Quarantine Chronicles: Donatella Versace

As Italy starts to emerge from isolation, Donatella Versace opens up about the lessons we can learn from coronavirus and why the fashion industry needs to change
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Quarantine Chronicles: Donatella Versace

You and your daughter have donated €200,000 to the intensive care unit of San Raffaele hospital in Milan. You also announced that you are giving up your salary for the fiscal year 2021.
After months of fighting this virus, I think everyone understands that this is a battle we can only win if we help each other and follow the rules. There are no shortcuts. We are fighting an enemy who has overcome all imaginable barriers. Providing help is the least that can be done and, honestly, it does not matter what kind of contribution you make. Everyone does what they can.                      

You chose to spend lockdown in your Milan home. ‘It’s time to put the self aside for others,’ you recently said. Have you viewed this as a moment of self-reflection?
Absolutely. We cannot go outside, however, we can look inside ourselves. Social distancing has made us realise how many things from daily life we took for granted. Nobody could have imagined an apocalyptic scenario where we are deprived of all basic freedom and where a gesture of love, like a hug or a kiss, could be an instrument of death. This confinement has brought out something that was dormant in our hearts: national identity. I’m thinking of the singing on balconies and the flags displayed on houses in Italy. We have rediscovered ourselves as fellow countrymen, proud to be so and united in wanting to overcome this moment.

What has struck you most in the months since Italy entered lockdown?
People and the spontaneous gestures of solidarity that have been born from understanding that we are only strong when we are united and do not discriminate. Many people have lost someone dear in the past few weeks, without being able to give them one final goodbye. The composure with which they have faced the greatest pain, while having the eyes of the world upon them, moved me deeply. I know what it means to lose someone you love – and I know how much greater the pain is when you see them on the front pages of newspapers.

How has your daily life changed?
For a hyperactive person like me, being confined to the house is really difficult. I am more fortunate than some in many ways, but we’re all deprived of the most basic freedoms. Having said that, I have tried to build a new routine. I continue to work and create, not only because it is my job, but because I have a responsibility towards all the small companies that depend on Versace to be able to start again. A positive thing about this new reality is that I finally have the time to do research like I used to do and reflect on what to do instead of following the rhythms imposed by today’s market.

What is your first thought in the morning and your last one before bed?
It depends on how the day went. I think of my children, who are not here with me, and my friends, then I wonder what our society will look like when we are finally ready to start again. I think, for the first time in a long time, we have the opportunity to create a new society, to start again, by first asking what we want to keep from the ‘old world’ and what can be improved. I see this crisis as our chance to make up for the many mistakes we have made.

What do you miss most about normal life?
Real contact with people, and travelling.

What is the hardest sacrifice?
To be unable to see my children.

In the era of coronavirus, is there anything you have discovered or rediscovered in everyday life?
The beauty of spending time on my sofa and reading with Audrey my dog next to me for company. I believe it is true that our animals take a bit of our character. Sometimes, she quivers from the desire to go outside, which of course she can do but in a limited way. For now, she has to settle for being on the sofa while I read or watching me work.

Do you ever feel lonely these days?
Like everyone else I would imagine. Luckily, my job keeps me busy and I speak to many people on a daily basis.    

How are you managing to stay close to your friends and children? Are you meeting virtually?
Of course. Apps like FaceTime or Houseparty are used daily. It is the presence, albeit virtual, that keeps us together, that reassures us and that manages to transmit, even just by looking at the smile of my children, the affection that, for now, we cannot demonstrate physically.

Do you think that, once the coronavirus emergency is over, the fashion business will have changed?
I think that the whole world, not just the fashion one, will have changed. We have to rethink many things, starting from seasonality. Stores have been closed for months, so the SS20 collection will be the first available once we reopen. Honestly, I don’t mind the fact that, for the first time, we will have lightweight dresses and swimsuits in the shop while it is summer and hot outside. As designers, we have complained for years about the tight rhythms imposed by the market. Now, for reasons beyond our control, we should find a way to get back to working in a different manner, so we have warm jumpers in winter and light dresses in summer.

Has this period at home changed your views on personal style? 
It has shifted my perception of what really matters and how that will translate into style and into what people will desire once this situation is over. I am still looking for an answer, to be honest. I guess most designers are running different scenarios in their minds, like I am. Do I do a show? How shall I present the new collection in a way that feels authentic and respectful of the moment? Is seasonality still a thing? Some key ideas are starting to form in my head, such as the importance of sustainability and the fact that people will look at fashion in a different way.

Does glamour still matter? How do you think our definition of it will change?
I think fashion makes you dream and that will still remain. Glamour, like style, has had different characteristics according to the times. So, if everything has changed or is changing, probably also the definition of glamour will evolve into something else.

What do you miss most about being in the studio?
Discussing, debating, exchanging ideas, listening to my team’s opinions even if– especially if – they differ from mine, arguing sometimes! I love it when someone challenges me with a different vision. It’s a way to keep creativity running as often new ideas are born out of this friction. I miss the human interaction, the laughter and the fun!

You’ve designed dresses that have broken the internet. What’s the secret to a ‘wow’ moment ?
There is no secret. Those moments are not planned. They just happened and they need the right mix of people, the right moment and, of course, the right dress. If I look back at the history of Versace, we’ve had quite a few ‘wow’ moments, but they all happened because we were not thinking, ‘Oh, now I wanna have a wow moment.’ These moments are connected to emotions. The supermodel moment at the end of the tribute show was my homage to my brother and the women who have shaped the image of Versace. The J-Lo moment was the celebration of 20 years and more of friendship. It’s all about emotional connection.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Optimistic, always!

What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get out of lockdown?
I want to go back to the office. Even if we have to be careful and maintain strict safety protocols, I am looking forward to seeing my team and continuing the conversations we have started on how to move forward.

What lesson does this global emergency leave us with?
It leaves me even more convinced of the importance of being united, tolerant and accepting of diversity. For me, there is only one way to be united, and that is to be able to live in a society that not only allows you to be yourself, but one that supports you in your individuality.

Photos: Courtesy of Versace  Additional reporting: Laura Antonia Jordan