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Fashionable Lampoon

When you list the personality traits that can generally be attributed to fashion designers, having a sense of humor is not exactly high up on the list. So when Maya Rudolph began impersonating Donatella Versace on Saturday Night Live, it all seemed...

When you list the personality traits that can generally be attributed to fashion designers, having a sense of humor is not exactly high up on the list. So when Maya Rudolph began impersonating Donatella Versace on Saturday Night Live, it all seemed like a recipe for…well…a lawsuit. What designer, after all, wants to see themselves lampooned on national television by a snarky comedienne playing them drunk as a skunk, excoriating Ian McKellen portraying Yves Saint Laurent in an equally inebriated state? And more importantly, since when were designers famous enough to warrant the attention of America’s leading late night comedy team?

This story first appeared in the December 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While SNL’s fascination with Donatella Versace began with Maya Rudolph (the self described wannabe diva with whom the idea originated), the sketch itself pointed to the way in which fashion spread beyond the world of haute couture and into American living rooms. It began in 2001 with Ben Stiller’s fashion farce, Zoolander, and will continue in 2003 with fashion world roman á clefs by Plum Sykes (“Bergdorf Blondes”) and Lauren Weisberger (“The Devil Wears Prada,”) for which both first-time authors received unprecedented mid-six figure advances. And though it remains to be seen whether anyone in America can keep a straight face when it comes to the world of high fashion —all of the examples listed above belong squarely in the world of satire, suggesting that on some level, average Americans are still more likely to be amused by fashion folk than they are to identify with them — at least the real Ms. Versace is taking it all in stride.

“I’m always the first to laugh at myself and Maya certainly makes it easy,” Versace told WWD.

In October, the designer even appeared with Rudolph at Radio City Music Hall for the Vogue/VH1 fashion awards, where she walked out on stage and said, “What are you all doing in my bathroom?” in reference to the perceived ostentatiousness of the Versace house.

Still, divas being divas, Versace did have some urgent advice to dispense to her comedic counterpart. In a question and answer session with Rudolph for Interview Magazine, the designer said, “Forgive me if I immediately start to bitch a little bit [but] I can tell from a mile away that your jewelry is fake. You can’t do that to me, darling. You can’t wear fake jewelry. I’m allergic to it…”And…”A real diva would never scream at her guests to get out-she would ask her assistants to make the guests get out…”And…”The hair doesn’t move enough. It looks so fake. From Italy to New York you can see it…”And…”It takes a while to make yourself a diva…Oh my god, at least 10 years…Of course, I was born with it. That was in my fingers in the nursery room. Anyway, I speak englsh very badly, but not as badly as you do when you’re being me…You make me sound like a Brooklyn girl. I never go to Brooklyn! Always Manhattan. But I don’t want to offend you. I really like you.”

Viewers have had fewer complaints. In fact, Rudolph’s portrayal of Versace has been so well received that it became a regularly recurring sketch, which also featured Mick Jagger appearing as Karl Lagerfeld and castmember Tracy Morgan as Puff Daddy.

Just last week, Rudolph was in rehearsal for an upcoming Versace sketch with Robert De Niro as one half of the Siegfried and Roy team.

“I’m sort of a frustrated fashionista,” Rudolph said in March. “I went to Parsons for a little while but chickened out on the whole fashion thing.”

How fortunate for us that she’s decided to return to it.