Throughout the twentieth century, haute couture became increasingly recognized as a viable art form, as well as a highly lucrative sector of the global economy. However, it was not until the 1980s that high fashion, the supermodel, and other characteristics of this world became fully incorporated into the larger popular culture. Today, even the majority of people who are not likely to be consumers of designer clothing are familiar with the names of the top designers, houses, and fashion models.
The figure who is widely credited with bringing high fashion to the masses is Italian designer Gianni Versace. After building a massive fashion empire, Versace was murdered by a serial killer named Andrew Cunanan in 1997. In addition to the senseless tragedy of Versace’s premature demise, the murder attracted significant media attention because both murderer and victim were gay men who moved in the highest social circles. This discussion will present an examination of Versace’s life, works, and his influence upon both the insular world of high fashion and the larger popular culture.
Versace was born in 1946 to a family of humble means in the small town of Reggio Calabria, Italy. By all accounts, Versace was an extremely shy child who largely avoided interaction with his peers. His mother worked as a tailor, and young Gianni spent most of his free time in the shop, soaking up the rudiments of apparel design and construction at a young age . By his late teens, Versace had become a skillful tailor in his own right, and was beginning to branch out into designing. His mother sold some of his earliest efforts out of her shop, achieving the burgeoning designer a degree of local renown.
Versace soon branched out, taking positions in a number of fashion and textile companies. However, it was not until several years later, in 1972, that he obtained a position that allowed him to try out his designing skills. This first collection was released under the aegis of his employer, Fiori Fiorentini, and met with moderate success and acclaim.
Over the next several years, Versace had a hand in designing collections for a number of prominent houses throughout Western Europe. However, none of these collections were exclusively Versace’s designs; instead, he was working largely anonymously as part of a collaborative team of designers. In 1974, the label Complice gave Versace the opportunity to create a showcase line of his own. After the success of this line, Versace had amassed the reputation and creative capital necessary to start his own company. The first Versace boutique opened its doors in Milan in 1978. The instantaneous success of the Versace line prompted boutique openings across Europe. In addition, Versace initiated a number of different lines of clothing that appealed to different tastes and budgets.