Gianni Versace was born on December 2, 1946 in the town of Reggio di Calabria, in southern Italy. His mother Francesca was a dressmaker and clothing store owner. He had two siblings; Donatella and Santo. Versace studied architectural drafting and also worked for his mother as a buyer, going to fashion shows throughout Europe.
In 1972, Versace designed a collection of summerwear for Chiodini and Ezio Nicosia of the Florentine Flowers clothing mill, in Milan, which was an instant success. He was asked to design their fall and winter collections after that. In 1974, Versace created and launched his own line “Complice;” an all-leather collection, becoming one of the few designers to feature leather at that time. Although he wasn't yet working under his own name, Versace already had his own label. During this time he collaborated with the Teatro alla Scala designing costumes for the Richard Strauss' ballet and opera; designed costumes for Donizetti's opera Don Pasquale and for the ballet Dyonisos choreographed by the Belgian, Maurice Bejart.
In September 1988, Versace opened his first boutique in Madrid, Spain. On October 21, 1990, the San Francisco opera season opened with Richard Strauss' Capriccio, with costumes designed by Versace. The following year the fragrance "Versus" was debuted and "Signature," Versace's classic line, was launched. The "Home Signature" line was launched in 1993, which included dinnerware, carpets, quilts, and cushions. Versace's spring collection for 1993 shocked many with its sadomasochistic styles. In 1996, Versace opened his world flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Versace understood the importance of marketing. He personally directed the advertising campaigns of his lines of menswear, womenswear, and accessories. His apparel design was characterized by a particular interest in bias; as a way of revealing the body in dramatic, sexy clothing for women. Versace viewed his clothes as powerful statements, using classical historical references blended with bold geometric shapes and complex textures in brilliant colors. Versace employed luxurious textiles and such combinations as leather reversible to wool, and embroidery-encrusted bodies and soft flowing skirts, to his unmistakable fashion.
On July 15, 1997, Versace was shot in front of his Miami Beach, Florida home. Gianni and his siblings controlled the company, with Gianni owning 45 percent, Santo 35 percent, and Donatella 20 percent. Donatella had taken over more of the designing in the last five years of her brother's life because of his bout with cancer. Four days before his murder, Versace signed a contract to take his company public. Versace left his shares in the company, worth a reported $800 million, to his 11-year-old niece, Allegra.
Versace made the world a stage for flamboyant and fascinating avant-garde costumes richly cultivated in historical materials and vividly committed to the hedonism of late 20th-century culture. An exhibition celebrating the major themes of Gianni Versace's career in high fashion took place at The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from December 11, 1997 to March 22, 1998. The third and largest gallery, in the exhibition was called "Versace and History,” and revealed his appreciation of ancient Greece and Rome, Byzantine crosses, madonnas, 18th-century court-style silhouettes, and 1920s and 1930s themes of the Vienna Secession, Vionnet, and Madame Grès. The fourth gallery named "Versace and Experiment" bestowed new materials, including plastic dresses, leather, including the 1992 "bondage" collection, and his metal-mesh dresses.
Among Versace’s awards and exhibitions include a show in 1985 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America award for his contribution to fashion in 1993.
After Gianni Versace’s untimely death, Donatella and Santo vowed to carry on in their brother's name, and built the Versace business to new heights amidst the tragedy. As a result the signature Versace Atelier collection was presented as usual in Paris in 1998. By the year 2000, the Versace Empire had been reorganized, streamlined, and poised for a possible initial public offering. In addition to the evolving apparel and accessories offered with the Versace label, the firm's name became associated with luxury hotels and resorts through an alliance with the Sunland Group. Gianni's former South Beach home in Miami, was also turned into a hotel.
Donatella Versace was born in Reggio di Calabria, Italy in 1955. After she completed her studies in Italian literature at the Universita de Firenze, she followed Gianni to Milan. She soon assumed the role of public relations manager, muse, and collaborator with her brother. She designed the Versus line and in 1993, she launched Versace Young, a line of designer childrenswear clothing.
As the house’s driving creative force since 1997, Donatella has continued to energize her international team of fashion designers. Her entrance-making gowns, as well as practical, elegant ready-to-wear clothes and men’s wear maintain a high profile in her design studios and corporate offices in the center of Milan.
Donatella’s philosophy mirrored that of her brother’s; which was the creation of fashion that was fused with the media, the performing arts, celebrity, vitality and sexuality. Donatella staged the audacious, high-powered Versace runway shows after Gianni’s death, enlisting the friendship and devotion of many of the supermodels.
Today the Versace Empire consists of luxury men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, home furnishings, and a luxury hotel chain.
Donatella married the former model Paul Beck, with whom she had two children; Allegra, her uncle‘s beneficiary, born in 1986, and Daniel, born in 1991.