sex – with someone, Donatella’s happy. It means she’s doing her job.