Donatella Versace

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2 mins read

Donatella Francesca Versace was born in May 1955 and is an Italian fashion designer, businesswoman, socialite, and model.

Donatella Versace was born in Reggio di Calabria, Italy, the youngest of four children. Her father, Antonio, was a salesman and her mother, Francesca, was a dressmaker. Her older sister, Tina, died at the age of 12 from an improperly treated tetanus infection. Donatella was persuaded to dye her hair blonde at just 11 years old by Gianni, because he was a big fan of Italian singer Patty Pravo.

In the mid-1970s, Donatella studied literature and languages in Florence, Italy but would commute to Milan every weekend to spend time with her brother Gianni Versace. Donatella also began learning knitwear design in Florence, Italy, together with Gianni who went on to launch the Versace clothing brand.

She had planned to work for her brother in the public relations department, but, according to her, was more valuable to him as a “muse and critic”. Through her closeness to her brother’s enterprises, she entered the fashion world. In 1989, Gianni launched a perfume dedicated to her, Blonde, and gave her her own label, Versus, which Gianni formerly ran for her until his death. In the media, she was widely known as her brother’s muse. During the 1990s when the luxury war was between Versace and Armani, she brought the louche glamour that characterized the brand’s appeal.

Her brother Gianni Versace was murdered on 15 July 1997, outside the re-constructed Casa Casuarina, also known as Versace Mansion, in Miami, Florida. In the aftermath of the highly publicized crime and manhunt, most of the Versace family, including Donatella, moved temporarily to a secluded private resort in the Caribbean. Her brother, Santo Versace, inherited 30% of Versace upon Gianni’s death and her daughter, Allegra Versace, inherited 50%.

On 18 July 1998, one year and three days after Gianni’s death, Donatella Versace mounted her first Haute couture show for the Versace Atelier at the Hôtel Ritz Paris. She built her runway over the hotel’s swimming pool, as her brother had done every season, though this time using sheer glass. From October 2002 to January 2003, Gianni and Donatella’s best known Versace clothing was displayed in a special exhibit of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her first years as head of the company were unstable, until she defined a new feminist proposition for the brand in 2005.

Donatella has designed advertising campaigns for Versace that included Madonna, Courtney Love, Christina Aguilera, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Demi Moore, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and January Jones. She designed the Green Versace dress of Jennifer Lopez, also known as the “Jungle-Dress”, which was worn by Jennifer Lopez at the 42nd Grammy Awards in 2000. 

The dress worn by Lopez remains the reason for the creation of Google Images, and is known to have been downloaded over 600,000 times within 24 hours of the Grammy’s night. In 2019, Lopez wore the dress for the first time since 2001 for the Versace Milan Fashion Show.

In 2015, she appeared in the AW15 ad campaign of its direct competitor Givenchy.

Donatella designed the Palazzo Versace Australia resort on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, which opened in September 2000, and played a major role in the design of the Palazzo Versace Dubai, the second Palazzo Versace Hotel, which opened in November 2016. She also designed a Mini Cooper for the Life Ball. In September 2017, Donatella Versace set up a tribute show dedicated to her brother.

She fought a cocaine addiction for 18 years, until 2005. A heavy smoker, she quit in 2014. She supposedly abused tanning sessions to the point of being affected by premature skin aging.

She is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.