EXCLUSIVE: Donatella Versace on Hailey Bieber, What’s Ahead for Spring, and The TV Shows She’s Loving!

by Eddie Roche

The legendary Donatella Versace, perhaps one of the most universally known and adored figures in the fashion landscape, has had to adapt to a new world just like everyone else. With a buzzier-than-ever Spring collection on the way and the launch of the It bag of the season, she took the challenge head on. She tells THE DAILY what’s ahead, the valuable lessons of the past year, and her take on the current crop of supermodels

First, let’s talk about Versace’s Spring 2021 collection. Why did you want to play with the concept of Medusa?
The Medusa has not only become synonymous with Versace, but most importantly, it’s about what she represents. Mythologically, the Medusa self-conceals so much of the complexity and passion of humankind. I see the Versace woman as a modern-day Medusa, all with their many faces that can be drastically different from the other. For the S/S ’21 show, I wanted to bring in and onto the catwalk all of my “Medusas,” a group of powerful women that has unique differences and personalities that can be expressed, not only by the way they decide to dress but mostly by the way they act. I wanted Spring 2021 to be a season of change and dreams for all men and women.

How would you describe the modern Medusa?
She is powerful, confident, not afraid to show her inner self through her style choices. She is bewitching at first sight. It’s not just a matter of how she looks, but more importantly her attitude. She has a voice. For me, she represents fearlessness, power, and strength.

How was the Medusa first introduced to Versace?
My brother [Gianni Versace] chose the Medusa as his emblem because of her inescapable power of attraction. If you recall the myth of Medusa, she was one of the most beautiful women to have ever walked on Earth. Because of the jealousy of another deity, a woman, she was cursed. Now, going back to why Gianni chose the Medusa as the emblem of Versace and why it’s still relevant today, the reason is simple: The woman who wears Versace turns heads wherever she goes. Her presence fills a room; when she walks, all eyes are on her. Not only for what she wears, but most importantly for the strength she exudes. This is very much how I see women today. They have become aware of their place in the world, they are fighting to get there, and they have learned to support one another to achieve what they deserve. This is not about empowering; no one gives them anything. They take what’s theirs because they can.

You’ve been working with Hailey Bieber a lot this year. What is it about her that makes her a Versace woman?
The first time I met Hailey I remember this young girl at the beginning of her path. She knew she had something to say and she was trying to find the best way—or better, her own way—to express her ideas and achieve her goals. She was not just another pretty girl. She was, and still is, determined in her beliefs; she is not afraid to say what she thinks. She’s also kind and sensitive. The world we live in can be cruel. Women have certainly learned to support one another way more than in the past, but it’s not always a walk in the park. Hailey is strong and knows what she wants. She works hard, she is professional, and working with her is…stress-free. Honestly, she could have become someone completely different because of her fame, and I’m so proud to say that she has always remained a sweet, hardworking, beautiful girl you just can’t get enough of.

You said a few years ago that you wanted supermodels back. Do you think we have a new crop of supermodels for the year 2021? Who do you put in that league today?
Yes, I did say that, and I think that we totally have a new league of supermodels. However, one important thing to point out is that it’s impossible to compare these two very different groups of girls. Our lives and realities are different from those in the ’90s. And yes, we can call them all supermodels, but what Cindy, Claudia, Naomi and that generation of models represented is not at all the same as what today’s models embody. The power of digital media has changed everything. It gave the new generation of models a powerful platform to have a voice and create a bond with people that would have been impossible back in the ’90s. The original supermodels—so to speak— were almost like mythological figures that you saw only on red carpets or at fashion shows; today’s generation share what they have for breakfast. It’s a completely different level of popularity. I don’t want to name names, but most of them will be in the show in March.

You received a lot of positive attention for putting Precious Lee in your Spring show and latest campaign. What was it about Precious that you adore?
What’s not to love? Precious is a beautiful woman; she is sweet and possesses that unmistakable attitude that a Versace woman embodies in my eyes. We’ve been talking about inclusivity and diversity for such a long time that I wanted to show it on my catwalk as well. The industry has been changing with the kind of women seen on runways. Do you think it should have done this a long time ago? Maybe. But I always think that there’s a right moment for everything and that if something has happened today and not a year ago, one may think it was about time, but there can also be reasons why it didn’t. I think we’re making those changes today because the time is right. If there is something that 2020 has taught us it’s that change is possible, that we must take responsibility for our actions and be the change we want to see. Personally, I’ve never believed in a single definition of femininity. The Versace family has always been a diverse and inclusive one, and that’s why it felt so natural to include girls with a different body image.

You’ve had a long collaboration with [photographers] Mert & Marcus. What’s your working dynamic like with them? What has kept you working with them for so long?
There’s certainly a friendship with Mert & Marcus and mostly a deep admiration for their work. After so many projects together, it’s easy to work with them. Their vision and aesthetic are a perfect match for where Versace is today, so the creativity comes easily when we embark on a new project. They’re talented and manage to create a “beat” in every single shot they create for me.

Versace has been on a roll in recent years. Every season seems to have some kind of surprise or buzzy moment. How are you able to keep creating these fashion moments on the runway, in campaigns, and in the design?
There is no secret. Those moments are not planned. They just happened with the right mix of people, the right moment and, of course, the right message behind it. If I look back at Versace’s history, we have had quite a few “wow” moments, but they all happened because we weren’t thinking, “Oh, now I wanna have a wow moment.” As far as I’m concerned, these moments are connected to emotions.

Donatella Versace and Naomi Campbell, (Getty Images)

Who do you consider your muses these days?
I have so many, and they are completely different from one another. Dua Lipa and Yara Shahidi or Meena Harris and Greta Thunberg. They’re women who are certainly successful in what they do, but most importantly they inspire people, they inspire positive change, they fight for what they believe in. I always get inspired by women who stand united and fight for their rights, who are self-confident, strong, supportive of one another, and are not afraid to speak their minds.

Is there a recent moment that you’re proudest of?
I’m proud of the fact that, together with my team, we’ve made Versace part of today’s cultural conversation, one that goes beyond fashion itself. Our work has inspired people, supported communities, and we’ve taken a few steps toward looking after our planet. We have dared, broken rules, and yet remained relevant.

How has the brand evolved in recent years?
Fashion has to reflect the life of today. While I like to remain true to the brand’s heritage and codes, it’s only natural that an evolution is necessary. Fashion as we knew it 20 years ago has evolved into something completely different. When I began working, the Internet did not exist, pre-collections did not exist, there were two fashion shows a year and that was your collection, that was your moment. Today, the brand values remain the same, but the dynamics in which Versace operates have changed and those values also have different hues.

How do you think fashion will look after the pandemic?
One thing I’ve learned during this past year is not to think about what will become of something. We shall wait and see. We need to keep dreaming and creating, but with a different mindset. Nothing is set in stone, we must be flexible, we must listen more to what people, young people especially, have to say. We need to be authentic and true to ourselves. We must be diverse and inclusive and conscious of the impact our work has on the environment.

What was lockdown like for you? What was it like working remotely for you and being away from your team?
I think just like everybody else, it made me realize the importance of so many things that we used to take for granted and that maybe, in the future, we will appreciate a lot more. On a personal level, I’ve taken for granted the freedom of being with loved ones, to be able to travel…simple things that I’m sure we will appreciate way more once this is over. On a business level, not being able to be in the same room with my team has been the biggest change. We do everything together—we discuss ideas, we talk about what is happening around us, and what everyone thinks of this or that. Ideas and inspiration may come from the most obvious thing, but you need to have an open mind and look beyond the surface. Working remotely has posed some challenges, but it has also given us the opportunity to learn new things and get inspired in other ways. We certainly need to think differently now when creating a collection. The world of today is not the one we knew back in January 2020.

Did you still get dressed up every day?
It depends on what you mean by “dressed up.” I like to wear nice things, even when I’m on my own. For me, it is not so much about vanity, but about a mental state. I enjoy taking care of myself, even if no one sees me, and that includes wearing nice clothes. It doesn’t have to be a dress, but it could also be a beautiful sweater and leggings. It depends on my mood.

What has been your best lesson of the past year?
I think above all I have rediscovered the importance of solidarity, unity, and the power of actions.

What TV shows or films did you watch during quarantine that you enjoyed?
Bridgerton, The Undoing—Nicole Kidman was incredible!—and The Crown. There are so many!

What’s the first thing you want to do when the world goes back to “normal”?
Get on a plane and start traveling again

You aren’t doing a traditional runway show this year. How do you feel about that? Do you like digital fashion shows?
A Versace show will always be a show, whether it’s digital or in person. The production of my latest show was indeed a learning experience, one that has opened my eyes in many ways because, of course, we had to adapt, we had to deal with restrictions implemented for the safety of everyone and so on. You’ve seen some of the usual Versace girls and some new faces on the runway. You’ve seen the glamour and the blasting music, but…I miss connecting with people and having an audience. The energy you feel from having a real audience cannot be substituted by a screen.

What do you still want to accomplish?
How long do we have? The list is very long.

Anything else new at Versace coming up this year?
I have a couple of surprises ready for you!

PERUSE SOME OF VERSACE’S GREATEST HITS

JENNIFER LOPEZ AT THE 2000 GRAMMY AWARDS

JENNIFER LOPEZ 20 YEARS LATER!

HELENA CHRISTENSEN, LINDA EVANGELISTA, AND CHRISTY TURLINGTON FOR VERSACE (1991)

MADONNA FOR VERSACE (2011)

THE REUNION! CARLA, CLAUDIA, NAOMI, CINDY,
AND HELENA FOR VERSACE (2018)

LADY GAGA FOR VERSACE (2013)

GISELE FOR VERSACE (2018)

PRECIOUS LEE WALKS THE SPRING 2021 SHOW

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