Byline: Glynis Costin, March 1990

They’ve been described as clothes that make store hangers sizzle, skirts so short they could double as belts and body-sculpting dresses you can’t sit down in. Strut goddess Cher wears them, aerobics queen Jane Fonda sports them and night creature Grace Jones flaunts them.
Whether you like them or not, they are clothes to be noticed in, and they are hot. They are the stuff of Gianni Versace, the Italian designer who every season jolts the fashion press into a world of female body worship via the high-voltage show with a capital S.
“Sexy is honesty,” says Versace, who claims he is sick of people referring to his clothes as sexy. “I think directness is sexy, saying what you think, being who you are, not being hypocritical. Sexiness is part of life!
“Why be ashamed? Look at the animals! They are not ashamed. But people are always made to feel guilty. I don’t understand all this guilt stuff. I am a Catholic, but I refuse the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. I am against things that go against nature.”
Nobody can accuse Versace of begin dishonest, indirect or, for that matter, boring. What motivates this 44-year-old designer to continuously find new ways to bare navels, thighs, backs and other parts of the female anatomy?
“I adore women, I love women,” answers Versace matter-of-factly, relaxing in his sumptuous apartment above his atelier in his palazzo on the Via Sant’Andrea. “As Chanel said, many designers are gay and many designers don’t like women. Chanel maybe was right, I don’t know. I adore women. But designers, most of them, seem to hate women by the clothes they do.”
The topic of androgynous clothing makes Versace become suddenly outraged. “A lot of designers seem to think women want to be transvestites, that they don’t have the courage to be women. But I think that women must be women!”
“That is clear, underlined, that is the direction for the Nineties. No one has the courage to say that letting women be women is chic. But I ask, ‘Is it chic to make women into transvestites?’ That is not chic….
“Donatella controls me in a lot of ways,” Versace confides. “We talk all the time. Last night, I was in the kitchen, and she was in the bathroom, and we are on the phone talking about two dresses that we wanted to cut from the collection. We always check things out with each other. If she doesn’t like a sketch I have done, I will usually cancel it. We are more than brother and sister; we are like good friends. I think the fact that we come from a simple family in the south that was very strong, has helped a lot….
“I love the body,” he continues. “When I was very young, in my mother’s atelier, I always saw women in lingerie and other wonderful things, and I would make fantasies. They sometimes would call my mother from school and say, ‘Your baby is a maniac.’…
“I love pearls,” he says. “To me, they are class and elegance. But elegance has to be updated, and for that reason, I put it with the wild. The mixture of pearls and leopard makes it modern. I believe in contrasts. Like right now, we are in a 17th-century room, and there is an airplane flying overhead. That is the contrast of life today.”
For the Nineties, his message is one of “freedom, freedom, freedom,” Versace says. “The message is to let your womanhood show and be proud of it. Equality does not come in being like men. Be proud of being women, but understand men without having to let the masculine part come out. I understand that the Eighties were useful to women because they grew a lot and gained what they wanted. But now is a time of reflection for women.”
Versace adds that he, too, is now more liberated: “It took me my whole life, 44 years, to be as I am now — free. I never put my face down or am ashamed. The only joy I have is my work and my life, and I must play until I die…”