Not many runway shows are pulse-pounding. Versace’s are unfailingly so with their blaring music, leggy supermodels, fierce fashions and famous faces in the crowd — or even walking the show. Hello, remember J.Lo in that dress!
“We will have to do without a front row of VIPs. Something’s gotta give, right?” Donatella Versace said in an e-mail interview ahead of a livestream of her coed spring show, with Versace employees, all of whom tested negative for COVID-19, making up the sparse audience.
Versace went for an undersea theme out of a yearning for nature, escape and fantasy. “Right after the lockdown was lifted, we all saw that the world was actually recovering very fast by the lack of human presence,” she said. “The air was cleaner, the sky seemed of a deeper blue. I want it to stay like this.”
Hence her heightened sustainability ambitions — the collection included organic cotton and recycled polyester and polyamide — and the return of Versace’s iconic Trésor de la Mer print depicting sea creatures.
The sand runway, mythical statuary and crumbling columns for the show set depicted the fictional sunken city of Versaceopolis, whose deep waters were quickly heated up by some of the steamiest fashions seen so far this season — along with drenched hair, oiled flesh and generous bosoms frothing from the top of slipdresses.
The collection was solid and very on-brand in its use of vivid Miami colors, bold prints and unabashed sexiness. Versace paired boxy pinstriped jackets with HotPants, poured models thin and curvy into tube skirts — and she never met a scuba top that went past the ribcage.
While some looks teetered into camp territory — the bedazzled clam-shell bra, for example — Versace clearly had fun with the theme, scattering rows of printed shells on an Eighties shell suit (LOL!) and adding squid-like ruffles to the sleeves and hems of narrow plissé dresses, and bigger, undulating flounces to miniskirts and two-tier ball skirts.
The men’s wear was also strong, varied and only occasionally outré, with silky boardshorts, logo socks and snug tops for surfer dudes, and taut tailoring and silky shirts for those who just want to cruise the boardwalk.
“Fashion is about dreaming and the most instinctive answer to what we are all going through is the desire to create a new world,” Versace mused as she discussed her Versaceopolis idea.
That didn’t apply so much to her presentation format, as thrilling and bombastic as ever: “A Versace show will always be a Versace show, whether it is digital or live,” she shrugged.
Donatella Versace spent alone in Milan, kept company only by her dog. She’d just had her roots dyed (“I’d forgotten what color my hair was”) and was coming back to her very own amplified version of real life. Glammed to the nines and back in business, she sounded so happy on the phone, as if she’d experienced a rebirth of sorts. Four months on, in an email on the morning of her first show since lockdown, her words echoed that sentiment. “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.
Because there can be no re-emergence without prior submergence, Versace seemingly staged her live-streamed show—closed to the public and attended by staff only—in the imagined ruins of Atlantis, water currents streaming down its projected walls. This was the remnants of an old world long gone, its mythical citizens rising from the deep blue in an oceanic make-do and mend of starfish, coral, and seashell motifs from Gianni Versace’s ‘trésors de la mer’ collection for Spring 1992. They were ready to take on a new reality like the Rebirth of Venus herself (starring Adut Akech in the title role, of course). Versace, who described the collection as having “an upbeat soul,” said her challenge was to give fashion meaning in a historical moment like this.
“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.” Under the archival sea, she found her ideal metaphor for a new world of diverse wonders, bringing them to life in a powerful co-ed cast that boosted her ongoing messages of body positivity and gender-nonconformity. Asked how she envisions Versace’s role in the post-pandemic landscape, she said as “an example of inclusion, of mutual support, and acceptance of what is different from us.”
Sometimes, of course, you’ve got to be seen to be heard. Versace’s collection did that, and some, in a pumped-up zingy-colored mix of Malibu Barbie’s summer wardrobe and that of the Little Mermaid if only Prince Eric had bought them a house in Miami. It was, on the women’s as well as the men’s side, high-octane sporty cocktail-wear for an optimistic future—hopefully only a few nautical miles away now. In all its sea-centric detailing, it also had its moments of ingenuity: micro-pleated dresses trimmed with twirly ruffles, which bounced like jellyfish in the waves walking down the runway; crazy cascading skirts layered like the lips of shells; and a bag constructed like a big fortune cookie. We could all do with some good luck these days.