“While I sit down to write these few lines, I have the safety and wellbeing of each and every one of you in mind,” Donatella Versace wrote in a heartfelt letter to Vogue readers back in March. “The reason why I wanted to send this message is to let you know that no one is alone in fighting this battle.”
By mid-March, Versace was already rallying the troops, pledging more than $200,000 to the intensive care units of the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, a city that she noted looked “like a ghost town” during Italy’s nationwide lockdown. It was at this moment that the titan at the helm of Versace also began reconsidering what fashion means, and the period that would ordinarily have seen her Milanese HQ become a hub of frenzied activity instead became about rumination.
“The greatest challenge was to try to understand who I would be talking to and how to give fashion a meaning in such a unique, historic moment,” Versace told Vogue in the days leading up to the reveal of her SS21 collection—a body of work that will take the house’s mythologised Trésor de la Mer print (itself the subject of fashion lore) as its disruptive starting cue.
For the designer and her team (who she has come to cherish as “an extension of my family” these past months), dissecting and reimagining the house signature was a matter of catharsis as well as an opportunity to dream—a word that reoccurred during our conversation and one that speaks to the kind of reverie that is uniquely Versace. “Don’t forget the glamour, the supermodels, the hair and makeup!” the designer pronounced when asked if there’s still a place for that particular elixir in a post-pandemic world. “After this, I think there’s only a place for glamour.”
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What was the inspiration behind the collection this season?
Dreaming of another world and escapism. For me, the two concepts are related because, while we dream of a world that is a better place for everyone, we need to start building it. I also wanted to dream and that is the reason why the collection is so full of colours and has such an upbeat soul.
What creative challenges and opportunities did you face designing it, and how have these shaped the final result?
The world has changed and we have changed. We have been repeating this, almost as a mantra for months, but at the end of the day, for a designer this means to start all over again. The greatest challenge was to try to understand who I would be talking to and how to give fashion a meaning in such a unique, historic moment.
I wanted to do something disruptive and to break the rules because I think that what worked a few months ago does not make any sense today. Creatively, that meant finding a way to bring the DNA of Versace to a new reality and to people who have undergone a deep change.
Was there a particular concept or feeling you wanted to get across in the clothes?
There were a few. Positivity, optimism, hope, desire, dream… Overall, a joyful state of mind.
Did you have a particular woman in mind?
What was your creative starting point?
The Trésor de la Mer print. We blew it up, we changed the colours, we took it apart and we created something completely new, yet familiar. The collection is upbeat. It is full of popping colours and different shapes.
What steps do you think the fashion industry will need to take to adapt to our ‘new normal’?
I think you’ll need to ask me this question in a few months…
What is your take on the future of fashion shows?
That they become more open, inclusive and able to adapt quickly to sudden changes.
What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
Stay true to what you love, keep fighting and have integrity.
As an icon to so many, what advice or message of hope would you give young designers and creatives trying to find their feet and navigate these difficult times?
In the past few months, I have realised the fact that my team is really an extension of my family. Team work has never been as crucial as it is today. Being able to listen to those around you, to the different ideas and be mentally able to accept even what is alien to you, can really make you grow and see things from a different perspective. Even though they have always been important to me, today integrity and inclusivity are everything.