MILAN — An allover print featuring the Biggie eyewear style, originally designed for the Notorious B.I.G. by Gianni Versace, as well as tailoring sporting a patchwork of fabrics and leather pants with signature hardware and patterns revisited by a contemporary artist will be some of the elements spicing up Donatella Versace’s men’s collection for spring 2020.
During an exclusive interview at her office here, Versace not only revealed details about the upcoming show, but also opened up about the younger generations, sexiness, inclusivity and why she said yes to Capri Holdings.
WWD: Let’s start from the collection. Any mood? Inspiration?
Donatella Versace: I’m always looking around the world to see how this man evolves, or how he doesn’t evolve. Of course, I’m interested in those who evolve more, because those are the ones who influence others. At Versace, we have a lot of iconic elements, such as the safety pins, the Medusa…it would be so easy to just revamp them because people love them, especially young people who didn’t live that past. For them they are super new. But I don’t like to stop there. I like to think about what’s important for the young generations. For this collection, for example, I thought that the first thing that makes them feel like real men is having their own car. So I decided to create this car with artist Andy Dixon, who is super Pop. It’s an imaginative car, which represents what boys want. So I did this new print, in black and white, with the car in black, and the car will be at the center of the set as the emblem of the boy who becomes a man. The car actually represents empowerment in the sense that it makes you feel that you can go wherever you want — I can go to explore, I’m independent. In the case of my brother, the first time he went out with his car he had an accident! [laughing].
WWD: Does this sense of independence translate into the collection, in the silhouettes, in the shapes?
D.V.: Absolutely. I don’t like to talk about the past, I always look to the present and the future, but since the Nineties the Versace man has always stood out with his unconventionality and it will continue to be like this. I’m aware that we are followed on social media by so many young and super young boys and they are my fans and I’m their fan. When I travel for work or not, I always try to meet people, see their reactions, because behind the screen of the phone you cannot see true expressions. I’m curious; curiosity is the first quality of a designer. If you are not curious, you cannot create. I think nowadays men are much more free than in the past and more free than women right now, because they experiment more, are less worried and less tied to stereotypes. Backstage with the new type of casting we do, which is more focused on different types of men rather than on pure beauty and just models, I realize that the most iconic man now is the rapper. He is the one who reflects on life, who talks about bad things, too, who experiences life and who shows the world a certain type of culture, the culture of hip-hop, which here in Europe we are not familiar with, but which sometimes generates from problems and social degradation.
WWD: Did hip-hop have an influence on this collection?
D.V.: The world of hip-hop is always in the collections. I love music, I like today’s music, but I love more Nineties music, which actually created a revolution. This show is dedicated to my great friend Keith Flint of The Prodigy, who passed away this year. We have been close friends, the first time he did a concert for a fashion audience was with me. He played during the MTV Awards and then he came to Milan and he did a performance at the men’s show in Via Gesù, where we are going to show this season. He created raving, everything started with him. And these kinds of things are ideological and cultural disruptions, which are extremely important. Keith was not expecting the world of fashion to listen to his music, but I called him and I told him that I deeply loved this song called “Firestarter.” I really feel I’m a firestarter. Actually, “Firestarter” will be the main soundtrack of the show and I still have to understand how these guys will be but I see them as firestarters. These guys have to generate emotions, like them or not, you have to watch them and it’s not about beauty. Also women…they don’t have to be pretty — they have to be interesting. Today imperfection is the ultimate perfection. Perfection is not about being super tall with big boobs. Now perfection is also having a tiny face, hair flat on your face, but eyes which explore and have feelings.
WWD: Does showing in Via Gesù have a special meaning for you?
D.V.: For a few seasons we have been showing men’s in Via Gesù, which is the emblem of Versace, the house of my brother, now the house of all of us. It’s a WOW house, when you enter it you find wonderful things — it’s really hard to find a garden like that in Milan. It’s definitely the house of Gianni, who is the king of Versace and he will always be. It means a lot to me. And I like to see the reaction of the young people when they enter it. They know everything about Versace…the truth is that if you tell young people a story, they are keen to listen to it. What’s wrong about today’s society is that people don’t tell stories anymore. The young generations need storytellers. It might be fashion, books, what’s written on the Internet…they like to listen, they want to know and are fascinated by the past, but not because they want to live in the past, but because they get inspired by the past to create the future.
WWD: I know you created some special women’s looks for the show. Why?
D.V.: Lately, I always mix men’s and women’s…there are always some women’s looks in the men’s show. Today women’s models are celebrities and I like to include them in the men’s show to make guys understand that they can be celebrities, too. During castings, I always talk to them [male models] and they tell me incredible things. These kids study, go to college, have graduated, but since women visually have this celebrity attitude, people are less into them. But they are very interesting and they have values that you don’t expect. Since a couple of seasons, I really like to mix men and women, since certain elements on the boys [are] more playful, not as rich as they are, but then you put them on women…Versace is luxury, is fashion, is breaking boundaries.
WWD: Will a Nineties influence be big in the collection?
D.V.: There will be the Nineties, but reinterpreted for today. For example, this is one of our prints for the Nineties [showing a sketch with a shirt printed in a Baroque motif] but I asked Andy Dixon, who is the one who did the car, to re-think it. I take the past and I show it to these contemporary Pop artists and maybe they don’t care or maybe they say WOW! Sometimes they ask me, “Can I work on this? Can I cross-pollinate it?” And I say, “Do it. Cross-pollinate!” I like cross-pollinations! There will also be a lot of jewelry for men. Men like chains, rings, the things that we [women] like. Today boys are more courageous, while men 10 years ago were thinking, “I cannot wear this because they might think I’m gay.” This is completely over in the fashion world and I think in the world in general, I hope, for them.
WWD: We have the feeling that a certain sexiness is making a comeback and Versace has always been at the forefront of sexiness…
D.V.: Yes, there is always sexiness because it’s part of life. The desire of being observed, watched is absolutely natural. For many years, fashion tried to make people look all the same. If you were keeping your head low, without make-up, you were considered cool. No! You are not cool. You are banal, anonymous. Every single part of the body can be beautiful, maybe not everything is so beautiful in a man or a woman, but you have to exalt the most beautiful part of you. However, what is sexy now is not the same as it was in the Nineties. It’s different. Maybe now it’s more of an attitude. It’s not about the colors, the shoes…It’s about the attitude. Maybe the low-waisted pants which are just a bit lower and you see the hip bones.
WWD: What’s sexy for you in a man?
D.V: What he says!
WWD: Right now, fashion companies seem to be very keen to communicate strong messages. What’s your point of view?
D.V.: I have been fighting for inclusivity for so long. Inclusivity is the most important thing. You cannot be rejected because the color of your skin is not the same as mine, because your culture is different from mine, because you don’t look like me. It’s really bad, it’s crazy and if there is someone who can do something it’s fashion, because we influence the young people following us, who can make the difference. Inclusivity and diversity have always been important values for us.
That said, the T-shirt with the wording “let’s save the planet” is less powerful, even if it’s a positive message, but I think that is less relevant than inclusivity right now. There are companies that produce abroad in countries where children work day and night and then they talk about the environment…
WWD: The company is going through an exciting phase following the acquisition by Capri Holdings. How do you feel? Did things change for you?
D.V.: For me, nothing has changed, but I feel I have more responsibilities than before. I didn’t need to sell, things could have stayed as they were, but I’ve been really attracted by the intelligence and the vision of John Idol [Capri Holdings chief executive officer] and by how he appreciates Versace, everything we have done in the past, and that Versace is true luxury. A lot of people talk about luxury, but it’s not real luxury; this luxury [they talk about] is produced in other countries. We do everything in Italy, this is real luxury, this is made in Italy. And this is the reason why they wanted to invest into the company, to have in their portfolio a true luxury company like Versace. And I also find super exciting the idea that I have to reach specific goals. And when someone keeps telling you, “I want this company to be part of Capri Holdings because I believe in luxury and I think luxury represents the future of fashion,” I couldn’t say no.
WWD: What are the most important goals right now?
D.V.: John set targets for himself, for Capri Holdings and for us. I think we will reach the numbers they asked to reach, but I also think that the goal is to remain a company loyal to itself, which produces everything in Italy, where fabrics are high-end, where there is quality, because we are famous in the world for the quality of Italian fashion.
WWD: Fashion-wise, will things remain the same? Do you still have the same freedom?
D:V.: In terms of style, we continue on our path. I keep surrounding myself with young people; this Filipino guy has just arrived and another German guy is about to join us. They all come from different places and I really like this. In terms of creativity, John told me to do what I want. Worse for him! [laughing]
WWD: Are you ready to move into the new headquarters this summer?
D.V.: It will be a major change for everyone. It’s a location completely different from where we have been so far. It’s all white, with a lot of light and all green outside…it’s such an inspiring place.
WWD: What do you think of Milan?
D.V.: I think Milan is really great now, it’s becoming more and more interesting, it’s more and more pleasant living here and this was also confirmed by my friend Elton John, who stayed here for nine weeks while he was doing the tour in Europe. He was flying to the different locations and was coming back at night. He told me that Milan is the European city he likes the most, he was so happy to be here.
WWD: Looking to the upcoming men’s fashion week schedules, there are really few companies which are still there…
D.V.: I know! There is nothing we can do with Paris, because they intercept talents and they feel the best in the world, not just in fashion. We have to become better at attracting new talents, give the chance to different types of creativity to come to Milan and then collaborate more. However, we are not many but we are good.
WWD: You showed the pre-fall 2019 collection in New York. But you will continue to regularly show in Milan, right?
D.V.: Milan remains our place. Maybe we will continue to show the pre-collections in different locations around the world, especially for branding and image reasons. Asia-Pacific is our first market and, sooner or later, I’ll have to go there once.