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MILAN — Rarely has a collaboration between a fashion house and a photographer been as strong and successful as that between Versace and Richard Avedon, which lasted for almost 18 years.

The close association was on display Wednesday at the opening of the exhibition “Richard Avedon, Fotografie 1946-2004,” which features more than 250 of his photos. The show, held at Forma, the city’s international center of photography, is sponsored by Versace and runs until June 8.

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Donatella Versace and Norma Stevens, director of the Richard Avedon Foundation, swapped anecdotes and shared memories of the late photographer and of the late Gianni Versace, who tapped Avedon for his iconic ad campaigns. “It was love at first sight with Gianni,” recalled Versace, who was wearing a skintight blue sleeveless bodice and pants, as well as her usual stilettos.

“They were like brothers, they had the same take on things, the same drive for perfection and the same energy,” she said, adding she herself had become friends with Avedon, spending whole days and nights on the set of the campaigns until the photographer — a perfectionist — was satisfied with the results of his work.

“Sometimes, we would work three days in a row and then he would decide to throw everything away and start all over again,” said Versace, still puzzled. “The photos looked beautiful to me, but he was not pleased with, say, a straying little finger, and the slightest imperfection was enough for him to nix the whole thing.”

Stevens drew laughs from Versace and the press by recounting how Gianni Versace made Avedon nervous whenever he appeared on the set and insisted only his sister be allowed to sit in. “Donatella would have to go and tell Gianni, who would leave, only to sneak back in, hide behind a pole or check out the scene with a mirror, then go back to Donatella with his suggestions, who would come to me and I would have to convey them to Dick,” said Stevens. “This happened all the time.”

An entire room at Forma is dedicated to the campaigns shot for Versace, but the exhibition is one of the most comprehensive yet, with photos ranging from Avedon’s soulful portraits of Americans in the West, postwar images captured in Sicily and Rome and touching ones of the photographer’s father yielding to cancer.

“Dick was a genius, he would use the light as an artist would use the brush,” said Versace. “His photos are magical.”

“[Avedon] was the first photographer to ask models to move, and the group shots were also new,” continued Versace, recalling how Avedon transformed his style when minimalism took over in the late Nineties. “Even I was somewhat lost facing this new trend and he, whose photos had always been all about glamour, embraced minimalism his own way, shooting Kate Moss naked, with no makeup and messy hair [for Versace’s fall 1996 campaign]. How intuitive, how perfect was that?” mused Versace.

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