LOS ANGELES — Blond, bronzed and brandishing abs of steel, the woman in the hotel bungalow in Beverly Hills might otherwise be confused for just another fabulous California babe.
She’ll offer repeatedly, after all, that “L.A.” is her “kind of place.” But the lilting, weighty Italian accent gives Donatella Versace away.
In town as the featured designer at today’s celebrity-saturated luncheon gala and fashion show benefiting the Children’s Action Network, Versace effortlessly evinces more glam wattage than her event co-hosts Kate Capshaw or Rita Wilson or, for that matter, even Melanie Griffith — who is opening the Moroccan-styled Griffith Park manse she shares with her husband, Antonio Banderas, to the 140 guests expected.OK — so Griffith, Versace insisted during a Tuesday visit, is Hollywood star material. “She’s the living Marilyn Monroe.”
She’s also too good of a friend to have subjected Griffith Park to the runway set from March. “I can’t do the same set I did in Milano. I can’t in Melanie’s house,” she roared laughing.
But she does hold a few new surprises up her tangerine suit sleeve that will make this seventh annual CAN event stand apart from its predecessors. ( Dolce & Gabbana were the fashion stars last year and Ralph Lauren was the year before.) “I picked my favorite clothes for L.A.,” she would only say, opting to keep her other plans a surprise.She also delights in surprising her extended family — her employees.
She planned to drop into the Rodeo Drive store, as much for the fun of seeing her team’s faces as checking out the space. “We could use a bigger store here,” she notes, indicating she doesn’t necessarily want to change the address, but more square footage would fit in nicely with the next phase of the newly restructured company. Right now the store sits between Borche and Fleur de Lis. The success of the London unit of Versus is also having her think of a Los Angeles location. “Versus is my baby. It’s the first thing Gianni gave me. So it is something I really believe in.”
Versace arrived in Los Angeles Monday afternoon. It’s her second stop since beginning her trip in London last week to catch Madonna’s stage debut in “Up for Grabs,” plus an after-show dinner Versace hosted for her old friend at San Lorenzo.
“I admire her for doing it,” Versace said. “She doesn’t need to put herself out like that. She’s fantastic.”She spent the weekend in New York, where she worked with DJ Junior Vasquez on the soundtrack for her couture show, slated for July 8 in Paris.
There, she also focused on her newest adventure. “It’s a little project,” she said, then finally admitted, “It’s a magazine.” This side project, which is called Versace, she hopes will be available twice a year. The first issue is subtitled “Donatella in the House,” she said. Inside there will be photos from the runway, of her famous pals and any other timely Versace news (including bits on her favorite music). It will also feature portraits Steven Meisel took of her during her weekend trip. “The magazine is fun, something different to do,” she said.
Versace’s back in New York Saturday, briefly, and then to Milan. Just don’t brand her a jet-setter. “Everybody talks about me as a jet-setter, wearing diamonds and being this person or that. But this is something I have to do for the company.”
Right now, though, her mind is on her current stop. Los Angeles, she stressed, has always been a “very special place….I feel obligated in my heart to L.A. because the first big thing I did after Gianni’s death was the Fire & Ice Ball,” she recalled of the 1998 Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program gala that raised $1.8 million.What she embraces most about L.A. is not the celebrities, but rather the “normal people.”
“I’m talking even the people who don’t wear designer clothes — they are even more glamorous. They take care of themselves. They eat well. They are people who have a certain philosophy of life, which I like very much,” she said.
“People don’t think there are real people here in L.A. That it’s only Hollywood. That everyone is fake. But there are real people here. The women here are all beautiful. They take care of themselves. And that’s how it should be for a woman. That’s real glamour.”