MILAN — It was a milestone moment — and “something that’s never been done before,” underscored Donatella Versace.
Guests attending the private event held at the Versace headquarters in Via Gesù on Sunday evening were in for a surprise — a full-on creative swap presented on the runway.
Donatella Versace designed a Fendi collection and Kim Jones, Fendi’s artistic director, created a Versace lineup. Both collections are for pre-fall 2022 and will be available starting in May at Fendi and Versace boutiques exclusively.
Ahead of Milan Fashion Week and the event that closed the season here, Versace and Jones met with WWD to reveal the project — and to say the mood was cheerful would be an understatement. Versace, dressed in an orange top under a bright pink pantsuit and wearing supersized platforms, and Jones, in a black top and Bermuda pants, were in great spirits, clearly relishing working together over the past few months and anxious to see the reaction to the collections.
“I love Donatella and I love Versace,” Jones stressed. “I’ve always looked up to Donatella, and Versace is part of the culture I grew up in; it’s a cultural phenomenon. And when things in fashion become cultural, they last for a very long time and that’s very interesting. With Donatella, I don’t know a single person in the world that doesn’t know her and doesn’t fall in love with her when they meet her — that’s Donatella’s magic.”
Versace was equally appreciative, hugging Jones from time to time on the sofa they shared in an office at her Milan headquarters, and even comparing him to a “younger brother.”
“I watch everything around me, especially the new generation of designers, and there are a lot and not everyone is amazing, in my opinion, but some you can see, they jump out of the crowd, and the first one [to do so] was Kim,” said Versace, who’s known for championing young designers for years. “They all have ideas, they see fashion in different ways from other generations, which is normal, but Kim has this background of luxury. He knows what luxury is, he knows how to make it young and accessible to younger crowds, which is not something I find in anybody else, honestly. Maybe there are [others], but I didn’t see them. Kim has a big heart and when he is friends with somebody, he gives everything.”
“Like you,” chimed in Jones.
“Me, I’m the same, that’s why I have few friends, not too many, you have to be careful who you surround yourself with,” Versace said.
The idea of the project was first tossed around in February, at a dinner at Donatella’s house with Jones, Silvia Venturini Fendi and her daughter Delfina Delettrez — laughingly she checks herself for still calling it her brother “Gianni’s house” on Via Gesù. “They never had a proper conversation before then and they just clicked,” Jones recalled.
“Here are two Italian dynasties joining together, Karl [Lagerfeld] was Gianni’s best friend and Karl didn’t have many friends; you could count them on the fingers of one hand. I remember them laughing and talking and making jokes. What I have in my eyes is a moment of happiness,” Versace reminisced, speaking of the longtime Chanel and Fendi designer, who died in 2019. “Everything came naturally. I love Kim’s creativity and his work, it’s young, cool and new and there is quality. He knows how to cut a suit; ideas are one thing, but knowing how to make these ideas become real fashion and special is another thing. He has both.
“Saying that, can you do all of my collections?” she said with a big laugh.
Aware of the rumors circulating a few seasons ago about Jones joining Versace, before he was tapped first by Dior as its artistic director of men’s wear and then by Fendi last year, they moved on to discuss the new project — while not disclosing details about the clothes. “Sorry, we want to keep it as a surprise,” Jones said.
“Everybody is doing collaborations, but this is the brave thing to do, swapping,” chimed in Versace.
As for the show itself, it was a tale in two chapters — almost like a Fashion Face-off, opening with the Versace by Fendi collection that featured all the Versace signatures — the safety pins; the bold Baroque prints on super short dresses, tops and swimsuits as well as sheared fake furs with the Fendi squares and Versace print cut into them, oversize shirts and shorts in men’s wear and the tote with the Medusa — as well as a tote with “Fendace” splashed on the side. But there were also super chic gowns in plain black as well as a pale pink lace sequined number that Gianni himself could have created. And what would Versace be without supermodels — Kate Moss, Esther Canadas, Amber Valletta and Shalom Harlow included?
Jones took his bow, the logos on the wall then flipped from Versace to the Fendi F’s and Donatella took her turn, adding a strong dose of sexy to the brand with short short minis covered in the Fendi logo; mesh dresses; a ’70s denim pantsuit with bell bottoms; Versace-ified Peekabos and Baguettes (including safety pins), and her takes on evening — shimmering long pink and silver gowns worn by Donatella’s share of supermodels: Naomi Campbell, Mariacarla Boscono and Gigi Hadid.
Donatella then took her solo bow, the models lined up against the backdrop in a total blending of the two collections and then the two designers came out arm in arm together.
The swapping goes as far as Fendi producing the Versace collection and vice versa. “It’s part of our strategy, a surprise — we want people to say ‘What?’” Versace said.
The project meant each designer dived into the other brand’s archives. “We looked at the codes and at the present,” Jones explained. “This is our interpretation of what we see. Fendi and Versace have this legacy, and young people are getting into them finding their parents’ clothes. Young girls are going to go completely wild over it,” he predicted.
“I was so proud when he came to [the Italian city] Novara to see the archives, all of Gianni’s work,” Versace said. “I really wanted to show him. So many people see the pictures but not the real clothes.”
Jones agreed. “This was a big, big thing for me, I had only ever seen pictures. It was an honor for me. I did a lot or research on Gianni’s work since that’s where it all started, and I thought of ways to interpret it.”
Asked to elaborate, shrugging, he added: “It speaks to you, that’s all I can say. I don’t know how to describe my work in progress. I just do it, I think about it, then it evolves.”
“And it was the same for me, I went to Fendi and [metaphorically] Karl, the Fendi family were there,” Versace said. “The craftsmanship is incredible and that’s what fashion really is. Karl knew that. If you think fashion is a T-shirt with some writing on top of it, it’s not true. But it’s not only about looking at the archives and the clothes, it’s about having a conversation between us. It’s inspiring to talk to him.”
“Fendi is very much about craftsmanship and what I saw in the Versace archives was about craftsmanship,” Jones said. “Here are two really amazing brands working with each other, two companies that are not owned by the same group, it’s not about money; we all love each other and Silvia feels exactly the same way I do about Donatella.”
Both designers bristled at the idea that anyone could compare this project to the Gucci-Balenciaga hacking last spring, waving away the suggestion.
“It’s a new way to do things, and it means trust and honesty,” Versace said. “I always want to move forward and this was a dream for me.”
“We are both very open, we know things have to change and adapt, we are realistic about what things can happen and this was done pretty quickly. We wanted to do it fast in case someone else came up with the concept,” said Jones, marveling at how production is much faster in Italy than in France given the proximity to the pipeline.
Asked if more collections would follow, Jones demurred from giving a definitive answer. “We don’t know; let’s see how it goes.”
“I’m gonna miss him,” Versace said with a giggle.
Was she surprised by the final result? “I never expected anything he did for Versace,” she said laughing. “I was so happy when I saw the collection. It was a dream.”
“It was done out of love, and Silvia also was really enjoying working with the codes of Versace on the accessories because she’s been Fendi all her life,” Jones said.
“She is amazing; Silvia’s mother was best friends with Gianni — this is a long love story,” offered Versace.
“It’s nice to celebrate, we’ve all gone through very challenging times recently. Paris dominates a lot of fashion so it’s nice to bring [the attention] back to Milan,” Jones said. “It was a pure joy experience, having the best time. I love my job, love coming to Italy to be able to experience it, and the food — which is dangerous,” he concluded with a smile.