My dear husband is a keen member of the V&A and bought tickets to hear Donatella Versace “in conversation”. I was really excited, as last time Nick organised one of these with Christopher Raeburn it was fantastic. Again we cycled across the park, and ate duck on rice afterwards. This was a different matter, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the evening.
The Museum described the event thus:
Donatella Versace, Creative Director of the renowned Italian fashion house, celebrates the launch of her new book, Versace, and discusses her life and career.
The talk was illustrated by sumptuous photographs from her new book (signed copies of which were available…).
Donatella arrived only a few minutes late, in a showy but relaxed navy blue skirt and sleeveless top, entered the auditorium and spent a good five minutes kissing people that she knew in the front row, including photographer Bruce Weber. She looked tiny in the lecture theatre, and eventually sat down opposite the interviewer. She stared at him throughout, not turning to look at the audience once, wrapping one leg over and under the other, holding her knees, and writhing a little in her seat. She struck me as an introvert, not comfortable with herself. Rather shy and slightly vulnerable. Unfortunately her English is heavily accented, and she has something of a lisp. Add to that a face-mic that was too close to her swollen lips and for the first few minutes it was impossible to understand a word she was saying.
Much of the initial conversation was about the photographers she had worked with, and the models. Most of whom were “difficult”. Prince was lovely, private and gave lots of money to charity. Madonna. Kate Moss. Supermodels. Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton – most of them were “difficult”. The discussion veered off to cover Donatella’s thoughts was about men and women, power and image. It was fairly interesting, she wasn’t particularly self-aggrandising, but she didn’t really have much to say. It ran along quite well, but mainly because the interviewer Tim Blanks, Editor at large of The Business of Fashion who worked hard to help make it so.
Yet she has taken hold of a company that was floundering after the murder of her brother Gianni, founder of the house, in 1997. Over the past two decades she has turned it round from near bankruptcy to an annual turnover of $500m. She has employed a good team, both to run the business and to design the clothes, and it seems to me that she is a competent and effective leader. Her approach to fashion is to create powerful, strong women, often dressed head to toe in tight black outfits, or flamboyant, colourful dresses fit for red carpet events. There is some superb fashion coming out of the house across all the ages, all types of clothes, different ranges and price points and lots and lots of inspiration. The luxery brand even did a link up with High Street shop H&M.
Unfortunately a long history of extreme plastic surgery and facial alteration has made her look unnatural and freaky, and her face is devoid of natural expression. With her unusual appearance, somewhat determined but flatly expressed opinions, with a fondness for bling and logos, it would be pretty easy to send it up, and it won’t surprise you that has already been done.
Despite her human faults you could not help feeling warmth and understanding, as well as excitement about her achievements. She lost her younger sister as a child, and her brother was murdered. She was obliged to take on the family business in the midst of her grief, which has been commercially successful. She is personally worth over $2bn She had a serious drug habit for 20 years, and looks old for her age. I felt that she was genuine and had created something very beautiful. She gives money to AIDS charities and she has given clothes to the V&A including this pink one, on display on the night.
25years ago, in about 1988, I heard Jean Muir speak at the V&A, in the same lecture theatre. She too was rather eccentric with her blueberry lips, skeletal appearance and verbal tics. It is not uncommon to find the humans behind our favourite books, art or fashion to be flawed and somewhat unusual. Creativity is a gift that thankfully surpasses the frail individuals that possess it.