There are fashion moments and then there are Versace fashion moments. And this evening in Milan was one that defies description in its power, poignancy, and effect. The stakes of this particular show were all that much higher given that this past summer marked the 20th anniversary of Gianni Versace's brutal murder on the steps of his Miami home, Casa Causarina.
But this was not a show about loss, tragedy or mourning. In the flesh, it was a show about Versace's most memorable collections in the years just before his untimely death: Tresor de la Mer, the Pop Art / Warhol season, the pastel tennis skirt looks (shot by Avedon, styled by Carlyne Cerf), to name a few. And don't forget the Western season. All reproduced and styled exactly the way they originally walked then, but on the Versace girls of the moment; Gigi, Binx, Kendall, Bella, Candace, Vittoria. And for added drama, they walked in the similar pairs or trios the way girls used to walk in the 80s and 90s. The girls marched ahead, but without the say flirtiness or unvarnished sex (that was all in the clothes) usually imbued into a Donatella production. There was in its place a stealiness in the eyes and stomp of the women, brisk even. Again, the clothes speaking for themselves. What it brought to mind was the larger notion that this is what Versace the brand, and Donatella herself, has done since that dark day in July two decades ago; kept stomping, moving forward, without even a blink. That in and of itself was a powerful enough message of fortitude, glamour and mettle in the face of unspeakable loss, and the show could have ended right there. But that, as you now know from the deluge of Instagram stories and breathless tweets, was but prologue to what will be remembered as one of the greatest runway reveals of all time.
After the run of show line up made their exit in the set at La Triennale di Milano, a white curtain was drawn, and like goddesses of Olympus plucked from an Avedon campaign, Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell (center), Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen stood as the strains of George Michael's anthemic Freedom '90 blared, in gold metallic mesh gowns in the style of the Fall 1994 collection. In the pantheon of Versace history, the image of Linda Evangelista, Cindy, Naomi, and Christy Turlington walking to Freedom '90 (after they had starred in the iconic video earlier that year) at the FW 1991 show with Gianni, is high on the altar. The magic of that particular moment 25 years ago is cited as the peak confluence of supermodel-dom, pop music, and 90s excess, with Mr. Versace as it's gleeful and canny Zeigfeld. Though Linda and Christy were (sadly) absent today, seeing this formidable group of women walk to that song now this many years on, with the dark tragedy yet glorious and impossible turnaround of the house behind it, and with Donatella, emotional but resolute, holding the hands of the original and irreplaceable supers, the audience and the entire collective fashion world were brought to its feet. The story here certainly is the legacy and loss of Gianni Versace but it is also just as much Donatella's own story since July 1997. It is Donatella who has kept the vision alive, Donatella who has continued to empower and inspire the women she dresses, Donatella who gives just as few f*cks as her brother did, and thank God for that. Not to mention that these clothes from 1991-1995 look as relevant and hot as they did two decades ago. The scene today was deeply moving for the people who were around when Gianni wowed the crowds with each collection and then were left to deal with the loss of a true fashion original after his murder. But just like then and always at Versace, there was Donatella, out in front, keeping it all together and giving us everything. To quote the oh so trenchant, and dearly departed, George Michael: Donatella did not let us down, and we will not give her up.