July 15 marks the twentieth anniversary of Gianni Versace’s untimely passing. His death was a surreal event and we all mourned the loss of a fashion legend.
At the height of his career, Versace was a fashion visionary and marketing genius. Versace, the brand, is about creating a strong persona through exuberant clothing. He knew how to confidently dress people without being too cheeky. The Medusa symbol, vibrant colors, sexy silhouette and bold prints are signatures of the house of Versace. Gianni Versace made fashion into an event. He gave life to fashion.
Undeniably, Gianni Versace cemented his place in the fashion world. Besides creating sexy clothing, Versace dared to challenge the status quo and pushed the industry’s boundaries when it came to branding. Versace was openly gay and he wasn’t afraid of using sexuality in marketing.
In a pre-social media world, Versace was a pioneer. He was one of the first to use influencers to sell clothes. On the anniversary of his passing, let’s celebrate Versace’s accomplishments and his legacy.
The Many Firsts of Gianni Versace
1. The OG supermodels
The early ’90s fashion scene was all about the Holy Trinity — Linda, Christie, and Naomi. They captured our fascination with their chameleon looks and charms. These girls were everywhere. Even George Michael featured them in his groundbreaking music video, “Freedom! ’90.”
Inspired by this visually stunning video, Versace used the girls, along with Cindy Crawford, for his breakout Spring/Summer 1991 runway show. This show reached the climax when the girls sashayed the runway and lip-synched to “Freedom! ’90” at the finale. Inadvertently, with this groundbreaking show, Versace introduced the first group of supermodels.
2. Using Celebrities as Models
Equally brilliant as a marketer, Versace was the first designer to use the same runway models in his advertising campaigns. Upping the ante, Gianni Versace was also the first to draw big stars in the front row of his shows. It was typical to spot stars like Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi or Prince at a Versace show.
Versace knew the importance of star power. He also the first to feature celebrities as models in his advertising campaigns. Madonna, a favorite Versace muse, was a regular for his campaign. Stars like Demi Moore and Courtney Love also starred in ads to solidify the brand’s image of the strong woman. This tradition continues with Lady Gaga as the latest celebrity model; she starred in Versace’s 2014 Spring/Summer campaign.
3. Gayness is Always Part of the Brand Message
Before Tom Ford or Dolce & Gabanna used overt sexuality as a selling gimmick, Gianni Versace was never shy about incorporating sex as part of his brand’s message. His bold creations sublimely paid homage to gay culture. And, of course, Versace used many gay icons as brand spokespeople. From Madonna to Lady Gaga, Courtney Love to Elton John, they were all the faces of Versace at one point of their career.
And the clothes. Like the infamous leather bondage/harness dresses from Versace’s Fall/Winter 1991 collection, or the Folsom Street-inspired gears from his men’s collection, Versace took gay references as inspiration. Versace was the first designer to embrace his sexuality and fully utilize it to his advantage.
4. Versace is a Frequent Star in Pop Music
Even after his death, Versace still looms large in today’s pop culture. To us, Versace is synonymous with glamor and luxe. Inspired by Versace’s lavish lifestyle, many artists immortalize him by including the word “Versace” in their works.
Tupac threw shade at Biggie Smalls in “Hit Em Up” with “Now it’s all about Versace / You copied my style.” (Tupac was a friend of Gianni Versace.) Both Jay-Z and Kanye West also rapped about the designer in “BBC” and “All Falls Down” respectively. Bruno Mars serenaded us seductively in “Versace On the Floor,” and the song list about Versace goes on and on.
The fascination with Gianni Versace continues today.
Ryan Murphy, the über-producer of Glee and American Horror Story, will pay tribute to Versace in his upcoming series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. With a star-studded cast including Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin, and Darren Criss, we sincerely hope this story will honor Versace’s legacy as an interesting, fun-loving designer.