Pat Cleveland wearing an unidentified collector's black and gold Versace coat in Berlin.

REMEMBERING GIANNI: “I was there in the beginning, when he had that little shop [in Milan]. I got my pirate boots there, and so much more. And that leather jumpsuit, which got stolen out of my apartment. His clothes were worth stealing,” recalled Pat Cleveland, who was on a brief hop to Berlin for the opening of a privately organized Gianni Versace retrospective Tuesday night at the Kronprinzenpalais.

Cleveland’s myriad Versace experiences hark back to the Seventies, Germany included. In 1978, German retail legend Albert Eickhoff took over the theater in the small town of Lippstadt where his store was then located, and brought in models including Cleveland to present what is claimed as “the first Gianni Versace show ever.”

What Cleveland mostly remembers about those early shows “is that Versace always liked to show in beautiful places. The floors were always tiled in marble, the interior filled with art to surround the clothes. I did something with Gianni in Venice years ago, me and some other Seventh Avenue showgirls,” she went on. “We didn’t get paid a lot, but mostly, we just wanted to go off and show the clothes. It was enough to have something to eat and hang out.”

There were all sorts of fashionable perks. “Gianni was very generous with me, and gave me all these beautiful scarves because he knew I loved to go to the beach.” The stolen jumpsuit, man-styled overalls in brown leather, was made just for her, and Versace collectors might be interested to know she still has a pure Eighties, bold-shouldered, puffed sleeved leather coat with a corduroy Mao collar. “Wearing that coat with the Pirate boots, I felt so strong, so protected,” she told WWD.

As for the exhibit, which runs through April 13, independent curators Karl von der Ahé and Saskia Lubnow assembled about 150 outfits from Versace collectors including Alexander Stefani from São Paulo; Antonio Caravano from Naples; Eri Kakkava from Greece, and Andrea Wilemon from the U.S.

Unlike the Versace Berlin blockbuster “Signatures,” which the designer himself curated here in 1994, this show commemorating the 20th anniversary of Versace’s death and 40 years of the Versace brand does not present a particularly considered reflection of the designer’s oeuvre or his aesthetic. At least not in his own terms.

“We didn’t know until a week ago exactly what was coming,” remarked von der Ahé. The same seemed true of the display mannequins, a haphazard assortment of clashing styles and eras.

Perhaps this was intentional, for as the curator sees it, “Everyone has their own image of Versace. Is he modern, or post-modern? For sheikhs in Dubai, Moscow, the gay scene in New York? Versace is controversial,” he concluded.

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