Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Power Dressing

Since unexpectedly inheriting control of her family business two decades ago, Donatella Versace has successfully transformed the fashion house into a mighty 21st-century brand

Words: Daniel Kong

“I NEED MUSIC PLAYING everywhere. I have music playing in my office, in my home, at the design studio. Versace is part of pop culture, and I have always used music to make connections with what is happening on the street,” says Donatella Versace. As the iconic face and Artistic Director of the Versace Group, this is perhaps the 61-year-old’s secret to keeping the brand up to speed with the rapid pace of fashion.

“Recently, I can’t stop listening to one of my latest show’s soundtracks created for us by Violet & Photonz. It celebrates the strength of women and the power of the female future,” she explains. But while power may be a focus of her latest collection, it has undoubtedly been part and parcel of the brand since its conception – celebrated by Versace’s late brother Gianni and passed on to Donatella after his tragic death in 1997.

In fact, this vision of the pioneering and powerful woman has become even more relevant with the global rise of feminism and its push for gender equality. It therefore comes as no surprise that women of strength gravitate towards the brand, including Madonna, Lady Gaga and recently the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, who wore a custom-made rosegold chain-mail gown to her final state dinner.

“[Michelle] is a strong woman, yet so elegant and delicate. I love strong women like her – they stand up for our rights, they are a positive message, and most of all they represent the possibility to be whoever you want to be. Every custom-made dress takes so many hours of craftsmanship … [and] I am so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of that moment.”

Through Versace’s pioneering spirit, the family brand has also reached a variety of audiences. One example was its collaboration with H&M in 2011, which created such hysteria that it crashed the fast-fashion retailer’s website and sold out within 30 minutes of boutique stores opening. Just last year the company also announced that it would be working with former One Direction star Zayn Malik to create a men’s and women’s capsule collection under the company’s Versus line.

“I love to work with young people,” says Versace. “I’m inspired by the young people who work at my design studio, and the new energy they bring. I also want to think about Versace not just today, but the Versace of tomorrow. That’s why I chose to collaborate with Zayn. Why not? He is one of the most exciting personalities on the world stage right now.”

    

Donatella Versace drives a brand that celebrates the strength of women

Simultaneously, the company also recently launched “Versace”, a book co-written by Versace herself with fashion authorities Maria Luisa Frisa and Stefano Tonchi and published by Rizzoli. The richly illustrated tome explores the archives of the fashion house, focusing on the period from when she took the helm in 1997 until now.

One key attraction of the book is the original essays from fashion’s foremost writers, including one by Versace’s late friend Ingrid Sischy, who provides insights into the Versace family. Tim Blanks, Alexander Fury and Sonnet Stanfill also contributed to the publication, giving readers new insight into the Versace world.

Eschewing a chronological order, the imagery found inside is based on mood and emotion. Iconic collaborations by the fashion house and legendary photographers include images by Mario Testino and Steven Meisel. In many ways, the project is a condensed time capsule of Versace’s life, and serves as a potent reminder of the designer’s most memorable achievements, including a series of photographs taken by the renowned late fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

“Working with Richard was an incredible experience. Shootings always took weeks. There were hours of preparation and study to find the perfect pose and, of course, the perfect photo. He was such a perfectionist, continually hard-working and focused on getting the best results,” says Versace.

In many ways, the book is a celebration and testament to a woman – a public figure who understands how to dress powerful women because she herself had to be strong when the weight of the Versace brand was unexpectedly heaped on her shoulders almost two decades ago. And having survived the unforgiving spotlight of fashion, what is it that has allowed her to thrive?

“Family is everything in my career,” she answers. “If your surname is also the name of your brand, and that brand becomes one of the most famous companies in the world, then family is at the heart of everything. I am lucky that the brand is truly family to me. When I am with my family, or with my friends, wherever I am, that is when I am at my happiest.”

   

Versace’s new flagship Hong Kong store carries limited numbers of the Palazzo Empire bag

 

Photos: Donatella Versace: Rahi Rezvani. Book cover: VERSACE by Donatella Versace with Maria Luisa Frisa and Stefano Tonchi, Rizzoli New York, 2016

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