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Cover story

Power Play


Luna Bijl

With her fearless spirit and creative flair, the incomparable Donatella Versace is without doubt the queen of sartorial seduction, says superfan JESS CARTNER-MORLEY, as she champions the audacious businesswoman behind the fashion powerhouse. Here, model LUNA BIJL beautifully captures the enduring magic of Versace, showcasing an exclusive new capsule collection of typically playful party pieces that you won’t find anywhere else

Photography Giampaolo SguraStyling Helen Broadfoot
Cover Stories

The magic of Versace comes from an alchemy between a great woman and great fashion. The best party dressing isn’t tricksy or hard to wear. It has energy as well as glamour. It is about the power of fashion to celebrate the best moments in life. It is about great clothes but, more than anything, it is about the woman wearing them.

“Naomi and Kate out partying” was on Donatella Versace’s mood board for NET-A-PORTER’s exclusive party capsule with the Italian heritage brand this season. “My woman is not just a party girl, but she wants to look fabulous when the time comes to go out and have fun,” she says. “I like to mix the iconic codes of Versace with something new and unexpected.”

A dress doesn’t get any more iconically Versace than the capsule’s showstopping silver-metal mesh dress, suspended from gold jewelry straps in the house signature Greek key. The fabric – Donatella Versace calls it ‘Oroton’ – is made from links of hard metal so tiny and so delicately enmeshed that they drape over curves with the suppleness of silk (there’s a metaphor for the Versace woman for you, right there). With a body-armor toughness but an hourglass sensibility, they have been a house icon since the ’90s. Proof that they are still irresistible: the morning after Donatella floored Milan Fashion Week in September 2017, with a supermodel reunion of Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford, only three of the five gowns could be found in the studio. The other two, Donatella shrugged, were still “with their supermodels.”

“Donatella celebrates FEMALE empowerment the way VERSACE does everything: by LIVING and breathing it”

All pieces, Versace
All pieces, Versace
All pieces, Versace

This capsule is espresso-strength, full-voltage Versace. The impact of an elegant white sheath maxi dress is given a rocket-fueled blast-off with provocative leather belt-strap detailing at the bodice and a sky-high split. A bodysuit in graphic baroque swirls is pure ’90s fever, paired with high-waisted tuxedo party shorts. The edit is laser-focused, honed by a house that knows how to live it up – whether your dream party shoe is a kitten mule, a classic slender pump or a towering ankle strap, it is here.

OK, full disclosure – although I suspect you might have guessed. Donatella Versace is something of a heroine of mine. I became a fashion editor just a few years after Donatella had been catapulted into the limelight after her brother’s murder as the de-facto head of the Versace fashion dynasty. It has been extraordinary to observe, over the course of almost two decades, her evolution from a raw, troubled talent, battling with grief and addiction, into a titan of the fashion world. Female empowerment is hard-wired into Donatella’s DNA. In the male-dominated ecosystem of Italian fashion, she celebrates female empowerment the way Versace does everything: by living and breathing it.

All pieces, Versace

“Donatella and J Lo created a FASHION moment that was felt all over the WORLD, whether you were watching on the FRONT row or on your phone in a bar”

Oh, and Donatella Versace knows how to put on the Ritz. I don’t think I have ever seen her in a room that doesn’t have in it a vast bouquet of white flowers and a flickering scented candle. That’s just how she rolls. Even the design-studio appointments to view the catwalk collection up close are catered with tables of cake from Milan’s most exquisite pasticceria. Once, during Milan Fashion Week of September 2001, she invited editors to a wedding dinner at her Lake Como home, Villa Fontanelle, in honor of Jennifer Lopez, who was honeymooning nearby with her second husband, Cris Judd. I remember a driveway lined with scented candles and waiters in Venetian masks holding trays of pink champagne, and that my slice of wedding cake had the loop of a J – for Jennifer, or for Judd? – in pink icing.

And then, just a few weeks ago, Donatella and J Lo created a fashion moment that was felt all over the world, whether you were sitting watching on the Milan front row or viewing through your phone over Friday night drinks in a bar. At the end of the Versace SS20 show – a celebration of warrior-glamour, with Mica Arganaraz in huge gold-hoop earrings and a mini dress draped from power shoulders, and Kaia Gerber in a sweetheart-necklined tailored cocktail mini with glittering chain belt and Medusa-motif buttons – came J Lo herself. Twenty years after her iconic Grammys moment, she sashayed the runway in that same green palm-print dress. The one with a hemline plunging so deeply at the naval that it met the split in the skirt. The one that, as fashion folklore would have it, prompted the launch of Google Images, a wake-up call to a Silicon Valley which had not yet grasped, in the year 2000, that the 21st century would be the age of optics. The moment was a catwalk high-five, both to the beauty of the now 50-year-old Jennifer Lopez, and to the enduring appeal of a great Versace dress. “The whole world wanted to see that dress,” said Donatella about her mic-drop moment.

“That one DRESS can break the internet TWICE, 20 years apart, is testament to the enduring APPEAL of a Versace look”

All pieces, Versace
All pieces, Versace

That one dress can break the internet twice, 20 years apart, is testament to the enduring appeal of a Versace look. A rich vein of classicism rubs up against the rock’n’roll in the house motifs. Gianni looked to classical goddesses to inspire his drapery: “I come from a land with a rich history – its roots are ancient roots that knew the aristocracy of sculptural draperies,” he once said. He was an avid collector of 20th-century art, with a passion for pop art, which he translated into audaciously cartoonish graphic prints on ’90s leggings and body-con dresses that look just as contemporary today. Poignantly, Donatella has used her late brother’s signature as a graphic all-over print in this collection. “When I’m working with elements from the archive, I am working with the very soul of this brand and it is important to explain the context.” This collection, like all of her collections, is infused with her pride in “the work of my brother and the barriers he broke – how revolutionary and new his style was back in those days.”

Donatella Versace, pictured in 2018, at her late brother Gianni's former Via Gesù palazzo home in Milan

“Versace attracts WOMEN with a certain type of PERSONALITY, women who are not afraid to DARE, who stand up for what they believe in”

Donatella Versace
All pieces, Versace
All pieces, Versace

The last time I sat down for a full-length interview with Donatella, during the sultry Milan June of men’s fashion week two years ago, she told me that the difference between a woman designing for women and a man designing for women is that, while men love to sketch, “I don’t care about the sketch, I care about the fit. I drape the fabric, I try everything on, I work so that when you put on Versace, you feel better. You should feel impenetrable. And that needs to happen for a size 38 and for a size 46.” The house of Versace invented the supermodel – it was Gianni’s vision, to supersize these delicate beauties into giants of fashion culture – but Versace speaks a fashion language that everyone can understand.

“The women of today have enough personality to look at what they see and decide for themselves, what works with their own style and what does not,” Donatella says. “There are no rules, there are no limits. Versace attracts women with a certain type of personality, women who are not afraid to dare, who stand up for what they believe in, who are not afraid to make bold choices. Fashion can be a weapon; it can boost your confidence. But the power of the woman – that comes from within.” Make an entrance, make an impact. Have fun. Be your best self. A night to remember begins with an unforgettable dress.

All pieces, Versace

Face to face with Donatella Versace

Watch the formidable Italian designer answer some revealing questions from the one person who knows her best: herself…

Luna Bijl is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown