Donatella Versace talked with Alina Cho on Thursday evening in the second installment of her new interview series, “The Atelier With Alina Cho,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The event was livestreamed on Periscope. Versace, wearing a bright red pantsuit and platform stilettos, proved a very charming, funny and self-deprecating subject even through her accent, which can be admittedly inscrutable. “Can you understand me?,” she asked the audience midway through the conversation. “Usually people can’t understand me.”
For the benefit of the audience, Cho occasionally repeated Versace’s responses to the questions, which covered topics including the designer’s unconventional new role as the face of Givenchy, the upcoming Met Gala (which she’s attending with Jennifer Lopez), her eventual plans to take her company public and her beauty regimen. On accepting Riccardo Tisci’s proposal to appear in the Givenchy fall campaign, Versace said she didn’t hesitate. “In fashion, you have to break rules,” she said, revealing very little else about the direction of the campaign.
As for her date to the Met Gala, Versace has dressed Lopez many times before, most famously for the 2000 Grammys in the green dress with the neckline plunging to the naval, which Cho noted inspired the engineers at Google to come up with its image search function. The custom dress Versace is working on with Lopez for Monday will reflect the theme of the Costume Institute’s China exhibition through Versace’s eyes and will make Lopez look “great from the front and even better from the back,” said Versace.
There was plenty of light conversation, such as the fact that Versace is known to bring her own furniture on vacation with her, first dyed her hair blond at age 11 in the bathroom with her brother Gianni and would never consider cutting it or changing her look. But Cho asked about the business too, specifically the 20 percent stake in Versace SpA acquired last year by Blackstone Group, which came with a roughly $200 million cash injection. Versace said she and Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive officer, whom she praised for his interest in fashion, have five strategic points to focus on in their goal to eventually take Versace public. She wouldn’t elaborate but said that an initial public offering is “very exciting but very difficult…I have to concentrate on making everything clear to penetrate the market.”
When Cho and Versace opened the floor for questions from the audience, lines of eager fashion students formed at the two mics. The designer revealed that there are plans for more Versace resorts. Asked about potentially starting a beauty line, she said she would love to, noting her mastery of her own look, but that beauty is complicated with contracts, licensing, etc.
On the subject of craftsmanship and couture-level artisans, she was adamant about the importance of supporting and encouraging a new generation to learn the skills. As for what an aspiring designer should do to make it in fashion, Versace said, “You have to be ready to suffer.”