Gianni Versace (1946-1997) was one of the great fashion designers of the twentieth century. Boisterously ambitious for his art of fashion, Versace placed his traditional skills in dressmaking in service of a new, elevated vision of fashion. First a creator of practical and luxurious sportswear in the 1970s and early 1980s, Versace realized a unique ideal in the 1980s. Like many fashion designers, Versace looked to the “street” where fashion has long prized the juxtapositions of popular styling, vulgar inspiration, and stylish promenade. Versace chose as his exemplum the prostitute as Toulouse-Lautrec had likewise prized the unlikely virtues and ambivalent freedoms of the prostitute in the 1880s and 1890s. In this ideal, Versace identified a strong, sensuous woman of unabashed, unashamed sexuality. Moreover, this proud woman was ready to assume the distinct highlight of runway, media, and celebrity inescapable to late twentieth-century culture.
Most importantly, Versace sought the spectacular. Eschewing a middle-class decorum, he risked offense to instate a contemporary glamour within media’s view and a popular purview. A man of lusty popular-culture tastes yet of serious and avid reading, Versace often cited Proust. Versace lived in no cork-lined room and was fervently and passionately involved in the world and unfailingly sanguine, but he admired and practiced reflection. He loved The Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent many hours in The Costume Institute. His work warrants our respect and inspection.
Images courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art